Looking at Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”


Looking at Chazelle’s Inspiration


A lot of things were smashing together at the outset,” Chazelle says, making a pun about the gnarly bumper-to-bumper gridlock that we see in La La Land‘s inaugural image. He had two basic ideas. “First, I always wanted to do a shot where you go from car to car with each radio playing a radically different kind of music. I wanted it to feel like a city bustling with music, like in Mean Streets or Taxi Driver or Rear Window. You’re hearing Italian opera coming from one apartment window and Frankie Vali from another and jazz from another. But this is Los Angeles. The cacophony of sounds is coming out of cars. And I loved the idea of presenting the soundscape of the city that way.”



Chazelle continues, “And then the second idea was using that soundscape to build into an opening musical number and having a fantastical musical number arise out of a bunch of realistic city sounds. That was something I got from Love Me Tonight, the 1932 Rouben Mamoulian film, which opens with the sounds of Paris in the morning — there’s a shoemaker and a street sweeper — and those sounds build up rhythmically and cascade into a number.”


One of the most famous traffic jams in cinema history is the epic seven-and-half minute unbroken shot of borderline surreal gridlock in Jean-Luc Godard’s insane 1967 satire Weekend. “Oh, definitely, of course,” Chazelle says about a lengthy camera move that starts his film. “The tracking shot itself is definitely inspired by Weekend.”



It’s really fascinating to see the train of thought by the Director through what inspires them. It’s also really helpful to see the visuals for where they got their inspiration from!


If we take a moment to look at the lighting of La La Land (2016), we can see how Linus Sandgren (cinematographer on the movie) lights scenes to convey the particular mood or emotion of the characters, or even to give the audience a sense of foreshadowing.


Here it could be said that the red lighting represents the intense romantic feelings between the two main characters


The green lighting could be said to portray the negative shift in the character’s motives


I never noticed this while watching the movie first time around but I suppose Damien and Linus Sandgren had a bit of foreshadowing throughout the movie in how they lit both Mia and Sebastian. Both the characters are often captured separate from each other, “in their own world”, independent of each other. They are kinda like two creative kindred spirits who find comfort in each other, however; they are not meant to be with each other forever.

Even here, in this scene below which occurs much later in the movie, although you can sense the chemistry between our two main characters, there is always some sort of distance between the two of them. Here, Mia is in a huge crowd, far away from Sebastian, watching with pride while he plays in a band. However, as the playing continues, the crowd pushes her back and a tangible line of distance (both physical and mental) is drawn between our two main characters.


The lighting and choice of colour palette are just a few of the many aspects of the movie’s cinematography which really made me think and ponder. It’s made me really reflect on how I could better use these areas of cinematography for better visual storytelling in my own animations.


Further Reading:



Image References:


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