With Whiplash, Damien Chazelle revealed himself to be a red-hot filmmaker worthy of keeping an eye on. However, his follow up, the joyous and infectious La La Land, immediately elevates him to a different class. Suddenly, Chazelle looks like a magician, weaving an impossibly skillful musical romance on the big screen that’s both classic and contemporary, urban and celestial. And Chazelle actually drops the mic in the opening moments of La La Land with a jaw-dropping, splashy and majestically staged musical number in the middle of a Los Angeles traffic jam.
I honestly can not wait for you guys to see this sequence on the big screen. It’s mesmerizing, and you will be shaking your head wondering HOW Damien Chazelle managed to film this incredible, eye-popping musical number on an L.A. freeway. But during a recent conversation with Chazelle at the Savannah Film Festival, where La La Land played in competition, the director actually dropped a bombshell of his own: the sequence that people can’t stop talking about almost didn’t make it into the movie at all.
That’s right. There was a cut of La La Land — that existed recently, according to Chazelle — that didn’t include the traffic jam musical sequence. Which, after you have seen it, you will know how ludicrous that sounds. But the way Chazelle explains it to me:
That’s the irony with that number. We used to get into [the movie] differently, and there used to be like an overture with opening credits and then we saw Ryan [Gosling] and Emma [Stone] before the number began. I’m trying to remember… yeah, that’s right, we sort of dipped down initially into seeing Ryan and Emma, and then we kind of veered off away from them, and then the number happened. Then we caught up with them again. So there was this whole thing, basically, that we lopped off.
Did you ever film that?
Yeah, that was all in the edit. That’s, the first few cuts of the movie, that’s how it was. And that’s how it had been in the script, literally since 2010. It had always been that kind of thing. And it was just wrong. And it was wrong for various reasons. It felt like two, weirdly two overtures back to back. Because the traffic number kind of operates in a way as an overture. And it also felt like, ‘Why are you introducing your characters here instead of here?’ And all these things that now seem to be so obvious, but didn’t seem obvious in the writing or the filming. As a result of that, in that early part of editing, the opening traffic number didn’t feel that great. It felt like, it felt just, like what is this. I think because it wasn’t the opening of the movie, it didn’t feel like it served any purpose.
And so we cut it, and we wound up… I think for a few months, probably, living with it gone completely from the movie, thinking it would probably always be gone from the movie. Which makes it really crazy — I guess, rewarding to me — that like, you know, we ultimately went back to putting it back in, and once we realized, ‘Ah, ok, here’s a way that we can make it work,’ we realized that the movie ultimately didn’t work without it, because you need to announce that you’re a musical off the bat. And it just made every other musical number, without it, every other musical number suddenly felt very different and very fake. Because you needed to kind of announce the full maximum potential of the ‘musicalness’ of the movie in order for the rest of the stuff to feel natural. So we put it back in, but completely rejiggered how we got into it. And lopped off a bunch of stuff before it, and then suddenly, it worked. And so now, it’s just so funny, like when, the fact that as you say, it’s one of the questions I get asked the most. It’s so funny that this almost wasn’t in the movie.
This still blows my mind. Once you are able to see La La Land in a few weeks, the opening number, set to the rousing “Another Day of Sun,” will have you smiling, stomping your feet, bouncing in your chair and wondering how the hell Damien Chazelle pulled it off. The reality that he almost pulled it out of his movie, altogether, is lunacy. We can only celebrate that cooler heads prevailed.
La La Land is a contemporary musical set in Los Angeles, and stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as a struggling actress and jazz aficionado, respectively, who fall in and out of love. It has been busy on the film festival circuit, but will open in theaters on December 9 (limited) before going wider on December 16.