La La Land laid bare: Emma Stone's £5 H&M top, Ryan Gosling dancing like a 'gangly monkey' and why Emma Watson pulled out – the inside story on the feel-good film of the year
With its dazzling dance sequences, moving musical numbers and two of Hollywood’s hottest stars at its helm, it’s no wonder La La Land has already been hailed as the blockbuster of the year.
The all-singing, all-dancing film, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, won a record seven awards at the Golden Globes on Sunday night and is quick-stepping its way to cinema history with 11 Bafta nominations and a clean sweep predicted at the Oscars next month.
La La Land is the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Seb, a frustrated jazz pianist, who meet and fall in love as they struggle to achieve their dreams.
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La La Land won a record seven awards at the Golden Globes on Sunday night and is quick-stepping its way to cinema history with 11 Bafta nominations and a clean sweep predicted at the Oscars next month
Set in modern-day Los Angeles, it’s unmistakably nostalgic, with critics comparing Stone and Gosling to the iconic stars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds.
But La La Land wasn’t always destined to be such a soaring success. It started life with a budget of just £800,000, two different lead actors and took five years to make it to the big screen.
We reveal the surprising secrets behind the film that everyone’s talking about...
The star who missed out
We first meet Mia (played by 28-year-old American Emma Stone — best known for her roles in The Amazing Spider-Man films) at work in a coffee shop in the Warner Brothers Studio.
Emma Watson was originally cast for the role (alongside American actor Miles Teller), but had to drop out to focus on filming Beauty And The Beast
An aspiring film star, she’s always auditioning for TV and film roles, but receives nothing but knock-backs.
Ironically, Ms Stone nearly didn’t make it into La La Land, either. British actress Emma Watson was originally cast for the role (alongside American actor Miles Teller), but had to drop out to focus on filming Beauty And The Beast, the remake of the Disney classic, due out in March.
Director Damien Chazelle cast Stone after seeing her singing and dancing skills on stage in Cabaret, on Broadway, in 2014.
Some of Mia’s most humiliating auditions — such as the scene in which she is crying as part of a monologue and the director interrupts her to take a phone call about lunch — came from Stone’s real-life experiences and were incorporated into the script.
Sizzling hot dance routines
La La Land opens with a showstopping scene featuring 100 dancers performing a routine on the freeway in the middle of Los Angeles.
As traffic grinds to a halt in the midday heat, drivers open their doors and start leaping, spinning and cartwheeling over the gridlocked cars.
The entire sequence was mapped out in miniature first, using model cars and Post-it notes.
Choreographer Mandy Moore started rehearsals in May 2015 and the dancers then practised their moves in the car park of the production company’s offices.
As traffic grinds to a halt in the midday heat, drivers open their doors and start leaping, spinning and cartwheeling over the gridlocked cars
The scene itself was filmed over two days in temperatures of 43C (109F). It was so hot that each performer had two spare costumes, stored in the cars, which they changed into between takes.
An entire freeway ramp was sectioned off while traffic continued to run as normal on either side. It was so high (100ft in the air) and winds were so strong that production designer David Wasco says: ‘I thought somebody was going to fall off and get killed.’
A camera was mounted on a crane to get the best footage from above, while Mandy hid beneath a car so she could bark orders at the dancers without appearing on screen.
Diving into a pool party
The second big number of the film involves a champagne-fuelled pool party, where Mia and her friends go on a girls’ night out.
The party’s glossy posse is played by 40 well-heeled extras, while a crane and specially adapted underwater camera were used to mimic the perspective of a reveller who dives, fully-clothed, into the pool.
The unusual dreamlike shots in the water have been compared to the pool scene in the 1997 cult film Boogie Nights, also set in Los Angeles.
Though much of the action is shot from overhead, no helicopters were used. Instead, the crew stood on a second storey, overlooking the party from above.
Old-school glam and bargains
For Mia’s old-school Hollywood wardrobe, costume designer Mary Zophres took inspiration from stars of the past Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and Katharine Hepburn. While some of her outfits were decidedly designer (in one of the final scenes she wears a £1,500 navy dress by Canadian designer Jason Wu), others were High Street bargains, including a £5 coral top from H&M.
Each of her dancing dresses was custom-made, using fabrics sourced from the internet and vintage shops. The canary-yellow gown in the hilltop dancing scene was meant to be a stand-in for rehearsals, but Emma liked it so much that they kept it for the film. Made from swishy polyester, it was hand-painted with green flowers and had matching yellow underwear.
Other outfits are copies of iconic dresses from Hollywood’s golden years. The emerald-green dress Mia wears on her first official date with Seb was based on a Judy Garland look from the 1954 film A Star Is Born, while the ankle-length black trousers she wears to work were inspired by Audrey Hepburn in 1957’s Funny Face.
Ryan, by contrast, had a much more restrictive wardrobe. He wears just five shirts, two pairs of trousers and three coats in varying combinations throughout the whole film.
All his clothes had to be adapted so he could dance in them, so trousers were made from stretchy wool and blazers had more room than usual in the shoulders to allow for waltzing.
Three months to learn jazz piano
Watching Gosling, 36, tinkling on the ivories as jazz pianist Seb, you’d be forgiven for thinking the actor — better known for romcoms and action films — is faking it.
In fact, Gosling (pictured left with director Chazelle) learned to play jazz piano for the film, and took just three months of lessons — two hours a day, six days a week — to reach a semi-professional standard.
Two hand-doubles, hired in case the actor’s skills weren’t quite up to scratch, had to be let go on the first day of filming when it became clear they weren’t needed. He does have some form: in 2009, Gosling recorded a little-known album with a musician friend, under the band name Dead Man’s Bones, for which he taught himself to play the piano, guitar and bass.
Watching Gosling tinkling on the ivories as jazz pianist Seb, you’d be forgiven for thinking the actor — better known for romcoms and action films — is faking it
For acoustic purposes, the piano music in the film was pre-recorded by jazz musician Randy Kerber (who wrote Barbra Streisand’s Over The Rainbow), with Gosling playing over the track.
He came on board in 2014 after Miles Teller, the original choice, was dropped from the film, allegedly after he rejected the £3.3 million salary.
Prodigy and a £25m budget
Damien Chazelle, 31, something of a Hollywood prodigy, started out with just £800,000 to make La La Land, an idea he and a classmate had in their senior year at Harvard University.
He wrote the screenplay in 2010 and his classmate, Justin Hurwitz, composed six original songs for the lead characters to perform.
After convincing two financial backers to come on board, Chazelle found a producer. But they demanded so many changes — Seb, for example, was to be a rock musician rather than jazz pianist — that he decided to scrap the project and move on.
La La Land was resurrected in 2014 after another of Chazelle’s films — Whiplash, the story of a young jazz drummer and his bullying teacher — received five Oscar nominations.
Studio executives decided to invest and upped the budget to £25 million, the same as box office triumphs The Notebook and Million Dollar Baby
Studio executives decided to invest and upped the budget to £25 million, the same as box office triumphs The Notebook and Million Dollar Baby (both 2004).
The growing pot of money meant the team could hire the iconic Griffith Observatory on the outskirts of LA for one of the film’s most romantic scenes. Renting the building for just one day costs £10,000.
They also built a lavish set inside the observatory’s viewing room, bringing the total budget for this scene alone to several hundred thousands of pounds.
Race against the setting sun
Twirling and tap-dancing their way across the Hollywood Hills, with the city lights twinkling in the background, this stunning scene is already the most iconic of the film.
Having bumped into each other several times previously, Mia and Seb finally strike up a conversation at a party, and he accompanies her as she searches for her car to drive home.
Twirling and tap-dancing their way across the Hollywood Hills, with the city lights twinkling in the background, this stunning scene is already the most iconic of the film
The dusky purple twilight is entirely natural: the crew had just half an hour each day to film the scene in a race against the setting sun.
Emma and Ryan managed five takes a night, over two nights, with the resulting footage spliced together to make the finished scene.
‘It was a case of doing the six-minute sequence once through, running back to the starting point, wiping the sweat from Ryan and Emma and then getting them to do it again,’ the director Damien Chazelle explained.
Song done in a single take
In one of the closing numbers, Mia sings the haunting and emotional song Audition, as she gives her acting career one final shot.
Although the singing in several of the other, more energetic scenes had to be lip-synched and recorded in a studio, Emma sang this song live on camera in a single take. Composer Justin Hurwitz was playing the piano in the next room, linked up to the actress via a tiny, invisible earpiece.
‘She’s on the verge of tears at the end of the song,’ he explains. ‘It all had to be nailed in one shot.’
To give it an authentic retro feel, La La Land was filmed in CinemaScope, an extra-wide camera lens widely used between 1953 and 1967.
This means that, instead of jumping between different camera angles and shots, the footage was filmed from one position.
CinemaScope, used for classic Fifties movies such as How To Marry A Millioniare, gives the impression that the actors are on a stage, performing for the camera.
Although La La Land was shot in full colour, some of the hues on screen were digitally accentuated to make them appear brighter
Although La La Land was shot in full colour, some of the hues on screen were digitally accentuated to make them appear brighter.
This further mimics movies from the Fifties, when black-and-white film would be ‘coloured in’ afterwards.
Two months of dancing solo before showtime
The couple had two months of separate dance rehearsals before coming together for the first time as a duo.
While Emma had done ballet as a child, she had to brush up on tap and ballroom. But Ryan had to learn everything from scratch — and it was decided they would learn faster if kept apart.
Choreographer Mandy Moore, who worked on BBC talent show So You Think You Can Dance, based Mia and Seb’s signature moves on the actors’ favourite steps. For example, Seb’s trademark foot-scrape was included because Ryan liked doing it so much.
The couple had two months of separate dance rehearsals before coming together for the first time as a duo
Emma was a natural, but Ryan told the director he felt like a ‘gangly monkey’.
‘My extremities are everywhere; it’s hard for me to control my body,’ he said.
Moore says the pair had electrifying chemistry from the start. No wonder: they struck up a friendship after working together on the 2011 rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love.
We see Mia and Seb explore the deserted Griffith Observatory before waltzing up into the stars and flying in each other’s arms in a digitally enhanced scene.
Choreographer Mandy Moore says the scene was originally supposed to take place underwater, before a decision was made to move it into the air instead.
Emma and Ryan were fitted with harnesses, concealed under their clothes, and practised dancing, flipping and spinning in mid-air.
The action was filmed in front of a green screen, onto which an image of the night sky, clouds and stars was superimposed.
For other dream-like sequences later in the film, physical sets were cut out of cardboard and hand-painted to look like orange groves and fairgrounds.
Pop singer John Legend, not only stars in the film but was an executive producer
A real-life pop legend
Pop singer John Legend, who has won ten Grammy Awards, one Golden Globe and an Oscar for his musical talent, not only stars in the film but was an executive producer on La La Land.
He plays Keith, an old schoolfriend of Seb’s, who fronts a modern jazz band called The Messengers.
Reluctantly, as it goes against his love of traditional jazz, Seb joins them as a keyboard player. The Messengers hit the big time with their song Start A Fire, written and performed by Legend.
The catchy number is expected to be a real-life chart-topper once the film is released.
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