Deadline goes behind the camera.
EXCLUSIVE: Mandy Moore did an extraordinary job as choreographer of La La Land. It is a shame there is no Oscar category for that; the last to Hermes Pan in 1937, when Academy Awards were given for Dance Direction. But since then, only occasionally has a choreographer gotten official Academy recognition in the form of Honorary Oscars, such as the one given to Jerome Robbins for West Side Story in 1961 and Onna White for Oliver in 1968.
Moore’s work is evident in both of these behind-the-scenes looks at the making of La La Land, including the glorious waltz sequence that is part of the film’s seven-minute epilogue and the jazz whip sequence featured in a split screen with Emma Stone’s dancing and Ryan Gosling’s piano riffs. But beyond the actual choreography involved, there was the precise coordination between the camera work, led by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, and director Damien Chazelle in pulling off these tricky sequences. Click on the link above to see the making of that colorful epilogue sequence.
Chazelle tells me it was one of the final days of shooting. Production designers David Wasco and Susan Reynolds-Wasco provided giant painted backdrops to match Mary Zophres’ lovely costumes. Crane operator Bogdan Iofciulescu worked in concert with steadicam operator Ari Robbins, Sandgren and Chazelle, doing more than 40 takes of this one shot. In fact, there were so many takes one of Stone’s heels (custom made like every element of her costume) snapped off halfway through and had to be replaced. Chazelle said, as with every dance sequence in the movie, choreographing the crane, camera and dancers together was a giant undertaking. With the low focal range of anamorphic lenses, the focus puller had one of the hardest jobs of anyone on the set. Check it out above.
Below is the other sequence the jazz whip pan. This was shot at the legendary Lighthouse Jazz Cafe in Hermosa Beach, just off the pier. It featured back and forth between Gosling on piano and Stone dancing. Chazelle tells me he liked the idea of a jazz call-and-response between the two characters. It was a device he actually used in his first film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, as well as in the climax of Whiplash. As you can see by clicking on the video link below, Chazelle likes the idea of camerawork that itself feels musical. Take a look at how Chazelle and the camera operator are totally in sync with the music.
The director praises Gosling for nailing every single take on the piano, as did Stone on her tap dance, adding that the level of difficulty for performers and camera was very high — all the while trying to keep the whole place feeling like a fun, effortless party. Overall in all these sequences, he said the aim was to keep the work invisible so it all looks natural and the emotions are always paramount.