Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” was a passion project that was years in the making. And, if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you probably already know that Chazelle met with producers Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz about making the contemporary musical before he ever shot the “Whiplash” short that became the “Whiplash” feature film that charmed the 2014 Sundance Film Festival that eventually put the wheels in motion for “La La Land” to hit the screen. But were you aware of these other “La La Land” tidbits?
Hitting the mark during “Another Day of Sun”
The film’s opening number was shot during an epic August heat wave in 2015. The production shut down an off ramp between the 110 and 105 freeways. More than 30 dancers brought the song to life over two days of filming, but the final phase of the number required every dancer to get in his or her car at exactly the same time.
Choreographer Mandy Moore jokes, “I basically threatened those dancers with their lives because that was at the end of a really, really difficult shot. They all knew that no matter what, they had to get in those cars. One of the dancers, his name’s Doran Butler, at one point his door locked or something. He didn’t know what happened, but he couldn’t get it open and he’s just freaking out. He sang and then he basically jumped through the driver’s window. He dove in because he didn’t want to be standing there at the end. I will forever thank that kid for that.”
The music was ready for the pitch
After “Whiplash’s” success, the producers and Chazelle pitched a package to studios and financiers for “La La Land” that not only included a screenplay, but also musical tracks that ended up in the final movie. After working on more than 1,900 demos, composer Justin Hurwitz and Chazelle had decided on the main theme, the duet (later known as “A Lovely Night,” but at the time called “Duet on a Hill”) and the whole planetarium score sequence, among other songs.
Hurwitz notes, “We wanted some of the really important pieces of score to exist because we wanted people to understand exactly what the flavor and emotion in all of it would be.”
Hollywood history in unexpected locations
Emma Stone’s character, Mia, lives in an apartment composited from two locations. According to production designer David Wasco, the exterior was Rose Court Apartments, a restored set of buildings in Long Beach that had never been used in a movie before. The interior was from a historic 1930s building in the Miracle Mile neighborhood just south of Museum Row. Wasco reveals that the locale had two pretty famous tenants over the years, Ronald Reagan and Clark Gable.
Wasco says, “They both at one point had that as their personal apartment. Gable had it when he was an established actor, but Ronald Reagan had it when he was still starting out.” The production also ended up using the Magnolia Theater in Burbank as the samba and tapas club that Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, mopes over every day while he has coffee. Unbeknown to Wasco beforehand, Barbra Streisand once owned the theater, using it as a recording studio.
The toughest take might surprise you
Considering all the work Gosling and Stone put into the elaborately choreographed, unbroken six-minute shot for the hillside number “A Lovely Night” and the logistical complications with “Another Day of Sun,” it’s surprising that Moore thinks the last waltz Stone and Gosling did was the most difficult of the movie.
She recalls, “I want to say that was probably the one that we took the most takes of. I think we had over 40 — 45 or 47 takes. It was complex with the way that the camera was shooting them and I remember Ryan at one point was like, ‘I’m lost in these stars. I don’t even know where my front is,’ because they’re spinning around and they’re waltzing, and that was kind of a funny moment.”
Three painters with Los Angeles connections were influential
During the picture’s alternate reality dream sequence, Mia and Sebastian dance onto a white soundstage where there are a number of three-dimensional cartoon representations of famous L.A. landmarks. They also glide by an orange grove that was a recurring motif appearing as a mural and poster throughout the movie. The lovers also waltz by a mini-gas station with a real attendant. Wasco notes, “That was a riff off a very famous Ed Ruscha gas station painting. We were influenced and inspired by a few Los Angeles painters like Ed Ruscha and British painter David Hockney, who transplanted to L.A., and the colors of Patssi Valdez, who has done these kind of vibrant, beautiful color paintings. That is what actually drove a lot of the color selections in that final dance number.”