LOS ANGELES - “La La Land” may be a front-runner in Hollywood’s awards season, but getting it on the big screen presented numerous challenges for writer-director Damien Chazelle, even after his Oscar success with 2014 jazz drama “Whiplash.”
“Being a musical, that alone was already a challenge to get money for, but as it was not based on anything, it’s frustrating that the original movie has become this rarity,” the 31-year-old filmmaker told Reuters. “It ultimately fell on people like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and studios like Lionsgate to actually just take the gamble.”
Musical live-action films have faded as superhero fare and franchises dominated the Hollywood box office in recent years.
But Chazelle, coming off three Oscar wins for “Whiplash,” succeeded in making his modern-day, millennial spin on the genre, which has won rave reviews from critics.
An L.A. story
“La La Land,” released in limited U.S. theaters Friday and nationwide Dec. 16, follows aspiring actress Mia (Stone) and jazz musician Sebastian (Gosling), who fall in love while trying to succeed in their respective fields, against the colorful landscapes of Los Angeles.
“I wanted this to be much more natural and at its core, be a very relatable human story about young artists trying to figure out their place in the world,” Chazelle said, adding that the themes of dreams and reality were “ripe fodder for a musical to tackle.”
Chazelle found inspiration in Hollywood musicals from the 1930s to the 1960s as well as the 1964 French musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” a story of star-crossed lovers.
The filmmaker laid the foundation for “La La Land” in his 2009 directorial debut, independent jazz musical “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.”
“It was taking the magic that we love from old Hollywood musicals but making it feel very gritty and real and contemporary,” Chazelle said. “In this movie, I wanted to do the same thing but from a different angle, in a more lush, romantic and bigger way.”
Modern movie couple
He also found a modern-day equivalent of the Golden Age movie couple in Stone and Gosling, who paired up for the third time in “La La Land” and are known for their charming and funny on-screen chemistry.
“I love the idea of a recurring pair. To me, it brings to mind Fred and Ginger, Bogey and Bacall, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy,” he said. “I think Ryan and Emma have a way of making that old Hollywood idea feel very new.”