Published Dec 14, 2016Hollywood doesn't often make movies like Damien Chazelle's La La Land anymore. A fall festival favourite, the 31-year-old director's follow-up to the critically acclaimed Whiplash looks to the past for inspiration.
Shot on 35mm film, the motion picture has plenty of scenes worth marvelling at. There are hundreds of dancers, real jazz piano performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone giving some truly impressive vocal scenes.
La La Land stands out amongst this year's big-budget superhero flicks and reboots. As Ryan Gosling said in a recent interview with GQ, "It wears its heart on its sleeve, this film." It also stands a good chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards.
Here are eight facts you didn't know about the making of La La Land.
1. Chazelle shut down part of a L.A. freeway to film the movie's opening scene.
Right from the get-go, Chazelle establishes that La La Land differs from the lean and mean Whiplash with a six-minute opening number filmed with a 100 dancers and bumper-to-bumper cars, all filmed over a single weekend on a closed EZ pass ramp over the 105 freeway.
"There were many weeks of preparation leading up to that and then it turned out to be one of the hottest weekends on record," co-producer Fred Berger told the BBC.
"It was fun, but it was a challenge," Chazelle added.
2. La La Land was partly inspired by Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz's old band and their early struggles in Hollywood.
Chazelle and Hurwitz first met at Harvard and for a short time had dreams of making it in the music industry. Their freshman band, Chester French, would later go on to sign with Interscope years after Chazelle and Hurwitz, a drummer and multi-instrumentalist respectively, decided to leave the group and focus their efforts on filmmaking.
After college, the pair moved to L.A., working on horror script rewrites and sitcoms (Hurwitz wrote for The League and The Simpsons, among other projects).
"A lot of those ups and downs and frustrations went into this script," Chazelle told IndieWire in December.
3. Not surprisingly, most people weren't interested in financing a multimillion-dollar musical.
Speaking with IndieWire, Chazelle shed light on the initial studio pitches: "I would say, 'It's going to be great, because the music's going to be jazz.' Then I'd add, 'It's a love story and they don't end up together at the end.' Then the final capper would be, they would ask, 'Who's doing the music?' and I'd say, 'My college roommate. He'll do a great job.'"
"Everything was a further death knell," Chazelle later told Deadline. "The genre itself, when it's not based on a pre-existing property, is a scary thing."
Few film companies bit, but that all changed once Whiplash broke big.
"Smaller studios wanted to make it at $12 million to $16 million," Hurwitz told IndieWire's Anne Thompson after the film's premiere at Telluride, "but Lionsgate's Erik Feig wanted to make the right version."
La La Land reportedly ended up costing around $30,000,000 to make.
4. Gosling played piano for four months to prepare for his role.
Gosling is no stranger to the world of music. He got his start opposite Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera on The Mickey Mouse Club in the early '90s, and played in the rock duo Dead Man's Bones, who released a record on Anti- in 2009.
For his role as jazz-lover and pianist Sebastian in La La Land, he trained with a teacher and practiced the piano for four months.
"There's no hand replacements," Chazelle told the CBC. "There's no piano double at all in any shot of the movie."
Even John Legend, who also stars in the film, was impressed.
"I was like, 'Have you played before?'" Legend recalled to the CBC. "'Cuz you can't be this good right away."
5. Gosling also used the film as an opportunity to learn how to dance again.
Before becoming a member of The Mickey Mouse Club, Gosling spent time competing with a dance troupe. In his mid-20s he even took dance lessons in private.
"I missed it," Gosling told GQ in December. "I liked being in the studio, and being in a class. And I like dancers — I like their energy, I like the way they approach what they do. I really liked them as a kid — I loved hanging out with them. I just think dancers are an interesting breed. They're like athletes but they're not competitive. I love to watch them. I love to see the way that they embody the music and communicate themselves physically. I think it's so beautiful."
6. Miles Teller and Emma Watson almost starred in the film.
While touring the awards press circuit with Whiplash two years ago, the film's star, Teller, was excited to talk about his role opposite Watson in Chazelle's next feature. But by an August 2015 interview with Esquire he was singing a different tune. In the interview, Teller recalled his agent getting a call from Lionsgate saying that Chazelle no longer thought he was "creatively right for the project." Teller hilariously responded to Chazelle with a text: "What the fuck, bro?"
There are rumours that Teller was trying to hold out for more than the initial $4 million offered. Watson wasn't able to take part in the movie due to contractual issues and ultimately found herself in another musical, Disney's live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.
7. Some of the film's biggest numbers were recorded live.
"The moments where they needed to be vulnerable, the really intimate songs, we felt had to be live," Chazelle told IndieWire in early December. "We wanted the actors to really be able to 'act' their way through the songs, and take the space they needed, and really drive the songs. And to pick up on all of the nuance, so you can hear the smacks of the lips and the gulps."
The plan worked — Stone's solo number "Audition" was nominated for a 2016 Critics' Choice Award, while her duet with Gosling, "City of Stars," walked away with the big prize.
8. Hurwitz chose not to watch some of the movies that inspired Chazelle to create La La Land.
Cinephiles won't have a hard time assessing La La Land numerous inspirations, from the film's of Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Young Girls of Rochefort) to the work of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Even though Hurwitz and Chazelle worked side by side for years to create La La Land, according to the CBC, Hurwitz consciously chose not to watch those films for inspiration and instead decided to compose something brand new "from an emotional place."
La La Land hits a limited number of Canadian theatres on December 25. Read our review here, and pick up the OST on vinyl here, or limited edition blue vinyl here.