Los Angeles Times
Linus Sandgren | ‘La La Land’
The scene: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling go from mockery to a romantic
pas de deux as they search for her car after a party in Griffith Park.
Shot significance: As the incipient lovebirds’ barbed banter gives way to outright flirtation, they slip from conversation into song and from searching for their cars to dancing with each other. The back-and-forth between mundane reality and musical fantasy mirrors the delicate negotiations that precede a first kiss and the way when it finally happens, the whole world shifts. Birth of the shot: Drawing inspiration from the social-realist musicals of Jacques Demy (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”), director Damien Chazelle builds many of the film’s fantastical musical numbers around the mundane realities of Los Angeles life; the opening “Another Day of Sun” breaks out during a traffic jam on the 110. But for “A Lovely Night,” says Sandgren, they wanted to capture the magic-hour moment when the colors of the setting sun are “so heightened it seemed almost fake.”
Making it work: Stone and Gosling spent weeks learning the choreography in a cramped dance studio, with Sandgren and his team trying out camera angles with iPhones, and then moved rehearsal to the real outdoor location, where a slope in the road added another degree of difficulty. But that paled beside the decision to shoot the entire number in a single take, an elaborately choreographed crane shot in which the camera becomes a third partner in the dance. Sandgren and Chazelle agreed that they wanted to respect classical Hollywood techniques, which meant no digitally painting out shadows or light stands. By the time they’d put the whole thing together, the camera had to hit 27 different marks in one unbroken six-minute shot — which in turn had to be accomplished during the 15 minutes of the day when the light was just right.
“It was very hard to nail it,” Sandgren says. “Every time we rehearsed, there was something wrong with the take. But when we started shooting, everything came together. I find that’s always so interesting with doing these kinds of things. Nothing works until it works, and when it works, it’s magic.”