Not since Singing in the Rain has an L.A.-based musical dazzled us as much as Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. A glittering tribute to Los Angeles, the film tells the story of an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a struggling jazz musician (Ryan Gosling), whose romance plays out against a backdrop of twinkling lights and Hollywood backlots. What it was like to shoot a modern-day musical romance in a town more associated with traffic jams than its toe-tapping magic? To find out, we caught up with Robert Foulkes, the film's supervising location scout (and LMGI Member), who took us on a tour of the movie’s dreamy landscape, from Hermosa Pier to Griffith Observatory and beyond.
What initially drew you to the film?
“As someone who was born and raised in L.A., being able to create a love letter to the city was very appealing. Plus, I had seen Damien’s breakout hit Whiplash, so I knew I was in good hands.”
What were some of the challenges of working on a movie whose location is so important to the storyline?
“I’d say the greatest difficulty was scouting locations that would work for both the dialogue and the music. Sometimes, it felt more like I was working on a music video shoot rather than a feature film because of the sheer amount of music and choreography."
What scenes were the most demanding from that perspective?
“Definitely the opening scene, a song and dance number that took place on Interstate 110. It required shutting down the freeway for an entire weekend and doing an exhaustive amount of rehearsals in really hot weather. The number is called “Another Day of Sun,” so it was also really important that we started working at the crack of dawn to get as much daylight as possible."
Sounds like a logistical nightmare! What else?
“We shot the Hollywood party scene (“Someone in The Crowd”) in a really upscale residential neighborhood over the course of two nights. Because it's a musical scene, we had to blast the same song over and over again, which, I’m sure you can imagine, upset some folks — especially the neighbors. I swear I spent those two days walking around the set and assuring people, “It’ll be a good movie,” “It’ll be worth it, I swear" [laughs].”
There are a lot of dreamy vistas and breathtaking sunsets in the film. Was it hard to find locations that showcased L.A.'s romantic side?
"You know, one of the main things that drew me to the project was its romance— a feature you see more in films set in New York and Paris than in Los Angeles. But Damien had a real vision for showcasing that side of L.A., and a lot of it came down to shooting at magic hour when the colors in the sky are just right. The "City of Stars" musical number on Hermosa Pier is the epitome of that."
I read that there are close to 50 different L.A. locations in the film. Which were your favorites?
"The last two days of the shoot were the most memorable, because we got to visit all the locations featured in the "falling in love" montage: Angels Flight, Watts Towers, the Colorado Bridge and the Chateau Marmont. One of the most rewarding experiences was getting a tour of the Watts Tower from the woman who runs the place, and watching Ryan and Emma get really excited about its history. It's on days like that when you feel like a tourist in your own city."
So lastly, we have to ask: what was it like working with Ryan and Emma?
“They were lovely, and I truly got the sense that they knew it was a special project. One of my best memories was watching them improvise and bounce dialogue off one another during the 80s-party scene. The two have such chemistry—it’s was almost like watching Gable and Lombard or Bogie and Bacall from back in the day.”