‘In the Heights’ Production Designer on How Cultural Accuracy Informs the Film’s Look

  • Variety
‘In the Heights’ Production Designer on How Cultural Accuracy Informs the Film’s Look
In service to the director’s vision on a project, production designer Nelson Coates is an artistic pied piper. “You want to [construct] a visual arc and take people on that journey,” he says.

Having scoured locations in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand for Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians,” the two reunite for “In the Heights.” This time the job was to find areas in Washington Heights that represented the area’s diversity. “You’re trying to do a deep dive into a specific culture, food, furniture, art — the things that are held so dear [locally] that they’re just as important to the storytelling process,” Coates says. The neighborhood includes a mix of Puerto Rican, Dominican and Cuban influences. “So,” the designer continues, “helping delineate those cultures and also making them germane to what you see in Washington Heights was very important to the story.”

Exploration was key. Coates combed every street of the Heights,
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