Actors, direction, direction, music, choreography… There is not a single area in which “La La Land” forgot to be recognized when it was released in 2016. Damien Chazelle’s masterpiece counts a good number of cult sequences. In particular its opening scene in the middle of the highway which created a real puzzle to prepare it.
La La Land : let the music !
Damien Chazelle is obsessed with music. This was seen during the release of his first film, Whiplash. Fan of jazz and French musicals by Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort), the Franco-American director decides to combine his two passions in a feature film named La La Land. For the occasion, it even brings together a star duo who has not stopped collaborating in recent years: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
La La Land follows two totally opposite destinies, in the heart of Los Angeles. On the one hand, there is Mia, an aspiring actress who dreams of becoming a star between two coffee services and failed auditions. On the other, there is Sebastian, a jazzman who accumulates pianist jobs in seedy clubs to be able to live. In the immense Californian city, these two destinies end up crossing one fine day. It’s the start of an incredible story between them.
La La Land is a huge commercial success ($ 448 million in revenue, for a budget of $ 30 million), critical (7 Golden Globes won, 14 Oscar nominations for 6 awards) and popular (we no longer count the covers of certain sequences, parodies or other diversions).
A cult sequence shot
The secret of the success of La La Land probably lies in its impressive opening sequence which sets the tone for the rest of the film. Indeed, while the main characters are in a monster traffic jam of a flyover in Los Angeles, dancers set the highway on fire in an incredible choreography on the title Another day of sun.
Damien Chazelle told Entertainment Weekly that he was inspired by his own experience to shoot this sequence:
The scene comes from the fact that, living in Los Angeles, I’m in traffic all the time wondering if I want to either shoot myself or dance.
To edit this scene in a 6-minute long sequence shot, the director of La La Land and his team cut the scene into several shots: a first cut at 3 min and a second at 4:45. When these cuts are assembled, one would think then that it is a question of one and only plan.
As the cinematographer Linus Sandgren confides to Indiewire, some elements had to be adjusted on the set:
It was a technical puzzle. We kept the basic movements, but at times we had to find ourselves behind the dancers rather than in front.
For this scene which required six months of preparation, Damien Chazelle did the rehearsals in a parking lot, filmed with an iPhone! Subsequently, he obtained permission to close an access ramp to the interchange that connected highways 105 and 110 in Los Angeles. But only for two days! It was therefore necessary to be very responsive. And this despite the obstacles, as Sandgren points out:
The elevation of the ramp made things more difficult, than on level ground. There was also a middle concrete strip which made it difficult to pass.
In the end, despite the difficulties, the end result speaks for itself.