Monday, December 12, 2016
By Tinsel & Tine Editor, Le Anne Lindsay
Damien Chazelle, the writer/director of Whiplash, and his collaborative partner, composer Justin Hurwitz have created a beguiling, unapologetically romantic homage to classic movie musicals in LA LA LAND (opening film of the 25th Philadelphia Film Festival - click for T&T coverage). The opening scene, a single continuous shot shows a traffic jam in L.A., where all of the drivers emerge from their vehicles and break into song and dance. The film shouts to the audience that this is a throwback to old-school Hollywood musicals, thus, resulting in the audience understanding to view the film with a suspension of disbelief from the beginning. There's another super choreographed ensemble number involving Mia, a struggling actress in LA, (Emma Stone) and her equally hopeful star-bound roommates, getting dressed for a party in the Hollywood Hills. Afterwhich, the staged Broadway musical tone of the movie fades into the background and is replaced by an engaging and realistic love story - with music used either in fantasy sequences or because Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling jazz musician and has reason to perform either for gigs or to serenade Mia.
Seb & Mia are what really make this movie sing! This is Stone and Gosling's third movie together (Stupid Crazy Love and Gangster Squad) and you can totally see they understand how to sell that old Hollywood Duo appeal. Gosling is fantastic in most everything, but sometimes his roles are so sardonically off-putting, you have to love him from a distance. As Seb, he's still got edge, but he's also completely adorable. Still, it's Emma Stone who really shines, all big eyes and total presence, channeling a bit of Ann-Margaret in Viva La Vegas or Bye Bye Birdie. I'd be surprised if this was not Stone's year to be the "it" girl during this Awards season! (T & T's LAMB (movie bloggers association) Score:4 outta 5)
I not only got a chance to see La La Land twice before the general movie-going audience, I got to interview the writer/director Damien Chazelle at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia.
TINSEL & TINE'S INTERVIEW WITH LA LA LAND'S DAMIEN CHAZELLET&T: I understand the opening number “Another Day of Sun” is inspired by your love of the film The Young Girls of Rochefort and that the lyrics set up the backdrop of the struggle & glory of Hollywood. However, I am curious if you ever considered cutting the opening sequence? Because as magnificent as the choreography, staging and direction of it is, it sets a Big Broadway Chorus tone for the film that isn’t really found in the rest of the movie.
Damien Chazelle: Well, actually, yeah, there's a few months in the editing where we cut it out. But it was more about story, trying to make the movie as tight as possible. The idea behind the number in the onset was to try to kinda announce it as loudly as possible that you're watching a musical, and start out with the most musically, musical number in the movie before we establish any characters; so then you kinda go down into the storyline and these two people and everything that follows is then dictated by those people, so it's gonna be more intimate and from their specific points of view. So that's a little bit of what dictated that difference in style; but it's also just a matter of, let's make that loud statement in the beginning, so by comparison, everything that follows feels more natural as a result.
T&T: Casting Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's in their third roles as lovers is brilliant, they do have a Hepburn/Tracy-ish quality. What was it like joining into their process? Because I would imagine they have develop a certain short hand between them. Also, I read it took 2 days and 8 takes to get the tap dancing number overlooking LA shot. How much time had you allotted for this scene and would you ever have considered forgetting about the continuous single shot and editing it together or did you feel you had to be true to the original old musical genre by doing it that way?
DC: As you say, this short hand that they have was great because they were doing something new to them, neither had ever done a musical on screen before. They both have musical backgrounds to a certain degree, still they were very much outside their comfort zones, so it worked that they could pick each other up figuratively, as well as literally, and really help each other through the process. And I was able to be the third spoke in that wheel, helping them both navigate their way through it; and they were able to develop their characters together in many ways through the dance rehearsals and learning the songs.
T&T: On their own, apart from you?
DC: No with all of us, just in the sense that all of it wound up informing the characters, whether it be piano, dance, a song or just the lines, every single element fed into character development.
DC cont: In terms of the dance on the hill, we'd rehearsed a lot. It was conceived as needing to be a single take, to slide from pure diegetic talking to talking with score to singing with score to dancing and then back. It had to kinda take that whole journey that normally you would separate with edits, but I wanted to make it as seamless as possible; we didn't give ourselves any other options, otherwise, we'd have cut it from the movie. And yeah, the trick was doing it at this time of night when the sky had the color that we wanted; which really limited the time we had, so we were only able to do 4 or 5 takes each night.
T&T: The scenes when Mia’s boss gives her a hard time about leaving for auditions and Seb gets fired, were so relatable to me, I’m always in the predicament of trying to sneak and get stuff done for Tinsel & Tine, while I’m at a job or during my lunch break. I've also had to pass up great interviews because I can't take off during the day. I recently got let go of a job because I needed to cover an event in D.C. for 2 days. What types of jobs did you work before making it in Hollywood? And did you ever have a boss supportive of your aspirations?
DC: I worked at a deli counter in a grocery store. I worked with a moving company for like a few days until I realized I was gonna pass out from exhaustion. Eventually, in LA, I tried to do stuff that gave me as much flexibility to write as possible - I was tutoring a lot. I also wrote study guides for students, and other things like that until finally I was able to make a little bit of money as a writer for hire doing re-writes. In many cases shitty, schlocky scripts. And some fun stuff too. Bit by bit trying to make a living as a writer with material I didn't originate in hopes that one day I would be able to pay the bills doing my own stuff.
T&T: But how did you know who to contact to try to be a writer for hire?
DC cont: I had a manager by that point, gotten through my student film - no agent, but a manager, and he helped hook me up with an agent once I had a script that could be a writing sample. But again, that was about 3 years into being in LA and then another 3 years or so of working that circuit.
T&T: If you were going to write and direct a biopic about a musician or singer, do you know who you’d want it to be?
DC: Not concretely, but in college I did a documentary on Buddy Bolden, a very early jazz musician, one of the father's of jazz. His story is incredible, as are many early jazz artists. But I'm not sure yet, in terms of putting a script together, but certainly down the line it would be cool.
The above questions and answers were all between Chazelle and myself. However, there were two other journalists in the room during the interview; the below audio also includes questions and answers with Dan Matthews of Geekadelphia and Dayzia Terry from 34th St Mag:
Audio version of Interview with Damien Chazelle
Post Update : This interview was published 12/12/16, but conducted 10/20/16 and written 11/15/16, before LA LA LAND received 7 Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion - Ryan Gosling
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy - Emma Stone
Best Director - Motion Picture - Damien Chazelle
Best Screenplay - Motion Picture - Damien Chazelle
Best Original Score - Motion Picture - Justin Hurwitz
Best Original Song - Motion Picture - "City of Stars" Justin Hurwitz Lyrics by: Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Congrats to Chazelle and everyone associated with the movie!
I'd like to thank Allied Philly, Summit Entertainment, The Ritz Carlton Hotel, Philadelphia Film Society and Damien Chazelle for this fun opportunity.
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