Watch a Step-by-Step Breakdown of La La Land‘s Incredibly Complex, Off Ramp Opening Number

La La Land, writer and director Damien Chazelle’s award-winning Valentine to Hollywood musicals, attracted legions of fans upon its release last December.

Their ardor is bookended by the enmity of Broadway diehards underwhelmed by the stars’ singing and dancing chops and those who detest musicals on principle.

The above video may not lead the detractors to swallow Chazelle’s Kool-Aid colored vision, but listening to choreographer Mandy Moore’s behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the complicated opening number, “Another Day of Sun,” should inspire respect for the massive feat of cinematic coordination below.

This may be the first time in history that a choreographer has singled out the Transport Department for public praise.

Remember how your folks used to freak out about you denting the hood when you capered atop the family Country Squire? Turns out they were right.

One of the Transpo' crew's crucial assignments was placing vehicles with specially reinforced hoods and roofs in the spots where dancers had been choreographed to bound on top of them. Getting it wrong early on would have wasted valuable time on a two day shoot that shut down an exit ramp connecting the 110 and 105 freeways.

The real La La Land conjures fantasies of Angelyne clad in head-to-toe pink behind the wheel of her matching pink Corvette, but for this number, the Costume Department collaborated with the Transport Department to diversify the palette.

In other words, the red-gowned flamenco dancer could emerge from a yellow car, and the yellow-shirted krumper could emerge from a red car, but not vice versa.

Mercifully, the art department refrained from a total color-coordination blackout. That moment when a gust of wind catches the skirts of the blonde conductor’s yellow dress plays like an intentional tribute to Marilyn Monroe, when in fact it was a lucky accident made all the more glorious by the sunny drawers she was sporting underneath.

Other day-of accidents required on-the-fly ingenuity, such as enlisting three burly crew members to provide off screen help to a performer struggling with a malfunctioning door to the truck concealing a Latin band within. (With temperatures soaring to 104°, they were hot in more ways than one.)

Moore was also off-camera, hiding under a chassis to cue the skateboarder, who was unfamiliar with the 8-count the 30 main dancers were trained to respond to.

Other “special skills” performers include a BMX biker, a Parkour traceur, the director’s hula hooping sister, and a stunt woman whose ability to backflip into the narrow channel between two parked cars  landed her the part… and kept her injury-free for over 40 takes.

Half of the finished film’s gridlocked celebrants are CGI generated, but the live performers had to remain in synch with the pre-recorded song by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul, a particular challenge given the size of the outdoor filming area. Executive music producer Marius de Vries and engineer Nicholai Baxter solved that one by looping the track into each car’s radio, plus a number of hidden speakers and two more on a moving rig.

Moore was determined to keep her carefully plotted moves from feeling too dance-y—the only time the dancers perform in unison is at the very end, right before they hop back down, reenter their vehicles, and slam their doors shut as one.

For a more naturalistic vision, watch director Chazelle’s iPhone footage of the main dancers rehearsing in a parking lot, prior to the shoot.

Funny how, left to their own devices, these Angelenos seem to wear almost as much black and grey as their counterparts on the east coast….

The exuberance of the original has given rise to numerous community-based tributes and parodies, with stand-outs coming from the Xiamen Foreign Language School in China, North Carolina’s Camp Merrie-Woode, Notre Dame High School in Chazelle’s home state of New Jersey, and a 17-year-old Arizona boy making a promposal to leading lady Emma Stone.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She is currently directing Theater of the Apes Sub-Adult Division in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, opening next week in New York City.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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