The end of 2016 brought us a blockbuster in the film La La Land. Starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, this combination film and musical is about Mia, an aspiring actress trying to break into Hollywood and Sebastian, a jazz pianist, that are trying to live their dreams in Los Angeles. The movie is the brainchild of Damien Chazelle who burst on the scene with the 2014 Academy Award winning film Whiplash. The film is set in modern day Los Angeles, but has a very retro feel throughout. The music, dancing, wardrobe and sets evoke the feel of the 1940s and 50s which was completely by design. La La Land has become the feel good film of the year, giving audiences an opportunity to go see a beautiful film with beautiful music. With a $30 million budget, the film has already grossed over $300 million at the box office worldwide. In the process of making the film, as with most, there are some pretty amazing stories. With a stellar cast and amazing production team, there’s plenty to love about this movie. There’s a reason it’s been nominated for 14 Academy Award nominations (tying the record with Titanic and All About Eve). So for all you La La lovers out there, here are 15 shocking things that you didn’t know about La La Land.
15. Freeway Shutdown
It took 30 dancers, 60 cars and 100 extras to create the opening scene in the movie with impromptu dancing during a traffic jam. This scene took an insane amount of planning and preparation and also required fast work, since you can’t shut down sections of two major freeways for too long. In fact, they got an entire exit ramp shut down for two days! The planning and preparation for this involved using their own cars to prepare for the scene ahead of time. By the way, it was insanely hot during filming, so constant jumping, dancing and moving with a smile on your face while baking on hot asphalt isn’t all that easy. It wound up being a pretty killer scene in the end, so good job to cast and crew!
14. One Dancer Jumped In Car Window
The very last part of the traffic jam song and dance required that all the dancers get back in their cars at the same time. The shot was tough and absolutely required synchronized movement together. But when the dancer Doran Butler couldn’t get his car door open (for one reason or another), some quick thinking really saved the day. He jumped in the car through the driver’s window, saving the shot and the entire scene. It’s so important when you’re filming on a freeway exit to have the right lighting. This window of time and the very limited number of days you have to work with really limit the number of takes you can have for a scene. Hats off to Mr. Butler for his quick thinking and improvisation skills. You will forever be remembered by the choreographer for your self sacrifice.
13. Mia Was Originally Emma Watson
Every movie has a list of potential actors and actresses to play certain characters. It’s hard to think of certain individuals playing some of the more iconic roles. For instance, can you imagine Christopher Walken or Al Pacino playing Han Solo in Star Wars? Well, La La Land is no exception and in this film, Emma Watson (Hermione Granger herself) just almost played the role of Mia. In fact, Emma agreed to play the part and was set for a time to fill the role. But due to other projects, Emma parted ways with the production and Emma Stone was cast in the role. Emma was committed to play Belle in the remake of Beauty and the Beast which will be released in theaters in March of 2017. With all the buzz that has surrounded La La Land, I wonder if Emma is regretting this decision?
12. The Choreographer Was Mandy Moore!
Okay, now that we have your attention, it’s a different Mandy Moore than the singer/actress that you may remember. I’m not sure if that Mandy Moore can dance, but this one sure can! Relatively unknown in the world of celebrity, the choreographer Mandy Moore was selected as the perfect person to craft the dance scenes throughout the film, as well as the daunting task of teaching Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone how to dance. Neither of them fancied themselves much of a dancer before the film, but Mandy was up to the task of teaching them what they needed to make the film great. Mandy has worked on the television series So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars. This will most likely take her career to new heights.
11. Moore Hid Under Car
During the traffic jam scene, choreographer Mandy Moore was completely committed to the task at hand and even hid under one of the cars so she could yell out cues and watch the action on a digital screen. Laying under a car in extreme heat takes extreme dedication to the process and Moore is nothing if not dedicated. She has spoke about the scene since the release of the film with a mixture of pride and excitement that it is over. She refers to the entire scene as something of an ongoing panic attack, but it turned out absolutely perfect! Directors have been known to do some odd things to get the right shot or angle, all in the name of the craft. Mandy Moore not only understands this practice, but embraces whatever is necessary to create the magic.
10. Ryan Gosling Learned Jazz Piano
Ryan Gosling just keeps impressing his fans. With his versatility as an actor, he has shown a wide variety of sides in a number of roles. In La La Land, as Sebastian, he was presented with the task of needing to play jazz piano. While two pianists were secured as hand doubles just in case Gosling couldn’t pull it off in time for filming, it turns out they weren’t needed. Ryan spent six months learning to play jazz piano for this role. He spent two hours a day in lessons, six days a week during this period. So when you watch the film, you are actually seeing Gosling play! He does actually have some musical talent, and he would have to in order to be ready in just six months.
9. Stone Is A One Take Wonder
It is incredibly difficult to do anything in one take! Even low-budget artistic films will have multiple takes, just to give the editor more room to achieve as close to perfection as possible. In one of the final numbers of La La Land though, Mia (played by Emma Stone) is singing her heart out one last time hoping in “Audition.” This scene had to be done in a single take and had to be perfect. The composer of most of the film’s music, Justin Hurwitz was himself playing the piano in another room while Stone was hearing him through an earpiece. It was masterfully done and extremely emotional. When you see it on screen, that’s not lip syncing or the result of many tries. It is pure and raw emotion and talent for both acting and singing.
8. Gosling and Stone Coupling
As you know, La La Land is actually the third time Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone appear together on screen. The two must have an amazing chemistry as actors, because the characters themselves are completely different types of people in each film. Their first coupling was in 2011 with Crazy, Stupid, Love followed by 2013’s Gangster Squad. Now with the smash hit La La Land, there’s no doubt that this duo is capable of making some serious magic on screen. Who knows how many more times the two will be cast together, but filmmakers always look for acting talent that work well together to create the extra spark you can’t get with just anyone. But put to rest any notion that they are an item. Gosling has been with Eva Mendes since 2011 and there is no indication that this is on the rocks.
7. Screenplay Written Seven Years Ago!
Director and writer of La La Land, Damien Chazelle actually wrote the screenplay for the film back in 2010 while still a student at Harvard University. Damien is still a youngster in Hollywood, but seems to have something of the Midas touch when it comes to film projects. When he wrote the screenplay as a project with his friend Justin Hurwitz, who composed the music, they were both in their last year of school. He got some producers on board to back the project initially, but when they couldn’t see eye-to-eye on elements of the film, he decided it wasn’t meant to be and moved to something else. Fast forward seven years and the partnership of Chazelle and Hurwitz has produced one of the best musical films of this generation.
6. Got Green Light Thanks To Whiplash
Those that know Damien Chazelle, recognize him for his work on the 2014 film Whiplash. The film follows a determined jazz drummer who attends an exclusive music conservatory, where he is under the direction of a ruthless and overly demanding conductor. Whiplash put Chazelle on the map in Hollywood and on just a little over $3 million, was able to create an Academy Award winning film. La La Land was actually written and ready to film before Whiplash and despite some reservations from production companies, was given the green light and a $30 million budget after Chazelle brought home the bacon with Whiplash. Now that they see the vast success of La La Land, Chazelle could probably do a movie about rendering lard and have people lined-up ready to produce it for him.
5. Miles Teller Was Originally Set To Play Sebastian
Miles Teller is recognizable from a few big movies. Known for his work as the sarcastic jerk in the Divergent trilogy, he also worked with Damien Chazelle with Whiplash. In fact, he was cast in the lead role in Whiplash and received several award nominations for the role. Originally, Chazelle had Teller in mind for the role of Sebastian in La La Land and would likely have done an amazing job, given his aptness for performing the role of a jazz musician previously. But this didn’t come to pass as it is alleged that Chazelle felt he wasn’t a good creative fit for the part. The rumor mill has it that an angry text was sent by Teller about the decision, but who really knows. Hollywood is a strange and wild place and I’m sure Teller is over it by now.
4. Freeway Dancers Had Extra Costumes Hidden in Cars
The temperature on the freeway scene was reportedly well over a hundred degrees during filming. Because the scene required multiple takes to get it absolutely right, there was a lot of dancing and a whole lot of sweating! In an effort to keep everyone looking absolutely fresh, each dancer had two extra costumes stored in the cars to change into between takes! There probably wasn’t much privacy while changing either. This all just fits into the craziness of filming that scene in general. Jumping and dancing on top of cars a hundred feet in the air with high winds makes for a lot of extra anxiety about safety. But hey, they got the shot and everyone looked perfect at the same time. It is absolutely certain that the makeup crew were hopping in between each take as well!
3. Waltz Was Extra Hard
While the freeway number was no easy task, requiring months of planning and preparation, according to choreographer Mandy Moore, it wasn’t actually the most difficult scene to shoot. Surprisingly, the waltz where Sebastian and Mia are dancing among the stars was the hardest to film, requiring over 40 takes! While seemingly a relatively easy scene, it required the most takes to get right.The reason it was so difficult was apparently because it was almost impossible to not get lost among the stars. To get ready for the scene, Gosling and Stone were harnessed and practiced dancing in mid-air. The end result was beautiful, with the starry scene (originally supposed to be underwater, but later changed) superimposed over a green screen, creating absolute beauty and the feeling of dancing without gravity.
2. John Legend Learned Guitar
John Legend is a force to be reckoned with in the world of music these days. He is a superhero of music if ever there was one. To have him cast in the film was a move of brilliance and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. But one little factoid that may surprise you is that Legend actually had to learn to play the guitar for the role! It seems unthinkable that this musical phenomenon didn’t already know how to play the guitar, but it’s true. He is known for his amazing vocal and piano talents as well as his phenomenal songwriting, but guitar is not something his fans have seen him play. Well in La La Land, Legend decided to learn the instrument for the part. Now he can add that to his already long list of musical abilities.
1. Bargain Basement Wardrobe
While $30 million may seem like an astronomical amount of money, in Hollywood, that budget goes quickly! While they were not willing to sacrifice the creative desire of the wardrobe for the film, they also weren’t above thinking out of the box to get what they wanted. In fact, Gosling’s wardrobe consisted of just five different suit combinations. Stone’s wardrobe was a little more involved, with some pieces custom made for her, but some of the pieces were actually bought at discount stores on the cheap! Yellow is also sure to be a hit in spring as a result of the beautiful yellow dress she wears in the film. It just goes to show you that you don’t have to spend a fortune on clothing to make a huge impact!