La La Land: Damien Chazelle on his Innovative Musical Film

La La Land



Traveling the Festival Circuit

Damien Chazelle: It’s also that selfish thing of, “Well, I’ve never been to the Venice Film Festival or the Telluride Film Festival. And I loved Toronto with the one movie I had there. So it was like, yeah, I want to do all three. Now I’m suddenly realizing why they warned me I’d be exhausted, but I’m really happy. It’s a dream.

Dreams Vs. Pragmatism

Emma Stone: What Damien wrote is so inspiring, and then by the time I got to the end…I really wish the audience could watch the ending with the screen directions he wrote, because it’s so transporting.  It’s a love more beautiful than real love can ever be?”


Ryan Gosling Emma Stone La La Land


Chazelle: It’s trying to have high moments of fantasy, as the musical genre allows you to do, like float up to the stars, and at the same time have as raw and intimate stuff between actors as you could. And to not try to curb one, but to basically go to both extremes and see if they can possibly coexist in a movie and how. And fully knowing that they might not be able to. It could just be an experiment that goes awry. Bit that’s where it kind of comes on the shoulders of Emma and Ryan Gosling and J.K. Simmons and John Legend and Finn Wittrock and Rosemarie DeWitt, the entire cast finding this tone that is going to bridge these total extreme poles.

Tone and Balance

Chazelle: The right tone was the question, so I totally get it. It was the most discussed thing through prep and all the way through shooting and even when editing. It’s what Tom Cross and I were grappling with the most, was just the balance, and it’s a very precarious balance.

Stone: Beforehand I was Damien’s worst nightmare? Was I your worst nightmare or your second worst nightmare?

Chazelle: No, no, worst, worst. Don’t sell yourself short.

Stone: I was trying to nail it down beforehand and understand how it all would tie together. Like, “Is all of this in Cinemascope? Are just the musical numbers this wide and colorful and then we move back?” But once we started shooting, I gave that up a bit. Because actually being in the process of it is so different than the three months you spend in rehearsal analyzing it and learning to do all the technical things that you’re doing, like learning to tap dance or ballroom dance for the first time or sing notes that I’ve never sung before. So yeah, I think both happened and it just gave way to trusting the process eventually.

Personal Film: Playing Struggling Actress

Stone: I definitely understood the feeling of moving to Los Angeles and having a dream to be an actor in films and to get to be a part of things that I loved and inspire people in some way. It’s pretty insane that we’re talking about this movie and it’s something that I’m so proud and excited to be a part of, when that is the goal of the character, is to be a part of something like this.

It’s a little meta in that way. And I felt differences with Mia, too. Like, I’m not a writer. I haven’t written anything. But I think a big part of her and what I love about the way that Mia is eventually discovered is she puts it all on the line and she writes something that is about her life, which is more Damien, and really puts it out there. And when the casting director calls her, it’s because of who Mia was and that’s what earns her that success.


Chazelle: Ryan Gosling was a total discovery. Had you heard about him about this movie before? He’d done some summer stock theater.

Even just getting the movie off the ground at all took many years, so through that, casting took a very circuitous route. Emma laughs when I say this because she thinks I’m lying, but I do remember thinking of them even back when I was writing the script in 2010. I think it’s because we were talking about this bridge between the two poles, and I think they individually can live in both worlds in a way that few actors can. They can be timeless, old-school movie stars, and yet still very contemporary, like look at her now. What is that face you’re making.

La La Land Justin Hurwitz Ryan Gosling


Chazelle: Obviously the chemistry between the two was important. But also, I like that we had seen them before in a way that kind of made them feel like an old Hollywood pairing where Dick Powell and Myrna Loy would do those movies together; Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, obviously; Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy — there would be these pairs that you would expect to see in cinema and you kind of felt that you knew them. I liked that because it gave us a starting point to begin to unravel it a little bit and maybe show new sides to it.

Opening: Overture or Musical Number

Chazelle: Originally, it opened with three minute overture and then went into the freeway. It was basically realizing in editing, “Oh, we did two overtures.” We weren’t smart enough to realize that until we were in the cut. If you can believe it, there was a world for about three months where we cut out the traffic number.

It’s the E-Z Pass lane. Which I learned about because I once got a ticket because Waze told me to take it.

We chose that because it was shut-downable, in a way other parts of L.A. weren’t, but we basically had one weekend to shoot it. And everything was conspiring to go wrong.  It was a heat wave, the hottest two days of the year. The car tops are boiling, that the people have to dance on. The truck door that the guy opens decides to stop opening before we do that take, so we have our producer and three crew members with a makeshift pulley system behind it to open it because it wouldn’t open on its own.

Weather Report

Chazelle: Then half of one of the days, there decided to be giant, thunderous cloud over L.A. when we’re singing about how it’s just another day of sun. So we had to wait for the clouds to break. All those things happen, but in a way that’s part of the exhilaration of it, to do the kind of thing that in the old days you’d do on a studio backlot, but to do it on a real location, so that when you’re on that wide shot seeing all the dancers, you see three lanes of traffic underneath. And that’s a documentary. That’s just real traffic flowing.

Bittersweet Ending

Stone: The ending does break my heart, because of what different choices might have led to.  In a sense it can be about someone who inspired you to do what you need to do, and you inspired them to follow what they needed to do. But I think there’s something amazing about that ending that everyone can relate to in some way. I think it’s beautiful that people are having different versions of that.

Chazelle: They can take ownership of it, which is what I hope.