La La Land (film)

La La Land

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Produced by
Written by Damien Chazelle
Music by Justin Hurwitz
Cinematography Linus Sandgren
Edited by Tom Cross
  • Gilbert Films
  • Impostor Pictures
  • Marc Platt Productions
Distributed by Summit Entertainment
Release dates
  • August 31, 2016 (2016-08-31) (Venice Film Festival)
  • December 9, 2016 (2016-12-09) (United States)
Running time
128 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $30 million[2]

La La Land is a 2016 American romantic musical comedy-drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt. The plot follows a musician and aspiring actress who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles. It is the third film to feature Gosling and Stone as lovers, following Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad.

The film's title is a reference to both a nickname for the city of Los Angeles as well as a euphemism for a state of being out of touch with reality. La La Land had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2016 and is set to be released in the United States on December 9, 2016 by Summit Entertainment. The film received rave reviews from critics, publications and media-outlets particularly praising Damien Chazelle's direction, Gosling and Stone's performances, musical numbers, overall production, and the film's revitalization of the musical film genre.


In the heart of Los Angeles, aspiring actress Mia serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions while dedicated jazz musician Sebastian plays in dingy bars in order to scrape by. The two meet and fall in love, but, as success mounts, the dreams they worked so hard to maintain threaten to tear them apart.



Screenplay and pre-production

Damien Chazelle has a strong predilection for musical films, as a drummer himself.[3] He wrote the screenplay for La La Land in 2010 during a period in his life when the movie industry seemed out of reach.[4] His idea of the film was "to take the old musical but ground it in real life where things don't always exactly work out,"[3] and he wanted to pay homage and salute people with an unrealistic state of mind who move to Los Angeles to chase their dreams.[5] He came up with the idea for the film when he was a student at Harvard University along with his classmate, Justin Hurwitz. The two explored the concept in their senior thesis, a low-budget musical about a Boston jazz musician titled Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.[6][7] Chazelle was moved by the tradition of 1920s city symphony films like Manhatta (1921) or Man With a Movie Camera (1929) that paid tribute to other metropolises.[8] After graduating, both moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and continued writing the script but made a few modifications, including altering the location to L.A. instead of Boston.[6]

L.A., even more so than any other American city, obscures, sometimes neglects, its own history. But that can also be its own magical thing, because it's a city that reveals itself bit by bit, like an onion, if you take the time to explore it.[8]

Rather than replicating L.A. to the charms of Paris or San Francisco, he focused on the qualities and elements that makes the city distinctive: the traffic, the sprawl and the skies.[8] The style and tone of the film was inspired by Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, especially the latter, which was far more dance and jazz oriented,[9] and is filled with visual allusions to Hollywood classics like Broadway Melody of 1940, Singin’ in the Rain, and The Band Wagon.[10] The film also shares a certain resemblance with his previous musical work, Whiplash, in terms of character development and theme saying that "they're both about the struggle of being an artist and reconciling your dreams with the need to be human. La La Land is just much less angry about it."[11] He also admits that both films reflect his own experiences as a film-maker working his way up the Hollywood ladder.[5] La La Land in particular is a story about his own experiences moving from the East Coast with preconceived notions of what L.A. would be like, "that it was all just strip malls and freeways."[8]

However, Chazelle couldn't get the film made for years since he didn't have the requisite budget and no studio was willing to finance the project because it was an original contemporary musical with no familiar songs to build off pre-existing fan base and being a jazz musical which The Hollywood Reporter called it an "extinct genre". He believed that since the team behind the project – he and his friend Justin – were unknown and unproven at that time, it might have made financiers dubious about the project's potential.[12][6] Chazelle somehow managed to find producers through his friends who introduced him to Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz. With the two producers on board, the script then landed at Focus Features at a budget of around $1 million. However, the studio demanded numerous alterations to be made in the script that were felt distinctive and pivotal to the storyline: the male lead was asked to be changed from a jazz pianist to a rock musician, the complicated opening number had to be altered and the story's bittersweet ending needed to be dropped. Chazelle, unwilling to make such huge sacrifices, scrapped the project and moved on.[6]

Hence, he wrote Whiplash later on which was an easier concept to sell and a less risky investment.[13] But even after the film received rave reviews and was lauded by critics, including one such at the film's premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in January 2014, Chazelle never gave up on bringing La La Land to the big screen. He was constantly still pitching his musical to distributors.[6] Then after a year later when Whiplash earned five Oscar nominations at the 87th Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle, and grossed nearly $50 million worldwide off a $3.3 million production budget, Chazelle and his project began to attact attention from studios.[12] Five years after writing the script,[14] Summit Entertainment and Black Label Media agreed to invest in the film and distribute it, along with producer Marc Platt, after studio executives were impressed by the critical and commercial success of Whiplash.[5] Liongate's Patrict Wachsberger, who previously worked on the Step Up franchise, pushed Chazelle to increase the film's budget saying that "good musicals don't come cheap".[15]

The film underwent various "permutations" over the years, according to Chazelle.[5] Initially, Miles Teller and Emma Watson were both set to star in the leads. However both stars dropped out, with the latter over a commitment to the 2017 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.[4] Chazelle also aged up his main characters, who were originally younger newcomers just arriving in Los Angeles.[6]

Casting and rehearsals

Emma Stone had to learn ballroom and tap dancing for her role.

Emma Stone stars as Mia, an aspiring/struggling actress working as a barista at a coffee shop on Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles who serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions.[12] Stone loved musicals since she was young and went to see Les Misérables when she was 8 years old, saying that "bursting into song has always been a real dream of mine" and her favorite film is the 1931 Charlie Chaplin romantic comedy City Lights.[12][3] She studied pom dancing as a child and a year of ballet.[12] She moved to Hollywood with her mother at the age of 15 to pursue a career and struggled constantly to even get an audition during that year, and when she did, she was often turned down after singing or saying one line.[16] Stone borrowed a lot of real life experiences for her character, some of which were later added into the film.[11]

She met Chazelle in 2014 while she was making her Broadway debut in Cabaret. Chazelle and Hurwitz went to New York City to watch her performance on the night the actress had a cold.[12][17] The two met at Brooklyn Diner in New York City where the director outlined his vision for the forthcoming film.[18] It was only during her successful Cabaret run that Stone began talking seriously with Chazelle about La La Land and seemingly gained confidence from the show.[18] In preparation for her role, Stone watched some of the movies that provided inspiration for the film, including The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.[14] Stone accepted the offer because Damien was so passionate about the project.[18]

Ryan Gosling learned tap dancing and piano for his role. Mia's rejected audition scene was inspired by a real life event that Gosling had encountered.

Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who makes a living by playing cocktail party gigs in dingy bars and has dreams of opening his own club.[12] Like Stone, Gosling also brought his own harrowing, real-life audition experiences as an artist, including one incident Stone's character endures that happened to Gosling, when he was performing a crying scene and the casting director took a phone call in the middle of his audition and was talking about her lunch plans all the way through.[12][16][19] Chazelle met with Gosling at a bar near the latter's home in Hollywood Hills when he was about to begin filming for The Big Short.[6] Chazelle cast the two immediately after Summit bought the film.[5] He said the two "feel like the closest thing that we have right now to an old Hollywood couple" akin to Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or Myrna Loy and Dick Powell.[11] The film marks the third collaboration between Gosling and Stone following Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and Gangster Squad (2013).[20] Damien would ask the two about their audition disasters when they were both trying to make it.[16] Both learnt how to sing and dance for the film's six original tunes.[6] Their characters have different ways of looking at art — Sebastian believes if it's great, it doesn’t matter if anyone likes it, while Mia believes art needs an audience.[12]

The rest of the cast – J. K. Simmons, Sonoya Mizuno, Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt and John Legend – were announced between July and August 2015.[21][22][23][24][25] John Legend plays Keith, a successful mainstream jazz performer and a member of Sebastian's band.[12]

Singer-songwriter John Legend makes a cameo appearance in the film.

During the pre-production phase, Miles Teller and Emma Watson were both initially set to star as the leads. However, both stars dropped out, with the the former pertaining to scheduling and pay and latter over a commitment to the 2017 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.[4][26] Teller was offered to play the leading role by Chazelle when the two were in the midst of filming Whiplash in 2013. He even passed up the chance to star in War Dogs because the film would have conflicted with La La Land (although he later went on to star in the film). But one day, Teller got a call from his agent saying that Chazelle had told Lionsgate that he no longer thought Teller was "creatively right for the project" and that the director was moving on without Teller's involvement. Teller responded by texting Chazelle "what the fuck, bro?"[27] Chazelle responded by saying that "the casting of this movie during the six years it took to get made went through lots of permutations," and it was "part of the up and down of this movie: that we were about to make it, we were about to not make it, about to make it, about to not make it."[28]

The Hollywood Reporter reported that Teller's exit was due to his $4 million pay demand.[29] But Teller later rebuffed this claim saying "these publications print things so people read their article and then they say an 'unnamed source said this'. All that's bullshit."[30] The film was choreographed by Mandy Moore and rehearsals took place at a production office in Atwater Village over the span of three to four months beginning in May 2015. Gosling would practice piano in one room, Stone worked with Moore in another, and costume designer Mary Zophres had her own corner of the complex.[12][6] Moore emphasised emotion rather than technique which Stone said was key when they shot the Prius scene.[12] To help his cast and crew get their creative mode flowing, Chazelle held screenings on the soundstages every Friday night of classical films that provided inspiration of the film, including The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singin' in the Rain, Top Hat and Boogie Nights.[6]

Filming and post-production

The Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange where the opening scene was shot.
The scene where Gosling and Stone's characters float into the stars was filmed at the Griffith Observatory.

Chazelle wanted Los Angeles to be the primary setting for his film saying that "there is something very poetic about the city I think, about a city that is built by people with these unrealistic dreams and people who kind of just put it all on the line for that."[3] From the beginning, Chazelle wanted the film's musical numbers to be filmed "head to toe," using 50s style, wide-screen CinemaScope, and performed in a single take, like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire used to.[18] Principal photography on the film officially began in the city on August 10, 2015,[31][32] and was filmed in more than 60 L.A. locations, including downtown trolley, houses in the Hollywood Hills, Angels Flight, Colorado Street Bridge, Pasadena, Grand Central Market and Watts Tower with many scenes shot in one take. It took a total 42 days to complete shooting, finishing in mid-September 2015.[6][33]

The opening pre-credits sequence was the first to be shot[6] and was filmed on a closed-off portion EZ pass ramp of the Los Angeles highway connecting the 105 freeway to the 110 leading to Downtown Los Angeles in a span of two days and required over 100 dancers.[5][34] For this particular scene, Chazelle wanted to give a sense of how vast the city is.[8] The scene originally was planned for a stretch of ground-level highway until Chazelle decided to shoot it in the 105-110 interchange, which arcs 100 feet in the air. Production designer David Wasco said, "I thought somebody was going to fall off and get killed." Not every portions of the highway were blocked.[6] Chazelle compared the scene to the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz (1939).[6]

The Angels Flight (pictured) in Downtown Los Angeles, which was shut down in 2013, was re-opened for a day exclusive for the film's cast and crew in order for shooting to take place there.

Chazelle scouted for "old L.A." locations that were in ruins or were perhaps razed. One such example is filming in the Angels Flight. The funicular had been closed in 2013 after a derailment. Attempts were made to repair and re-open the railway, but to no avail. However, the production team were able to secure permission to use it for a day. Chazelle and his crew then arranged to have it run for shooting.[8] Mia works at a coffee shop near studio lots which Chazelle sees them as monuments. Production designer, Wasco, made numerous fake old movie posters and sometimes Chazelle had to come up with names for them. He decided to use the title of his first feature, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), for one poster, which reimagines it as a 1930s musical.[8]

The six minute long Prius scene had to be completed during the brief "magic hour" moment at sunset. It took eight takes and two days to shoot it.[12] When Gosling and Stone finally nailed it, "everybody just exploded," Stone says.[18] Since Gosling and Stone were not Broadway performers, the two made a number of mistakes between takes and especially during long uninterrupted single-take musical numbers. However, Chazelle was very sympathetic towards them, understanding their lack of experience and not minding their mistakes.[14] While shooting Sebastian and Mia's first dance together, Stone tumbled over the back of a bench, but picked right up and kept on going with the scene.[14]

Chazelle spent nearly a year editing the film with editor Tom Cross and the two focused mainly on getting the tone just right which was the main focus for everyone working on the film.[6]


The songs and score for La La Land were composed and orchestrated by Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle's Harvard University classmate who also worked on his two prior films.[12] The lyrics were written by Pasek and Paul.[18]

La La Land: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [35]
No. TitlePerformer(s) Length
1. "Another Day of Sun"  Cast of La La Land  
2. "Someone in the Crowd"  Emma Stone, Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno and Jessica Rothe  
3. "Mia and Sebastian's Theme"  Justin Hurwitz  
4. "A Lovely Night"  Ryan Gosling and Stone  
5. "Herman's Habit"  Hurwitz  
6. "City of Stars"  Gosling  
7. "Planetarium"  Hurwitz  
8. "Summer Montage/Madeline"  Hurwitz  
9. "City of Stars"  Gosling and Stone  
10. "Start a Fire"  John Legend  
11. "Engagement Party"  Hurwitz  
12. "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)"  Stone  
13. "Epilogue"  Hurwitz  
14. "The End"  Hurwitz  
15. "City of Stars (Humming)"  Hurwitz and Stone  


La La Land had its world premiere as the Venice Film Festival's opening night film on August 31, 2016.[36][37] The film also screened at the Telluride Film Festival,[38] Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2016[39] BFI London Film Festival,[40] the Middleburg Film Festival in late October 2016, the Virginia Film Festival held at the University of Virginia on November 6, 2016, AFI Fest on November 15, 2016.[41]

The film was initially set for a July 15, 2016 release,[42] however in March 2016 it was announced the film will be given a limited release on December 2, 2016 before expanding on December 16.[43] Chazelle admits that the change was because he felt that the release date was not right for the context of the film and since he wanted to have a slow roll out beginning with film festivals.[11] It was later pushed back a week to December 9, with the wide release still being planned for December 16.[44]

La La Land is due for release in the United Kingdom on January 13, 2017.[45]


Critical response

Emma Stone's performance has been lauded by critics, and is seen as a strong Oscar contender.

La La Land was met with widespread critical acclaim, with praise aimed at Damien Chazelle's screenplay and direction, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling's performances and the film's musical numbers.[46][47][48][49] The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 97%, based on 66 reviews, with an average rating of 8.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "La La Land breathes new life into a bygone genre with thrillingly assured direction, powerful performances, and an irresistible excess of heart."[50] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating, the film has a score of 90 out of 100, based on 18 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[51]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film five out of five stars, describing it as "a sun-drenched musical masterpiece."[52] Tom Charity of Sight & Sound says "Chazelle has crafted that rare thing, a genuinely romantic comedy, and as well, a rhapsody in blue, red, yellow and green."[53] Diana Dabrowska of Cinema Scope wrote "La La Land may look like the world that we dream about, but it also understands the cruelty that can come out of (or undermine) those dreams; it's shot in CinemaScope, and yet it's still an intimate masterpiece."[54]

Tom Hanks praised the film, particularly its originality, and stated, "When you see something that is brand new, that you can't imagine, and you think ‘well thank God this landed’, because I think a movie like La La Land would be anathema to studios. Number one, it is a musical and no one knows the songs."[13]


List of awards and nominations
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Atlanta Film Critics Society December 4, 2016 Best Picture La La Land Won [55]
Best Director Damien Chazelle Won
Best Cinematography Linus Sandgren Won
Best Editing Tom Cross Won
Critics' Choice Awards December 11, 2016 Best Picture La La Land Pending [56]
Best Director Damien Chazelle Pending
Best Actor Ryan Gosling Pending
Best Actress Emma Stone Pending
Best Original Screenplay Damien Chazelle Pending
Best Cinematography Linus Sandgren Pending
Best Costume Design Mary Zophres Pending
Best Editing Tom Cross Pending
Best Art Direction David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco Pending
Best Score Justin Hurwitz Pending
Best Song "Audition" – Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul Pending
"City of Stars" – Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul Pending
Hamptons International Film Festival October 10, 2016 Audience Award: Best Narrative Feature Damien Chazelle Won [57]
Hollywood Film Awards November 6, 2016 Hollywood Producer Award Marc Platt (also for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and The Girl on the Train) Won [58]
Hollywood Cinematography Award Linus Sandgren Won
Hollywood Music in Media Awards November 17, 2016 Best Original Score – Feature Film Justin Hurwitz Nominated [59][60]
Best Song – Feature Film "Audition" – Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul Nominated
"City of Stars" – Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul Won
Outstanding Music Supervision – Film Steven Gizicki Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards December 4, 2016 Best Film La La Land Runner-up
Best Director Damien Chazelle Runner-up
Best Music Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul Won
Best Cinematography Linus Sandgren Runner-up
Best Editing Tom Cross Runner-up
Best Production Design David Wasco Runner-up
National Board of Review January 4, 2017 Top 10 Films La La Land Won [61]
New York Film Critics Circle December 1, 2016 Best Film La La Land Won [62]
Palm Springs International Film Festival January 2, 2017 Vanguard Award La La Land Won [63]
Santa Barbara International Film Festival February 3, 2017 Outstanding Performers of the Year Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone Won [64]
Satellite Awards February 19, 2017 Best Film La La Land Pending [65]
Best Director Damien Chazelle Pending
Best Actor Ryan Gosling Pending
Best Actress Emma Stone Pending
Best Original Screenplay Damien Chazelle Pending
Best Cinematography Linus Sandgren Pending
Best Original Score Justin Hurwitz Pending
Best Original Song "Audition" – Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul Pending
"City of Stars" – Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul Pending
Best Art Direction and Production Design David Wasco Pending
Best Film Editing Tom Cross Pending
Best Costume Design Mary Zophres Pending
Best Sound La La Land Pending
Toronto International Film Festival September 18, 2016 People's Choice Award Damien Chazelle Won [66]
Venice Film Festival September 10, 2016 Golden Lion Damien Chazelle Nominated [67]
Green Drop Award Damien Chazelle Nominated
Volpi Cup for Best Actress Emma Stone Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association December 5, 2016 Best Film La La Land Pending [68]
Best Director Damien Chazelle Pending
Best Actor Ryan Gosling Pending
Best Actress Emma Stone Pending
Best Original Screenplay Damien Chazelle Pending
Best Art Direction David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco Pending
Best Cinematography Linus Sandgren Pending
Best Editing Tom Cross Pending
Best Score Justin Hurwitz Pending


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