Saturday, January 14, 2017

La La Land (2016)

La La Land / La La Land. US © 2016 Summit Entertainment, LLC. P: Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt. D+SC: Damien Chazelle. DP: Linus Sandgren – 2,55:1 CinemaScope – colour – shot on 35 mm film – DI 2K: EFilm – released on D-Cinema. PD: David Wasco. AD: Austin Gorg. Set dec: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco. Cost: Mary Zophres. Makeup: Torsten Witte. Hair: Barbara Lorenz. SFX: Jeremy Hays. VFX: Kathy Chasen-Hay. M: Justin Hurwitz. CH: Mandy Moore. S: Mildred Iatrou – Dolby Atmos. ED: Tom Cross. Casting: Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood.
    C: Ryan Gosling (Sebastian), Emma Stone (Mia), John Legend (Keith), Rosemarie DeWitt (Laura Wilder), Finn Wittrock (Greg Earnest), Jessica Rothe (Alexis), Sonoya Mizuno (Caitlin), Caillie Hernandez (Tracy), J. K. Simmons (Bill), Tom Everett Scott (David), Meagen Fay (Mia's mom), Damon Gupton (Harry), Jason Fuchs (Carlo), Josh Pence (Josh).
    Filmed / taped at Hollywood Center Studios, Hollywood, California. Filmed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, California. Loc: Los Angeles and elsewhere in California. 128 min
    DCP released by Nordisk Film Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Ditte Kronström viewed at Tennispalatsi Scape, with Dolby Atmos, Helsinki, 14 Jan 2017 (Finnish premiere 13 Jan 2017)

I was not sure what to expect from Damien Chazelle after Whiplash, a jazz film that was not a celebration of freedom, spontaneity and improvisation, instead bringing to mind Full Metal Jacket.

I was happily surprised to discover in La La Land a work worthy of the classics of the golden age of the Hollywood film musical. That golden age started in the late 1920s and ended in the early 1960s. Major studios had their own musical units, and there was a marvellous sense of a meaningful corpus covering practically every musical. Even the worst ones usually had that one brilliant number that brought something new to the development of the genre.

The Hollywood musical never died, but the general sense of its overwhelming magical fertility vanished with the fall of the studio system and the rise of rock'n'roll and other music styles not instantly compatible with the idiom of the Hollywood musical genre.

That magic has been rediscovered by Damien Chazelle and his talented team.

Certainly they have been profoundly influenced by Jacques Demy, in whose work the mastery of the film musical genre continued directly after the fall of the Hollywood studio system in five films with a verismo approach made from 1964 till 1988: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, Une chambre en ville, Parking, and Trois places pour le 26.

The musical is usually associated with joy, energy, and abundance, but it is equally adept in conveying sadness, disappointment and desperation, certainly in the Jacques Demy musicals, but also before him in e.g. the "Let's Face The Music" number in Follow the Fleet and It's Always Fair Weather, Stanley Donen's magisterial "sequel" to On the Town. Such a full emotional scale is mastered by Chazelle and his lead actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

La La Land is a big production but there is always an intimate, lyrical and relaxed touch, a sense of interiority and a chamber play approach to the story of the relationship between Mia and Sebastian.

This is not a story of love at first sight. It all starts in an atmosphere of negativity, frustration, and anger. A lack of rapport is evident. Mia and Sebastian experience mostly sadness and disappointment with their artistic aspirations and with each other. It all ends with a coda "five years later" when Mia is married with a child with someone else.

But in between magic happens, when Mia and Sebastian discover Los Angeles and get an insight in each other, something that no one else has ever had. They love each other and the special talent of each other. They unwaveringly trust in each other's talent and urge each other beyond a point of giving up for good. That makes their love immortal, although in their private lives they go separate ways.

In the account of this magic and this insight Damien Chazelle achieves greatness worthy of the best of the genre.

The original music by Justin Hurwitz is wonderful. The cinematographer Linus Sandgren has caught the visuals stunningly on 35 mm photochemical film in full 2,55:1 CinemaScope.

The digital projection was perfect watched on the giant screen of Finland's premier cinema, Tennispalatsi Scape, sitting in the first row.


About the Production

Boy meets girl meets the up-ending aspirations of the city of stars – and they all break out of the conventions of everyday life as La La Land takes off on an exuberant song-and-dance journey through a life-changing love affair between a jazz pianist and a hopeful actress.

At once an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics, a love letter to the Los Angeles of unabated dreams, and a distinctly modern romance, the film reunites Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, bringing them together with rising writer/director Damien Chazelle (the Oscar®-winning Whiplash.)

The film begins as everything begins in L.A.: on the freeway. This is where Sebastian meets Mia, with a disdainful honk in a traffic jam that mirrors all too well the gridlock they’re each navigating in their lives. Both are focused on the kind of near-impossible hopes that are the lifeblood of the city: Sebastian trying to get people to care about traditional jazz in the 21st Century, Mia aiming to nail just one uninterrupted audition. But neither expects that their fateful encounter will lead them to take leaps they never could alone.

The leaps they both make, towards each other and, conflictingly, into their grandest artistic dreams, creates its own quintessentially cinematic world of rapture in La La Land – one that with light, color, sound, music and words takes a trip directly into the ecstasies of the happiness we chase... and the heartache of the passions we never get over.

Wearing its influences on its sleeve yet taking considerable risks, La La Land allows Chazelle to pay homage to legends of cinema while harnessing its current power to make the most private human terrain – the territory of intimate relationships, personal dreams and the crossroads where decisions set fate into motion – come to life on the screen as a palpably real, yet enchanted, universe.

Says Chazelle: “To me, it was important to make a movie about dreamers, about two people who have these giant dreams that drive them, that bring them together, but also tear them apart.” He goes on: “La La Land is a very different movie from Whiplash in many ways. But they both deal with something that's really personal to me: how you balance life and art, how you balance reality and dreams and also, specifically, how you balance your relationship to your art with your relationships with other people. With La La Land, I wanted to tell that story using music, song and dance. I think the musical as a genre is a great vehicle for expressing that balancing act between dreams and reality.”

The components of the film might be ageless, but producer Marc Platt, a veteran of stage and film musicals, notes the approach is novel.

Platt joined up with producers Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz, who closely developed the project from the start with Chazelle.

“Damien has reinvigorated the genre by drawing on classic elements, but bringing them forth in a way that speaks to contemporary life in L.A. He brings the foundation of great old movies into something for a new generation,” Platt observes.

To forge this hybrid of forward-looking ideas married to classic forms, Chazelle worked with a group of collaborators who each brought their imaginations to the table.

In addition to Berger, Horowitz and Platt, they include composer, Justin Hurwitz, who takes a creative partnership he began with Chazelle on their previous films Whiplash and Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench into the crafting of an entire musical universe; the Tony® and Emmy® nominated Broadway lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, dubbed the 21st Century heirs to Rogers and Hammerstein, who put words to the melodies; executive music producer Marius de Vries, who music-directed Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and co-scored Romeo + Juliet; and choreographer Mandy Moore who has been bringing contemporary dance into the mainstream on So You Think You Can Dance, and gets her first chance to create large-scale, big-screen dance numbers.

Hurwitz says that he and Chazelle looked for ways to bring a contemporary language – musical, visual and emotional languages – to a genre that runs the risk of nostalgia. “The idea of doing not just a musical, but a musical that is about the realities of love and dreams in today’s L.A., energized me and Damien,” the composer says. “Musicals are so heightened and we adore that about them but we also loved the idea of capturing a real feeling of current life within that heightened world.”

For Moore, La La Land takes its own place, suspended on the border between the current and the timeless.  “The film showcases how culturally relevant the beautiful marriage between music, movement, acting, singing, and storytelling can be,” she sums up.

Entering the World of La La Land

La La Land itself began with a crazy dream. Damien Chazelle wanted to see if he could make a film that channels the magic and energy of the most poignantly romantic French and American musicals of filmmaking’s Golden Age ... into our more complicated and jaded age.

For as dizzyingly fast as our world has changed in the last half century, are we any less captive to the whimsies of accidental meetings or missed opportunities, of dreams hitting roadblocks or dreams coming true, of knowing pure, mad love or watching as the demands of the world change our purest connections?

Chazelle wondered if song-and-dance storytelling could again bring audiences solace, joy and enduring fairy tales, even in a world where much of cinema is darker and more digitized than ever.

Says Chazelle: “With La La Land, I wanted to do a love story and I also wanted to create a musical like the musicals that entranced me as a kid, but updated into something very modern. I wanted to explore how you use color, sets, costumes and all these very expressionistic elements of Old School movie making to tell a story that takes place in our times.”

Marc Platt notes: “Throughout La La Land, you have a very contemporary aesthetic. There is a fluid camera that lets you feel like you are very much in the moment, while taking you back to the era of Golden Hollywood entertainment.”

That aesthetic had its roots in Chazelle’s life-long love of movies, but the film’s origins began with a coffee shop meeting between Chazelle and two rising producers -- Fred Berger, who began his career working with Sofia Coppola and produced the award-winning Taking Chance as well as the forthcoming sci-fi thriller The Titan, and Jordan Horowitz, known for the 2010 Oscar®-nominated non-traditional family drama The Kids Are Alright.

That was when Chazelle first pitched a musical romance set in Los Angeles. The producers had no idea when or how it would be made at that time, but the sheer aspiration of it intrigued them.

“When we met him, Damien blew us away with his understanding of movies, even though he’d only made one small film. As we watched him go from a shy young kid to a filmmaker on the rise and fulfill on that promise we saw at that first coffee, it was really something special,” says Berger.

As for his pitch, Berger recalls: “It was so different and so bold. We felt it might never get made in the current landscape, so it was worth it to us to devote years to making sure it did. It makes the romantic musical something fresh and visceral. And given Damien’s encyclopedic knowledge of movie-making, we felt if there was anyone who could actually pull this movie off, it would be him.”

Adds Horowitz: “Damien has such infectious energy and creativity that when he said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ we were ready to go with him on that journey, whatever it took. But our challenge was to figure out the best way to help him tell this story.

We really loved his concept but from there it was a long process of developing the script, the characters and the songs.”

Horowitz and Berger knew that challenge was huge, but they also knew there was only one way to approach it: all in. “We threw caution to the wind,” Horowitz says. “We were able to follow a more organic process because we really weren’t working towards a specific deadline in the beginning. We simply knew we would figure out how to make this film.”

In terms of his more classic influences, Chazelle was uniquely inspired by the films of Jacques Demy, the French New Wave director who broke the hyper-serious 1960s mold with intoxicating, candy-colored musicals such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and A Room In Town. “Demy’s probably the single biggest influence not just on this movie but on everything I’ve done or wanted to do. There’s no more formative movie for me than Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. That’s a profound love that I’ve had,” Chazelle says.

Chazelle became struck by the idea of fusing some of his favorite elements from musicals of the 40s, 50s and 60s – the continuous musical score, the eye-popping colors, the mood-driven energy – with his favorite city: Los Angeles, which becomes as much a romantic character in La La Land
as the film’s two lovers.

Los Angeles has been many things on films – a searing noir backdrop, a lush bikini paradise, a city high on the fumes of ambition. But Chazelle set out to explore Los Angeles as Muse, a constantly in-motion canvas of fateful encounters, endless traffic, but also endless striving as everyone chases their own private, unrealized dreams, at times futilely, sometimes transformationally.

“La La Land is about a city that is very epic and unto itself – it’s a wide-screen city,” observes Chazelle. So I thought it would be great to shoot it in wide-screen, to make it as a big and spectacular to me as a classic Hollywood musical.”

He set the film’s opening music number in a freeway tangle for very clear reasons. “In L.A. you mostly have cars with one or two people in them. It's part of what makes the city feel a bit lonely. But it’s also reflects how L.A is a crazy haven for dreamers. Because when you're in your car, what are you doing? You're playing music, or you dream. Each dreamer has their own dream; each person is living their own song.  You're in your own bubble universe, your own living musical. So that is why that moment is the perfect one for two dreamers like Sebastian and Mia to meet. We use the car radios to create a tapestry of music that everyone, one by one, on this freeway joins into at the moment.”

Chazelle’s Los Angeles is also a city of unseen yearning – an L.A. of hole-in-the-wall jazz clubs, heart-numbing audition waiting rooms, way-stop apartments, and studio coffee shops where the famous and aspirational collide; as well as an L.A. where parties, planetariums and even parking spots can bust out of the mundane and expected to become a kinetic dreamscape rife with musical mirth.

“La La Land is absolutely a love letter to the city,” says Platt. “The way the film mixes two people leading very hip, modern lives with all these iconic Hollywood locales is unique. You get a feeling both of the romantic fantasy of the city and its grounding in real lives.”

Chazelle’s concept for La La Land was elaborate, but a large-scale musical was not exactly an obvious next move for the still up-and-coming filmmaker.

Chazelle is best known for writing and directing the 2014 drama Whiplash, the story of a young jazz drummer and his ruthless teacher that stunned audiences with its hypnotic pace and exploration of abuse, obsession and the pursuit of greatness.

The film earned five Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture, and won three Oscars®. But before that film was even made, Chazelle had already been exploring the sung-through musical. His debut film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, was a black-and-white romance told through song-and-dance, an edgy re-envisioning of the retro MGM musical made on a shoestring budget as his Harvard senior thesis film in 2009.

For Chazelle, it was equally an opportunity to look back into film history – and move forward.

“I came to the musical late, at the end of high school, when I started getting into avant-garde films, and I started looking at old ‘Fred and Ginger’ movies as part of that tradition,” Chazelle explains.

“The 30s musicals were very experimental and that was exciting.”

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench established Chazelle as an intriguing new talent. But Chazelle still harbored grander Technicolor dreams that were just waiting for the right moment for him to sink his teeth into them. “Guy and Madeline only scratched the surface of what I wanted to do with the genre,” Chazelle says. “So I continued writing scripts to figure out an idea for a much bigger-scale musical that operated by the same principals, a musical about real life but in keeping with the spectacular Cinemascope and Technicolor musicals of the 1950s.”

These dreams are what led, though not necessarily in straightforward fashion, towards La La

Chazelle first began working on the outline of the story with composer Hurwitz – who first met as students at Harvard – long before the two collaborated on the acclaimed scores for Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and Whiplash.

Hurwitz says he and Chazelle have always talked to each other in rhythm and melody. “Our relationship has always revolved around music – and movies with large musical numbers were always inspirational to both us, whether it was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Singin' In The Rain.”

Adds Chazelle: “Justin and I have a distinctive shorthand and we speak the same language. He wrote the music for Whiplash, he has written the music for La La Land, and I hope he’ll write the music for every film that I do.

Now, Hurwitz was thrilled to see Chazelle create Sebastian and Mia, two modern-day dreamers who echo their own two greatest passions -- music and moviemaking.

For Hurwitz, the true-to-life frisson between Sebastian and Mia – so magnetized to one another yet also pushed apart by their individual artistic goals -- is the driving force of every creative element, including his score.

“It’s a very romantic movie but there is also a sense of melancholy,” says Hurwitz. “There is the exhilaration of love and there is haunting heartbreak so all those shadings had to be woven into it.”

The creative synergy between Chazelle and Hurwitz was catalytic. “Justin has been by my side at every step of the process,” Chazelle notes. “Before I even wrote any dialogue, when we were still figuring out the story, Justin was working out the musical theme of the film. Even while editing, I was working in one room, and he was working across the hall from me.”

Says Fred Berger: “Justin was a crucial piece of the film’s family from day one. One of the great joys of this film was that the music was being composed alongside the development of the script –and since Justin and Damien have known each other since they were 18, they work together like brothers in the way they push each other. Justin literally lives and breathes music and he won't sacrifice quality for anything. He would send hundreds of piano demos to Damien, who would whittle it down to twenty, then Jordan and I would listen and whittle it down further, and from these small threads, the songs developed almost the way you develop a screenplay.”

Observes Marc Platt: “Justin Hurwitz is a very special talent, a quiet fellow with a real soul, which pours forth in his music. In La La Land, he was asked to write melodies that conjure up many different feelings, that are of the moment but with the feel of a timeless jazz world. He's written every note of music in the film – it is a musical voice that echoes Damien’s style and has its own grammar.”

Marius de Vries, who worked alongside Hurwitz and the rest of the creative team from the beginning of preproduction, notes: “It was wonderful to have such a rich and organically coherent framework of Damien’s meticulously foresightful story-telling and Justin’s gorgeous melodies and already sophisticated orchestrations at such a developed level from the very beginning of music pre-production - La La Land had its very own musical flavor from the start. We knew the world and the sonic universe we were in immediately – and so we could protect it and nurture it more easily.

As the response to Whiplash cemented Chazelle as a major talent, that breathed new interest into La La Land. Chazelle presented his vision for the film to Lionsgate, who wanted the film to be made exactly as it was conceived.

“We were allowed to make exactly the movie that Justin and I had first envisioned it back in 2006,” says Chazelle. “The movie we mad is exactly that movie without any compromise. Realistically, I think we all expected there to be some compromises because, when does real life ever live up to the fantasy? But this was a dream come true in that sense.”

As the film grew, Marc Platt, who began his career in theatre and has produced leading movie musicals including Into the Woods and Nine, came aboard to help navigate. Platt says he could not resist working with Chazelle . “I'm a great admirer of musicals – but I'm also an admirer of new filmmakers who have something to say, and a particular way of saying it. I was struck instantly by the way Damien's vision brought the past into the present.

He was ready to shoot sequences the way old studio films did it, where you never cut away. He was interested in the rich palette of Demy and the choreography of Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. But at the same time, what made his script so strong is the emotional realism that comes from two lovely, modern characters.”

Still, musical productions are notoriously tough to pull off in today’s film world, Platt confesses.

“There are so many more variables than a dramatic film,” he explains. “First, you have the music – melody, lyrics, orchestration and arrangement – then you have actors who need to learn songs and dance numbers, and all the visual components, the art design, wardrobe, camera, lighting style – all of which has to create a world that is not quite the real world but is related to it. The question was: could we actually unify all this into something with a single tone that would feel contemporary?”

Part of the answer lay in casting in the leads a pair of actors who are a distinctly contemporary coupling. Comments Chazelle: “The idea here was to both embrace the old Hollywoodness of an iconic screen coupling that you’ve seen before. You used to have Fred and Ginger, Bogart and Bacall, Myrna Loy and Dick Powell, these larger-than-life couples who take on different roles but are always these huge personas.

It’s an idea I find incredibly romantic, and I felt that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the closest that we have today to that today. At the same time, I felt they could also help make this movie feel surprising and to subvert expectations. So the movie also strips away some of the veneer and the gloss that we normally associate with Ryan and Emma when they're together.”

For as much as La La Land is a breathless romance it is also a tale of what we give up to pursue our own private dreams. “Ironically, for Sebastian and Mia to achieve their dreams, they also need to separate. I am very moved by the idea that you can meet someone in your life who transforms you and sets you onto a path that is going to finally enable you to be the person you always dreamed of being – but ultimately, you need to go on that path alone,” says Chazelle. “You can have a union that winds up dictating the rest of your life but doesn’t last the rest of your life. I find that incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking and wondrous. At its soul, I wanted this movie to be about that.”

Ryan Gosling / Seb’s Story

The jazz pianist Sebastian has a near-miss with the greatest love of his life. A defiantly retro jazz diehard who doesn’t believe in compromising his convictions for anyone or anything, at first he brushes off Mia as just another person who will never comprehend him or the gravity of his dreams – but that does not go as planned.

Taking the role is Academy Award® nominee Ryan Gosling in perhaps his most unexpected departure to date. Ever since his breakout in Half Nelson and through such films as Lars and The Real Girl, The Ides of March, Blue Valentine, Drive and The Big Short, Gosling has been known for a range of volatile emotions. But could he combine that with the soft-shoe charms of a musical’s leading man?

The filmmakers were convinced. Producer Marc Platt had previously worked with Gosling on Drive and knew he was capable of more than audiences have seen. “There's something about Ryan,” he muses. “First and foremost, he's a marvelous actor and I think he can do anything in terms of a role, be it drama, comedy, violence, sweetness, charm, singing, piano playing or dancing. But there's a quality to Ryan that is timeless – and that befits this movie and character. The role also demanded an actor with the initiative to devote himself to intensive preparation, and I knew Ryan is that guy.”

Producer Fred Berger notes that Gosling seemed to understand what makes his character tick, and in turn what compels Mia. “Ryan portrays Sebastian as a man of real determination,” describes Berger.

“That’s what feeds his stubbornness to stay in L.A. and to say I’m going to make it here as the jazz performer that I am on my terms. His is not a stubbornness born out of ego or any abrasive quality. It’s borne out of real conviction and passion, which Ryan infuses into the character so beautifully.”

As it turned out, Gosling had his own long-held affection for movie musicals that came into play the minute he came aboard. Says Gosling: “I was really intrigued by the fact that Damien wanted to make a film in the style of that Fred and Ginger and Gene Kelly eras, because those are the musicals that move me. The fact that he wanted this film to have that kind of aesthetic and spirit of playfulness was fantastic because it was also a secret wish of mine to make a film like that.”

An equal magnet for Gosling was the intrigue of playing a man who worships with his very being an artform that seems to be dying on the vine of a ruthlessly fast-changing pop culture.

“Sebastian has dedicated his life to being a great jazz pianist, but in his mind the world around him is saying those days are over. His heroes were born 70 years ago, and in this day and age, a great piano player playing real jazz is destined to work in bars where people don’t even stop their conversations to listen to you,” Gosling notes.

“So how much do you compromise to be the artist you want to be?”

The line between principled dedication and making yourself irrelevant is a fuzzy one, Gosling acknowledges.

“I think Sebastian is struggling with the difference between being a purist and being a snob,” he remarks. “Ultimately, he faces a question lots of creative people are faced with at some point in life: do I keep pursuing this work that actually nourishes me or to do I have to accept that this is just a job and I have to pay my bills?”

That equation gets flipped in new ways when Sebastian meets Mia. Almost instantly, he sees her fate as more promising – and he wants to support her dreams. “I think it’s easier for him to get on board with Mia’s dream than it is with his own,” Gosling observes. “He just thinks Mia needs to create her own opportunities and stop waiting for people to give her permission to do what she loves to do.”

Much as Gosling could relate to the character, his work was seriously cut out for him as he prepared to take on the role of a consummate jazz pianist -- body and soul. He dove into months and months of jazz piano lessons, not to mention learning to dance with a modern sense of suave.

Composer Justin Hurwitz was impressed by Gosling’s unremitting drive. “The work Ryan did learning to play piano is absurdly great. I can't get over it,” says Hurwitz. “His level of commitment to the piano -- not to mention the acting, singing and dance training – was spectacular. It was one of the really great surprises of the film to see how much he was able to accomplish.”

And music producer Marius de Vries simply confirms: “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Adds Damien Chazelle: “In fact, there's not a single close-up shot of Sebastian’s hands in the entire movie that's a piano double. It’s all Ryan. The role required an actor with the kind of work ethic that would allow him to become a musical performer for this movie. And Ryan took the

Adds co-star and celebrated musician John Legend of Gosling’s piano progress: “I was jealous, man. Watching him play, I was like wow, this guy is really good and he just learned this in the last few months. It’s pretty amazing.”

Gosling took on the task with the energy of a man possessed – in part because it was a kind of dream-fulfillment in its own right. “Piano is something I always wished I had the time to learn so here I had this great opportunity to sit in front of a piano for three months and just play – and I took advantage of it. It was really one of the most fulfilling preproduction periods I’ve ever had,” he says.

When Gosling wasn’t practicing piano, he and Emma Stone were kicking and sashaying with choreographer Mandy Moore.

Says Moore: “I could tell from the minute we started, Ryan was talented. He’s very coordinated --but also very hard on himself. From the first day he kept saying, ‘Ahh, I can do it better.’ But from my perspective, his progression was impressive. It was like a slow burn. Ryan really marinates in whatever he’s learning but then you watch as he finesses it in his own way. Once the moves were in his body, he was locked and loaded to do something wonderful.”

Stone, who previously paired with Gosling on the hit comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love and appeared with him in Gangster Squad, had no trouble responding organically to the funny, charismatic and torn man Gosling found within Sebastian.

Stone summarizes: “Ryan brought so much to this role: he learned to play the piano stunningly well and he’s been a great dance partner. But the thing that I was most surprised by is how funny he is in this role. I mean I've always known that Ryan is funny but he's really, really funny in this movie. He’s kind of got it all going on as Sebastian.”

Emma Stone / Mia’s Aim

The aspiring actress Mia seems to be caught in an endless loop from her barista job to dead-end auditions when she finds herself repeatedly bumping into the same ill-mannered pianist in a convertible – who breaks the spell.

Playing Mia is Academy Award® nominee Emma Stone, whose roles have ranged from Superbad and Easy A to The Help and Birdman. Stone faced a one-of-a-kind challenge with the role – playing a character who has to be at once anchored in very real goals and feelings, while also able to erupt into musical fantasia at a moment’s notice, combining the two seamlessly.

It helped that Stone has not only explored the depths of dramatic roles, but also has the skills of a Broadway veteran who recently starred as Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret.

Says Damien Chazelle of what Stone brings: “Just the level of her acting in the song and dance scenes and the way that she expresses such gradations of emotion is amazing. I think she's one of the great actresses of our time and you can create something without any dialogue, purely through her face, more so, there was something so exciting about taking her in to this musical world where you can suddenly spin down the street or burst into song. That was a wonderful challenge.”

Though she has had more experience with musical theatre, like Gosling, Stone spent months preparing – and thriving on the process. “We did lots of preparation with Mandy Moore and for two months, we rehearsed every day,” she explains. “It was so much fun, because I’ve taken some dance in the past, but this was learning tap and jazz and ballroom dance – whole new languages of dance.”

Stone also points out that perfection wasn’t the goal when it came to the dance moves. “Our characters are struggling artists, so were never asked to be incredibly brilliant dancers and singers. Actually, Damien wanted our relationship to feel alive and raw in a certain way, even though we’re part of these incredibly cinematic dance numbers. So little flaws and natural flubs were welcomed with open arms,” she explains.

As for what Mia takes away from the love affair, Stone is reflective. “I think Mia and Sebastian inspire each other to do things differently,” she says. “They're both in a rut when they meet and feeling creatively stalled. But the beautiful thing Sebastian does for Mia is ask, ‘why don’t you create your own stories to tell as an actress?’ And I think she needs that, because she’s forgotten she even has that ability. At the same time, Mia opens Sebastian up to the idea that maybe he can expand and pursue his art in previously unexplored ways. In the end, I think they open up new worlds that they both had inside themselves but really had never dared to access.”

For Chazelle, the coupling of Stone and Gosling was alchemical. He summarizes: “There’s a shorthand between Ryan and Emma, not just in person, but onscreen. They do a very difficult thing in this movie, which is to ground the most ungrounded of genres. It takes actors like Ryan and Emma to establish this story inside real lives and make it human. There are very few people who can be as in the moment while still feeling like big, movie stars in the way this film needed.”

He also knew what he wanted from them, even it is something completely ineffable: “For me, it was about just a sense of playfulness that had to be in the movie. There had to be something sparkling and effervescent when they’re together -- something fizzy, like champagne, “ Chazelle

John Legend’s First Major Screen Role

Joining the cast of La La Land in his first major film role is ten-time GRAMMY® winner and Academy Award® winning singer-songwriter John Legend who portrays Keith, the musician who enlists Sebastian to join his rapidly rising band, The Messengers, and takes him far away from Mia.

Legend also co-wrote the song “Start A Fire,” which rockets the Messengers to fame in the film. Fred Berger says at first casting Legend was sheer fantasy. “This film always kind of existed in a dream world, so we dreamed of who we could get for the role, but then it happened,” the producer muses. “Even from an availability standpoint, with John's commitments it was hard to imagine he’d be able to do it. But he did and he entered into the mix with incredible excitement and passion. He fit so well into the ethos of the film because he’s the nicest, most hardworking guy, and very down to earth.”

Berger adds: “From a musical standpoint, we knew he would be amazing. But from an acting standpoint, he had to hold his own with Ryan -- and he blew us away with his natural talent. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of him on screen, and not only singing.”

Legend jumped at the chance to explore something new. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to transition into doing more acting in a role that feels pretty familiar to what I already do for a living, which is make music,” Legend says. “I was drawn to the idea of playing a musician in a film directed by such a talented director and with such great co-stars.”

Also fascinating to Legend was the conflict between Keith and Sebastian, which gets into the nitty-gritty of how one adapts to a rapidly changing culture.

“They’re both really talented people who love jazz,” Legend observes. “But they butt heads because Keith’s philosophy is: let’s not just try to preserve something that happened 50 years ago; let’s take what we’ve learned and make something for these times.

Sebastian’s philosophy is to stay true to tradition... but Keith hopes he can harness Sebastian’s amazing ability without having to deal with the more difficult aspects of Sebastian.”

For Legend, the chance to work one-on-one with Ryan Gosling was a thrill.

“Ryan is one of the best actors working right now, so I came into it with real humility -- and Ryan was so helpful and supportive of me. He really encouraged me to feel ‘OK I can do this.’” Writing “Start A Fire” furthered Legend’s understanding of the characters. “What’s fun is that we get to see the song morph as Sebastian and Keith figure out what kind of music they want to make,” says Legend. “It presents Sebastian with the quandary of how ‘pop’ he’s willing to get, and how far he’s willing to go from the music that he feels moved to play.”

The song was revelatory for Gosling. “For John to bring in his contemporary take was a really hard thing to do. Sonically and energetically it could have really clashed with the kind of music the movie is celebrating,” he points out. “Instead, what John brought was so good that it just it makes my character’s dilemma that much more complicated.”

With Legend cast, an exciting young ensemble rounded out the supporting actors. They include: Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina), Jessica Rothe (Parallels), Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch), Finn Wittrock (Unbroken) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married).

Academy Award® winner J. K. Simmons also came aboard, reuniting with his Whiplash director as Sebastian’s boss.

The Center of La La Land: Lyrics and Melody

At the heart of La La Land are the film’s original songs which flow through the story just as monologues, dialogues and ensemble conversations would.

To forge the lyrics to go with Hurwitz’s music, Chazelle and Hurwitz worked leading theatrical composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, whose productions include Dear Evan Hansen, A Christmas Story, Dogfight, James and the Giant Peach and Edge.

This would be their first chance to create a full-scale lyrical book for the screen. After meeting over pizza during a trip to LA, Pasek and Paul were ready to jump. “We were really drawn to Damien and Justin’s energy and their desire to pay tribute to the classical movie musical, while creating something relevant to us right now,” says Paul.

“Also, not a lot of people are making this kind of movie musical,” admits Pasek, “and it’s something we’ve always wanted to do.” It all seemed to be fate, especially when after pizza, Pasek and P aul returned to the friend’s apartment where they were staying and Chazelle and Hurwitz were there. “It turns out Justin lives in the same building. He said, ‘Are you guys stalking us?” Pasek remembers. There was no stalking but there was a synching of minds. Like Chazelle, Pasek and Paul were compelled by the challenges of entering the border zones between reality and romantic fantasy. “It was a balance because we wanted to capture the real toughness of trying to make it in L.A., but also to capture that joy of two people finally getting the chance to live out their dreams,” Paul explains.

“It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of drafts and a lot of take-out food.” Another challenge was weaving the personas of Sebastian and Mia into their songs. “Sebastian is a bit offbeat and counterculture, so that was a fun challenge, whereas Mia is more earnest,” says Paul.

Once Gosling and Stone were cast that became another wellspring of inspiration. “With Emma and Ryan, there’s a charm, a depth and a chemistry that you just want to play to,” says Pasek. Paul and Pasek were also spurred by Hurwitz’s compositions. “It’s refreshing because it’s so melodic. He created something that doesn’t feel pastiche, yet isn’t 2016 either, that lives somewhere in the in-between, which is always the best kind of music and that kept us on our toes,” says Paul.

Gosling fell so hard for the songs, he couldn’t get them out of his system. “I practiced some of those piano pieces four hours a day for three months – so I should technically never want to hear them again,” he laughs. “But every time I hear them I’m still moved by them and I still think they are really, really beautiful.  We’re so lucky to have this really special score.”

Two the songs – Emma Stone’s “Audition” number and “City of Stars” -- were performed live on set to keep the actors completely present in the moment. “It was challenging but it was also something that I felt really strongly about,” says Stone. “I had just done Cabaret and I really have seen the way that live performance adds something -- even if your voice breaks or you're a bit of out of tune, something irreplaceable is lent to the performance.”

Waltzing on Wires: Mandy Moore’s Choreography

The songs for La La Land then inspired a series of supercharged production numbers that are woven effortlessly into the fabric of the story. Damien Chazelle envisioned these numbers as echoing that wit, imagination and narrative freedom associated with Mid Century movie musicals – but bringing an energy and pace that speaks to audiences raised on iPhones and YouTube.

To that end, he collaborated closely with choreographer Mandy Moore, a two-time Emmy® Award winner, renown for her groundbreaking work turning dance into suspenseful reality television on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Moore, who has designed numbers for the concert and theatrical stage as well as music videos, also choreographed David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook.

Producer Marc Platt notes that choreographing for a movie camera is a very specific art form. “It’s different from choreographing for the stage -- particularly when the camera is moving with the energy and fluidity it does in La La Land,” says Platt. “It required a choreographer who had an intuitive understanding of how to have the dancers move as the camera moves.”

Moore was absolutely ecstatic to aim high for the film’s unusually big dance ambitions. “I’m a musical theatre/MGM-style/dance-on-film nerd,” Moore confesses. “And dance is my life – so it was inspiring to see how far Damien wanted to go into this world.”

She was taken with how deep Chazelle’s knowledge went on the topic; the two talked the history of dance on film for hours. “From the second I met Damien, he was referencing dance scenes from different movies, and I was like, ‘I don’t think any other director knows this stuff like he does.’” Chazelle was equally drawn to Moore’s mix of influences. “She’s truly a student of classic dance forms, and we needed that, but we also need someone who could create a kind of dancing we haven’t really seen on screen,” he says. “The most important thing was that the choreography had to be as much about character as about bodies moving. I always felt there had to a real naturalism to the dancing. What I told Mandy is that in this movie dancing, singing and acting are all just one thing – there is no separation between them.

It really helped that Mandy was the one training Ryan and Emma as well as doing the choreography, because ultimately the dancing really emanated from how Ryan and Emma relate to one another. Dance is such a beautiful way of telling the story of people falling in love – of expressing the emotions and frisson of when you first meet someone who knocks you out.”

Chazelle and Moore both wanted to build the choreography into the very brickwork of the storytelling in an ultramodern way – to break down that fourth wall that can make audiences feel like passive spectators but without every disrupting the dream-like flow of the storytelling. “My initial conversations with Damien were about how we wanted the audience to feel really emotionally invested and immersed in our numbers,” Moore says. “We wanted the feeling that Sebastian and Mia are real people who, just for a moment, transcend the confines of everyday life.”

But the challenge went beyond that. Moore goes on: “I knew Damien wanted to shoot it old-style. No edits. And I was really giddy about that. But then came the point of thinking, ‘oh my God, how are we going to do this?’” she laughs. “You realize that to create something magical you’re going to have to take some crazy leaps and really stand on the top of some cliffs and go for it.”

Pulling such risky numbers off took endless logistical planning but the core behind that planning, Moore offers, was always: “Is the feeling still there?” That feeling had to come most of all from Gosling and Stone, who were also being asked to learn one intricate dance number after another, despite not being professionally trained dancers.

Moore decided to train them herself, in her own personal bootcamp, so as not to divide the creative aspects of the film from the training. “I think that’s why you get the magic you get from Ryan and Emma,” she says, “because we were creating the movements as they trained and those movements became organic to their characters. They both worked so hard and I was really impressed by how they showed up every day so full of energy. They seemed to thrive on having this chance to dance and that was beautiful.”

The opening number, “Traffic,” in which an LA freeway clog busts out into an automobile chorus line, presented some of the biggest dilemmas. “It was a tremendous amount of work,” says Moore. “Our office was filled with post-it notes with the brand names of each car and who is standing on which car and which cars needed to be reinforced. The logistics were massive.”

Meanwhile, the shoot itself had to go off without a hitch since the crew had a dauntingly limited window in which to use the freeway interchange ... which meant rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal.

Remembers Ryan Gosling: “Everything had to work as perfectly as possible once the cameras were rolling, because any misstep would be basically unacceptable. So we practiced for three months beforehand so that we could deliver for Damien what he was looking for in one take.”

Moore credits the dancers for pulling off the near-impossible. “The ‘Traffic’ dancers are the unsung heroes of this film, because we had really tough conditions – dancing over cars on the freeway in almost 100-degree weather! Their efforts created something magical,” she says. Another sequence that boggled Moore’s choreographic mind is “Someone In The Crowd,” the number that follows Mia’s journey to an L.A. party from getting ready with her roommates to roaming a posh glass house to a dive into the pool.

“It was such a wild night shooting that number,” Moore reflects. “I wish people could see everything that went into it. It felt so crazy but when I watched the dailies back it was absolutely amazing: the colors, camera, costumes and dancing all work together.”

Chazelle had conceived the number as setting up the dilemmas of young artists across Hollywood between their social and work lives. “It tackles a seemingly simple debate a lot of aspiring artists have with themselves: do you go to this party, or do you just stay home and work on your craft? But it actually speaks to something bigger as well: what are you willing to do for your dream? Are you willing to compromise? Are you willing to sell out? Are you willing to change who you are? ‘Someone in the Crowd’ taps into that idea and showcases Mia’s unease with the whole situation.”

For Moore, the heart of the film is the planetarium number, for which she created what she dubs
a “gravity-free” dance with Gosling and Stone waltzing on wires.

“We wanted the audience to feel Sebastian and Mia fall into this beautiful waltz because they have no other choice but to dance in that moment,” she says. “There’s some beautiful camerawork in the sequence and it has so much feeling.” 

One of Emma Stone’s favorite numbers is “Duet,” which turns from a search for a parked car to a number high on hill overlooking the city.  “It’s where our characters connect in a real way for the first time,” Stone says. Moore adds: “It’s a huge moment, so we went through tons of discussion with Damien, Ryan and Emma about how it should go down. It’s about a six minute single take, and it was so important that you feel that joyous moment when they first fall, literally, into step with one another.”

The film’s final big number, “Epilogue,” was also the largest, traversing from Los Angeles to a fanciful Paris and back again. “’Epilogue’ is this beautiful fantasy and the art department did such a terrific job with the sets that it was very inspiring,” Moore says. “We had 30 dancers – and they really got to dance, which was exciting. Then you have Ryan and Emma in the middle of it, having their last big, shining moment together, so it was really emotional.”

The logistics of these hugely complicated musical numbers and the complex interplay between music and choreography, as well as the daunting task of managing the overall rehearsal and recording schedules, were overseen by music supervisor Steve Gizicki, who observes: “this was probably the hardest, but also the most rewarding, job I’ve ever done”.

Light, Color, Action: Linus Sandgren on Photographing

The City of Stars

The look of La La Land began with the great musicals of yesteryear with their wide screen, anamorphic Cinemascope and lush, almost tastable colors.

But then the real fun began, as that concept 19 was transformed via 21st Century sensibilities and equipment.

Damien Chazelle had the look in his mind, but he knew it would take people by surprise. “Whiplash was all about punctuated editing, reflecting the tempo and rhythm of the drumming. La La Land is the polar opposite. Whiplash is a movie about right angles. La La Land is all about curves,” Chazelle explains. “The model I had in mind was Max Ophuls, the master of camera movement in the history of cinema. We all wish we could move our camera like Ophuls, and of course Ophuls did it before Steadicam, but the idea is to have a camera that, in itself, feels melodic, feels like a dancer, that never gets in the way of the dancing on screen but becomes part of the choreography, nonetheless.”

The expressionistic camerawork in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull was also an influence. “Raging Bull asked the question: what happens if you put the camera inside the boxing ring? In that same way, I wanted to put the camera inside the dancing, so that you feel it is unfurling all around you,” he says.

To do this, Chazelle collaborated intently with director of photography Linus Sandgren, known for his work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy.

Though Sandgren utilized anamorphic lenses and 35mm film to provide a link to the creative past, he also took the cinematography very much into our own technological era.

“The camera had to have a very specific energy in this film – an incredibly energetic camera -- and we knew Linus had the skills to bring that,” says Jordan Horowitz.

“I've never seen someone more motivated than Linus to pull off something that might have seemed impossible to most,” says Fred Berger. “We went through 100 rolls of Steadicam in eight days, which I think is unprecedented. And the harder the shoot got, the better Linus got.”

The creative rapport between Chazelle and Sandgren made a strong impression. “Damien likes to draw on film history without ever being derivative,” says Berger. “He and Linus had the perfect marriage where they were constantly saying to each other: how can we push this idea as far it can go? That’s how they went to a place we haven’t seen before.”

Says Chazelle of Sandgren: “Linus was the right DP for this because he was not only willing to go along for the ride, he wanted to make that ride crazier than we had even envisioned it.

He has this childlike energy I find amazing. He’s like a kid in a candy shop viewing all the possibilities of cinema.” Sandgren was attracted to the detail of Chazelle’s vision, which he had storyboarded in full before pre-production began.

“When Damien presented his ideas on how to shoot this movie, it was so over the top from your typical film that it was very intriguing for that reason,” Sandgren says. “He wanted to make an old-fashioned film in a very modern way where the camera is more fluid.

His aesthetic ideas were so beautiful, it only occurred to me later there were so many technical challenges.”

Those challenges turned out to be constant. For one thing, shooting on 4-perf anamorphic 35 mm film meant that the film had to reloaded every ten minutes. On top of that, Chazelle wanted to shoot big production numbers in single takes, as what Sandgren calls “unbroken reality.”

“That’s always a big challenge, especially if you want to do it in the perfect light,” explains Sandgren. “Damien didn’t want to add effects later, he wanted everything to happen in the camera. The magic in this film is never faked – it all had to be actually happening. But I always look at things as possible to achieve; you just have to find the solution. In this case, it took lots and lots
of planning.”

The framing was also demanding.  “Damien really wanted the film to be very anamorphic. Today, scope films are usually shot in 2.40 to 1,” Sandgren notes of the standard aspect ratios. “But we were thinking it would be interesting to shoot it in 2.52 to 1 to give La La Land the extra scope of those old films. I talked to Panavision about it, and they actually modified some lenses to fit. They had to build new ground glasses for us but I think it really helps add to the spirit of the film.”

Sandgren also played with a cavalcade of colored lights to enhance the film’s palette of cool blues, greens and pinks. Chazelle was especially effusive about wanting the night scenes to be lit with their own enchanted blue night skies.

And when it came to the camera in the dance numbers, Sandgren channeled his inner choreographer. “It was important that the camera feel in a way like it is also dancing,” he offers. “At the same time, you don’t want people to notice it so it had to really flow in line with the choreography. Each number had its own huge challenges and we often felt we weren’t going to be able to nail it. So many things had to happen just right in the moment.”

The L.A. of La La Land: Production Design

La La Land is not only a human love story. It’s also an ode to the city of Los Angeles and its never-ending cycles of artistic risks that lead to heartbreak that lead to more artistic risks. So it was that the ambitious production canvassed the breadth of the city in its 40-day production.

Cast and crew made stops at such legendary locations as the Griffith Park Observatory, as well as hidden gems including Redondo Beach’s historic Lighthouse Café, a jazz club since 1949.

All of it was overseen by the team of production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, whose extraordinary list of films includes such high-style pieces as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, Collateral and

They drew from their own ardent fascination for a city that is oft-maligned but also a dreamers’ mecca. “We’ve had opportunities to show the city in both light and dark,” says David Wasco, “but this was an opportunity to look at the city anew with a visually inventive director. We know the lay of the land here, so it was a chance to use pockets that haven’t been seen yet.”

Adds Sandy Reynolds-Wasco: “We also enjoyed the idea that this film is the first real musical vision of Los Angeles in decades.”

In keeping with the tone of the film, the locations shift between of the moment and remnants of bygone eras. “That quality is already indigenous to the city,” notes David Wasco. “You can look in one direction and feel you're in 1940s Hollywood, and then turn your head and you’re in 2016. It was Damien's notion to capitalize on the timelessness inherent in the city itself.”

Chazelle also wanted to imprint the city’s questing atmosphere on the film. “LA is sort of the perfect film character because it’s full of both optimism and broken dreams,” comments Sandy Reynolds-Wasco. It’s also full of pop culture history, a reality that hits home as Sebastian and Mia cruise from a showing of Rebel Without a Cause at the historic Rialto Theatre to the Griffith Park Observatory where Rebel’s climactic action takes place.

The chance to use the legendary locations was a thrill for all – but the Wascos went beyond that, using not only the real exteriors re-creating the planetarium’s interior as an Art Deco fantasia for the dance number in which Sebastian and Mia waltz through the dioramas.

For that set, they even hunted up the planetarium’s original old projector, now replaced with a more modern incarnation. “We found a used one that we were able to rent, so we have the real planetarium projector on a turntable,” says David Wasco. “It was a very interesting set.”

A far less malleable locale came at the interchange of the 110 and 105 freeways overlooking downtown, which hosts the opening dance number. “It’s pretty unusual to do a Busby Berkeley-type dance number on an L. A. freeway,” David muses. “So what we did was create a space in our studio parking lot filled with faux highway dividers and cars for Damien, Mandy and the cast to rehearse. And then we had a very brief window of time when the California Highway Patrol shut down the freeway and we shot this very, very complicated dance number. Somehow it all came together like magic.”

It was the Wascos who presented the idea that Sebastian would drive a 1980s Buick Riviera convertible – an instantly recognizable car that becomes its own character. They also surrounded Sebastian with photos of jazz icons, while Mia lives amidst a larger-than-life photo of her heroine Ingmar Bergman. Throughout, they referenced films cinephiles may recognize, but they also cite the influences of such painters as Ed Ruscha and David Hockney, who explored the mythologies of Los Angeles, and the French Fauvist painter, Raoul Dufy, known for his ecstatic washes of color.

The sets become even more inventive towards the climax of the film, especially in the number known as “Epilogue.” “For that numbers, Damien wanted to go into this extremely heightened fantasy world of LA and Paris on a studio backlot. That was all created with painted backdrops so that the look is very, very theatrical,” explains David. “It’s such an important scene, we were working on it pretty much from the very beginning of pre-production until the day we shot it.”

L.A. might be the city where many movies get their start, but it can be a tough nut to crack cinematically. Chazelle was thrilled to see the city imbued with new perspective. “A lot of places we scouted I’d never even been before,” Chazelle says. “I’ve lived in LA for nine years, and one of the things I adore about it is that there are constantly new places to discover. That further informed the story.” 

Swirling Colors: Mary Zophres’ Costumes

For Oscar®-nominated costume designer Mary Zophres – whose work spans from the Western landscape of No Country For Old Men to the space exploration of Interstellar – La La Land presented the promise of total immersion that most inspires her. She coordinated closely with Linus Sandgren and the Wascos to create an amalgamated world in which the costumes harmonize with the design.

First, Zophres had to wrap her mind around the immense scope of the film’s costumes. “Mia and Sebastian alone have over fifty changes apiece. That’s a lot,” Zophres demurs. “But I was so motivated by Damien’s vision it gave me goose bumps – and that gives you the ability to go on even when you haven’t had any sleep and you’re exhausted.”

She and Chazelle focused intently on color as a vehicle to emotion. “We started on the first day going through the movie scene by scene by scene talking about the palettes,” she describes. “We talked about how scene might be neutrals with a yellow accent and another might have the men in dark and the women in color. Timelessness with a contemporary quality is what we were always after.”

They looked closely at predecessors ranging from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to Bandwagon and Swingtime.

But Zophres says their process was the opposite of imitation. Instead, the shapes and palettes were most inspired by plunging into the specific worlds inhabited by Sebastian and Mia.

“It was all very intuitive,” Zophres says. “There’s a strong use of color throughout, as in the classic musicals, but it was just as much about what we found most pleasing for these characters. For example, I’d seen Emma in a canary yellow dress on the red carpet. There are not many people who can wear that color but she was stunning. So I proposed to Damien: how about a yellow dress for ‘Duet?’”

Zophres found Stone a fantastic muse for her designs. “Emma’s just lovely to dress. There are actual ‘a-ha’ moments on many occasions in the fitting room with her because she’s such an amazing canvas,” says the costume designer. “The idea for Mia is that she starts off in a lot of vibrant colors, so there’s a girlishness to her.

Then as she becomes more mature and focused on her work, the color starts to become a little bit more desaturated, to the point where in her one-woman show she is literally in black and white. Then we see her five years later, and it’s the same girl – just far more sophisticated.”

Many of Mia’s outfits have a vintage appeal, in keeping with the film’s tone. “Her barista blouse is based on a beautiful shot of Ingrid Bergman from the 1940s,” notes Zophres. “There’s also a very, very early screen test that Bergman did where she’s wearing a pink halter dress. Mia wears something similar that we found in a vintage clothing store right in the San Fernando Valley.

It’s the kind of dress that you could have worn 50 years ago but equally can wear right now.” For Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, Zophres emphasized the elegant, with a shot of the offbeat. Nearly all of his clothing was made to order. “His look is not necessarily trendy, but it’s also not necessarily what other men you see walking down the street are wearing. It’s a look you feel he has developed and curated. He’s a guy you don’t see wearing a t-shirt. Instead, he has a very specific kind of slim silhouette that speaks to a respect for tradition and formality,” she explains. Hue was equally key to Sebastian’s look, from his sable brown suit in the opening scene to his royal blue sport coat to the all-black he dons on tour with the Messengers.

He also sports two-tone shoes, a touch Zophres adores. “Those were popular in the ‘40s, but it just seemed to bring in a sense of whimsy and lightness and a love of life. Those shoes are very joyful to me, and they became kind of a signature for Sebastian because he has this passion for the past he brings into the present. It would be fun to see more men walking down the street in two-tone shoes.”

Gosling was very taken with what Zophres created. “If there’s a Mount Rushmore of costume designers Mary Zophres is on it,” says Gosling. “She truly one of the greatest costume designers alive, and her costume really helped me to walk that line between a 1940s and contemporary sensibility.”

For the big dance numbers, Zophres focused not only on form but also on extreme function, with clothing that swings, swirls and looks even more striking amidst high-flying performances. “Mary’s costumes echo the amplified sensibility that permeates every frame of the film,” says Marc Platt. “And the way her costumes move only accentuates the beauty of the film even more.”

Jordan Horowitz was gratified by how the film’s entire corps unified to pull off the feat of making a modern musical. “There were many great collaborations on this film and I think what made it unusual is that everyone was really passionate about their own work but also in creating Damien’s vision as joyfully as he created it.” Adds Fred Berger: “The result is such a visceral experience it really lends itself to the big screen, to going out to have a fun, happy time. The characters are authentic but it is also a visual spectacle from beginning to end.”

For Platt, every carefully-rendered element of La La Land – from the dialogue to the songs, performances, photography and right down to the tiniest details of the sets and costumes – synchronizes together to create something that, like romance, feels mysteriously more than the sum of its parts. “La La Land is a cinematic experience unto itself. It is sweeping but also intimate. It is large but also romantic. It is happy and melancholy. It dances and sings. And it paints a portrait of love and Los Angeles that you've never seen before. Ultimately, it may transport you into a different kind of feeling than you’re used to having at the movies,” Platt concludes.

Chazelle hopes one of the feelings the film evokes is passion, since that was the root if its intricate creation. “I do think La La Land is about passion -- it's about passion for art and passion for love and hopefully the passion with which we approached the movie, with which we wrote it, with which we composed the music for it and with which we present it is something you feel.”


1812 Overture
Written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performed by Kálmán Berkes and the 'Tokyo Musashino Academia Musicae Chorus and Symphony Orchestra'
Courtesy of Hungaroton Classic
By arrangement with Source/Q and Naxos

No Two Words
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble

Si ridesta in ciel l'aurora (from 'La Traviata')
Written by Giuseppe Verdi
Performed by Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Courtesy of Naxos
By arrangement with Source/Q

Anyone Can Get It
Music and Lyrics by Marius De Vries, Eldad Guetta, Justin Hurwitz, Jarred Pellerin
Performed by Pell

It Happened At Dawn
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Lyrics by Damien Chazelle
Performed by Desiree Garcia
Courtesy of Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle

Another Day of Sun
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Performed by Nicholai Baxter, Marius De Vries, Briana Lee, Angela Parrish, and Sam Stone

Japanese Folk Song
Written by Rentarô Taki
Arranged by Thelonious Monk
Performed by Thelonious Monk
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing

Jingle Bells
Arranged by Tommy Newsom (as Thomas P. Newsom)
Performed by Boots Randolph
Courtesy of Ralph Jungheim Productions
By arrangement with Source/Q

Silent Night
Arranged by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by Eddie Wakes (as Eddie Wake)

Someone in the Crowd
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Performed by Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, Jessica Rothenberg and Emma Stone

Jingle Bells
"We Wish You A Merry Christmas"
"Deck The Halls"
Arranged by Justin Hurwitz

Take On Me
Written by Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket, and Pål Waaktaar
Performed by D.A. Wallach

I Ran
Written by Frank Maudsley, (as Francis Reynolds Maudsley), Paul Reynolds, Ali Score (as Alistair M. Score) and Michael Score
Performed by D.A. Wallach

Tainted Love
Written by Ed Cobb (as Edward Cobb)
Performed by Soft Cell
Courtesy of Mercury Records Limited under license from Universal Music Enterprises

A Lovely Night
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Performed by Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

When I Wake
Written by Justin Hurwitz
Courtesy of Cutting Edge Music (Holdings) Limited

Herman's Habit
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble

Rialto at Ten
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble

City of Stars (Pier)
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Performed by Ryan Gosling

Rebel and "Planetarium" from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE
Written and Conducted by Leonard Rosenman
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble

It Pays
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble

Start a Fire
Music and Lyrics by John Legend (as John Stephens), Marius De Vries, Angelique Cinelu and Justin Hurwitz
Performed by John Legend
John Legend appears courtesy of Columbia Records/Get Out Our Dreams, Inc.

City of Stars
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Performed by Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble

Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble

Music by Justin Hurwitz
Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Performed by Emma Stone

Boy in the Park
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble

Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by La La Land Jazz Ensemble
City Of Stars (Humming)
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Performed by Emma Stone

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