How I'm Living Now: Jon M. Chu, 'In the Heights' Director

THR-Portfolio -daughter Willow, Kristen Chu, Jon M. Chu-Photographed by Joe Pugliese-H- 2020
Joe Pugliese

While sheltering in place with his family in Los Angeles, Chu shares how he continues postproduction on the upcoming Warner Bros. musical, all while bingeing on 'Tiger King' and potty training his daughter.

With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense of how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood's writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times.

Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu is back at home in Los Angeles with his wife and two children (a 6-month-old and a 2-year-old), where he has continued postproduction on his upcoming Warner Bros. musical In the Heightswhich had been slated for a June 26 release. With that date now pushed back, Chu spends much of his day in Zoom meetings, some related to Heights and others to projects tied to his overall deal with Disney’s 20th Century Fox Television. His days also include time with family. “Appreciate this time,” he advises.

Let’s start easy — how are you?

It was a little chaotic in the last couple weeks, but I'm settling into a rhythm now. …. We were doing a big mix and recording score when this all went down, and I was in New York. I left to come back to my family.

What does your day look like now?

[For In the Heights] I’m usually checking VFX, giving notes, getting on Zoom or FaceTime to talk to our team. They are mixing what can be done at home. We were missing a couple instruments, but that will get recorded later. I’m listening to songs, watching edits. We’ll finish the things we can, the things that people can do at home, and then we’ll come back and figure this out when we find a new release date. I have this little corner for my laptop and my big screen and my hard drive and my iPad.

What’s been the easiest adjustment?

Because there is less physically for me to do, the balance between home and work has been a really nice one. To be able to jump from potty training my daughter to jumping on a call has actually felt a lot less crazy than I thought it might. And I definitely appreciate my wife a lot more.

And the hardest? 

When you're making a movie, it's such a team effort and you want the best ideas in the room. I love to have an idea, then people chime in and we debate. That process is vital for me. When you are on a Zoom conference call, that interaction with the team is a little less. You can't talk over each other; you can’t have that energy and build off of each other. So, to me, that has been the hardest thing. I want to do those things when we are in a room together.

What have you learned about yourself during this period?

I have learned that I need to see my kids more. I realize how much I’m not seeing. 

What is the best piece of advice you've given or received? 

The best piece of advice that I've been given is to appreciate this time now because this is your time to do the things that you didn't have time to do [before]. Use this moment, whether it’s creative, whether it’s family, whatever it is. This reset does not exist, usually.

What are you watching, reading, playing or listening to as a reprieve?

Tiger King. You can't deny that’s a pretty great escape. And I just downloaded Animal Crossing.

Are you dusting off any old hobbies or finding new ones?

Definitely drawing, I’ve been drawing a lot.

What have become your go-to comfort foods during the quarantine?

I'll tell you, I have not eaten them in years, but these Milano mint cookies. They are so good.

How would you describe your Corona-era wardrobe?

In New York, it was so cold that I have these long johns that I would always wear underneath my jeans. Now, I just wear the long johns. It’s great, it kind of looks like pants.

In these times, what cause is most important to you?

To me, it’s the local restaurants and the people who work there, and also the theaters. I come from a restaurant family, I feel for everyone who works in those businesses. The Dine11 and March On Foundation do some really good stuff supporting local workers. [Chu is also an ambassador for the It Takes Our Village campaign supporting film and TV crews.]

What’s atop your to-do list once this is all over?

To go see my movie in a big theater with all my friends and family. I cannot wait to go back to a movie theater. And [In the Heights] is about community, about coming out of the darkness and finding each other, and I think that that's what we need more than ever.