According to composer Justin Hurwitz, all the piano performance featured in the film was first recorded by pianist Randy Kerber during pre-production. Ryan Gosling then spent two hours a day, six days a week in piano lessons learning the music by heart. By the time filming had begun, Gosling was able to play all the piano sequences seen in the film without the use of a hand double or CGI.
The line in the film said by Sebastian, "that's L.A. They worship everything and they value nothing," was actually added in by Ryan Gosling himself, when he heard his real life girlfriend, Eva Mendes, mention it as a joke.
Emma Stone performed "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" live. She would decide when to switch from dialogue to singing. There was no pre-recorded track she was lip-syncing to. Justin Hurwitz, the song's composer, was in another room playing piano in her ear. Director Damien Chazelle said this was done so Emma could have more control of the scene.
Emma Watson turned down the role of Mia due to scheduling conflicts with Beauty and the Beast (2017), while Ryan Gosling turned down the role of the Beast in that film to appear in this one. Coincidentally, both are musicals.
Because Damien Chazelle wanted to shoot the scene in the tradition of old musicals without cuts or editing, Ryan Gosling practiced playing the piano and played it himself in one take on his first day of shooting. Co-star John Legend, who is a classically trained pianist, says he is "jealous" of how quickly Gosling learned to play so well.
Sebastian's tip about amplifying a car fob's range by holding it under your chin does work, but is not expected to cause cancer. Most fobs use a frequency that resonates well with water, and the human brain is mostly water.
The crew had a limited time window of 30 minutes (director of photography Linus Sandgren said it was exactly between 7.20 - 7.50 pm) within two days to film the magic hour dusky purple twilight Hollywood Hills dance sequence. According to Damien Chazelle, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling managed five takes in two days, where after each take, they would go back to the starting point with the assistants wiping their sweat before starting the dance routine again. The fourth take is the one used in the final film.
The opening number, "Another Day of Sun," was filmed at an extremely hot temperature of 109 degrees F (43 degrees C) in two days. Each performer had two spare sets of costumes, stored in the cars, which they changed between takes. To maximize the filming time, choreographer Mandy Moore started rehearsals in May 2015 at the parking lot behind the production office. The sequence was mapped with miniature model cars and post it notes. During filming, as to avoid being accidentally filmed on the overhead camera, Moore was hidden beneath a car so that she could bark instructions to the dancers.
During the shoot Ryan Gosling's partner Eva Mendes was looking after their daughter, pregnant with their second child and caring for her brother, who underwent cancer treatment and later died. During his award acceptance speech at The 74th Golden Globe Awards (2017), Gosling tearfully acknowledged Mendes for her strength while he was preoccupied with dancing and music practice, and dedicated his award to her brother.
Although production was able to film the Griffith Park Observatory interior exhibits, they were not allowed to film in the planetarium, so the planetarium was recreated on a set. The vintage Minolta projector in the center of the planetarium was rented from the Planetarium and Projector Science Museum in Big Bear Lake, California to complete the set.
Prior to filming, Chazelle, Gosling and Stone visited Gene Kelly's widow and were able to look through many of Kelly's film memorabilia, including his leather-bound copy of the script for Singin' in the Rain (1952). At the end of the visit, Kelly's widow's dog escaped and Chazelle and Gosling ended up running through traffic to rescue the dog, with Chazelle affirming to Gosling, "We will not kill Gene Kelly's widow's dog." They were successful in rescuing the dog.
In the film,Ryan Gosling plays a pianist and John Legend a guitarist. In real life, Legend is a classically trained pianist and Gosling a guitarist, both had to take training to play their new instruments.
The express lane freeway ramp used for the opening number, Another Day Of Sun, is the same stretch of freeway as used for the iconic "bus jump" sequence from Speed (1994), where a 50-foot section of the ramp was digitally removed using CGI to create the gap the bus must jump over.
Upon its huge historic victory at The 74th Golden Globe Awards (2017), La La Land broke the record for the most Golden Globe Awards with seven wins (beating One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Midnight Express (1978)), as well as the record with the most Golden Globe wins in every category in which it was nominated with seven nominations and seven wins (also besting One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).
Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz came up with the idea of the film during their senior year at Harvard University in 2010 with Hurwitz writing the musical tracks and Chazelle on dialogue. Initially they found two financial backers and a producer for a budget of $1 million. However, the demand for a lot of script changes made them to drop the project off. After Whiplash (2014) found critical success, the project was resurrected with the studio increasing the budget to $30 million; this allowed the filmmakers to rent the Griffith Observatory for filming (a full day rental there costs $10 thousand).
The plot has strong ties to Emma Stone's real-life history. The movie is based in LA, and Mia is discovered as a college dropout actress pursuing her dreams. Stone is a school dropout herself, moving to LA at the age of 15 in pursuit of an acting career.
Producer Marc Platt told a story that on the last day of filming the sun was setting and Damien Chazelle delayed announcing the wrap, instead grabbing a handheld camera to start filming the sunset. Platt realized that Chazelle did not want production to end. As darkness fell, Platt walked over to Chazelle to tell him they had nothing left to film without light, upon which Chazelle sadly agreed to call it a day.
The production reopened two locations for filming: The Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena and the Angels Flight railway in downtown L.A. The Rialto has been closed since 2007 because it was unable to sustain itself as a single movie theatre. Angels Flight has been closed since 2013 over safety issues to the public. Filmmakers were able to get around this by stating that the railway was operating for a day to get it back into service while secretly filming the scene as a private function.
During the first 60 seconds of the movie when the camera pans showing the gridlocked cars, several of them can be seen having dents in hoods and roofs. Presumabely this is from dancing during rehearsals and earlier takes.
With the exception of the opening song sequence ("Another Day of Sun"), Mia and Sebastian appear in every scene of this movie. This was also notable in director Damien Chazelle's previous film Whiplash (2014). Miles Teller's character, Andrew, is also in every scene of Whiplash.
When the time came to present Best Picture at The 89th Annual Academy Awards (2017) (the last award of the ceremony), presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were mistakenly handed the wrong envelope backstage. Beatty held a duplicate envelope for the category Best Actress in a Leading Role (which was announced just minutes before and was won by Emma Stone for La La Land (2016)) in his hands while presenting the nominees for Best Picture. When Beatty opened the envelope, apparently becoming aware of the mistake, he hesitated to announce a winner. He then handed the card to Dunaway who announced the heavily favored La La Land (2016) as the winner for Best Picture. As the TV cameras cut to the cheering audience, Beatty could be heard telling Dunaway "It says 'Emma Stone'" to which Dunaway replied "What?". The three nominated producers Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt and Fred Berger as well as the whole cast and crew of the film went up on stage. Horowitz gave his thanks first, up next was Platt during whose speech the mistake became known when the ceremony's producers ran through the crowd on stage looking for the faulty as well as correct envelopes. It became clear that Horowitz was handed the wrong envelope by Beatty, which stated "Emma Stone, La La Land, Best Actress in a Leading Role", upon accepting the award, while the right envelope announcing Moonlight as the real Best Picture winner had to be brought on-stage from backstage and was finally handed to Beatty. The crowd on stage became slowly aware of the mistake and, despite being already aware of the not winning, Berger still gave a speech thanking his family and ending his speech by stating "We lost by the way, but, you know." Horowitz, also being told about the mistake, stepped up to the microphone again and finally revealed to the public that Moonlight actually had won, showing the correct Best Picture card to the audience as well as the camera. Beatty additionally cleared up that he was handed the wrong envelope and also announced Moonlight as winner of Best Picture. After this announcement, the cast and crew of La La Land (2016) slowly left the stage, while the three producers handed their awards over to the team from Moonlight, which was able to finally give their speeches. While there already was an mix-up of winners at the Oscars in 1964, when Sammy Davis Jr. announced the winners for the two categories Scoring of Music (adaptation or treatment) and Music Score (substantially original) and was handed the envelopes for the two categories interchanged (eventually announcing John Addison as the winner for Best Scoring of Music when he wasn't even nominated in that category (André Previn was the actual winner, while Addison was the winner in the Music Score category)), Beatty and Dunaway's snafu remains the only time in Oscar history that a person or film was announced as a winner, when they actually weren't.
The origins of the title is because of two reasons. Firstly the city the film is set in is Los Angeles, or in short form: LA. Hence the city is evident in the title 'La La Land' Secondly the film challenges the stereotypical view of Hollywood by labeling it a dream. This is also seen through the abstract cinematography. "La-La Land" is also a long-standing nickname for Hollywood/L.A. because of the faux-reality feeling of a city filled with so many films & shows being made (constantly creating faux-realities), and because it is populated by so many actors and actresses there for the same reason: to fulfill a dream. It is often used to differentiate it from other places, "more" rooted in reality.
Damian Chazelle is known for using long, uninterrupted takes in the film, but he also uses at least one sequence spooled backwards. In the last scene at the planetarium Gosling and Stone fall out of the air and perfectly into their seats, then kiss, and the camera zooms in for a closeup before the fade. The sequence was shot backwards: starting in black, zoom out to the kiss, telescope out to the two-shot, then wide shot, then Stone and Gosling are lifted out of their chairs, and then the entire sequence is run in reverse. That's how they land so perfectly and effortlessly in their seats: they don't "land" at all. They are already sitting, the zoom in is actually a zoom out, and so on.
While Mia is writing her one woman play, the protagonist's name, Genevieve, is seen in the script. This is likely a reference to Catherine Deneuve's character in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), which was a great source of inspiration for this film.
In the film, Ryan Gosling's character is referred to by other characters twice as a famous but deceased celebrity of 2016. Early in the film his sister calls him Ali, a reference to Muhammad Ali who died earlier June, 2016. Later, Mia yells out to him, calling him George Michael who died shortly after the film's release, on Christmas Day 2016.
The same street lamps are seen in multiple scenes including the road Emma and Ryan walk up to in their first dance sequence; the Pier at Hermosa Beach; outside the sound stage when Mia and Seb walk the movie lot (where they are stored outside the building showing they are merely props); and again when Mia runs out of the restaurant where she was dining with Greg, brother and wife and runs up the street to the Rialto. The same light also features prominently in the movie poster.
Emma Stone's character mentions the fact that there is a radio station named KJAZZ back home where she grew up. Emma Stone grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. KJZZ (pronounced K-Jazz) is a radio station in the Phoenix market. KJAZZ 88.1 is also the Los Angeles jazz and blues station.
The very large pendulum seen in the observatory scene is called a Foucault pendulum, or Foucault's pendulum, named after the French physicist Léon Foucault. It is a simple device conceived as an experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. While it had long been known that the Earth rotates, the introduction of the Foucault pendulum in 1851 was the first simple proof of the rotation in an easy-to-see experiment. Today, Foucault pendulums are popular displays in science museums and universities.
When the camera focuses on the traffic scene before the opening number "Another Day of Sun" begins, one of the radio stations in the background plays a short snippet of a song from Damien Chazelle's directorial debut Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009) called "It Happened at Dawn."
Ryan Gosling's character, Sebastian, teases his sister in the movie that he should set her up with a man that has a face tattoo. Coincidentally, in his role in The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) his character has a face tattoo. He chose this tattoo for his character in TPBtP. After the first day of shooting, he asked to remove the tattoo because of his embarrassment in choice he made for his character, in which case the director told him "absolutely not."
PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm responsible for tabulating the results, preparing awards envelopes and handing them to presenters apologized unreservedly to the makers of La La Land and Moonlight, as well as everyone involved, after an envelope mix-up caused the former to be incorrectly announced as Best Picture: "We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. [sic] We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation."
On their way through Downtown LA, Mia and Sebastian visit the food stalls of the Grand Central Market (317 S. Broadway), and among all the food places they choose Sarita's Pupuseria. This is an actual Salvadorean food stall. The scene, which only last 3 seconds, has brought international attention to the little place, now recognized in El Salvador, as a memorable place.
Anna Chazelle: Damien Chazelle's sister plays the casting director who operates the camera during Mia's callback. She also makes an appearance in the film's opening number, as the hula-hooper on top of a car on the freeway.
Marc Platt: the film producer is one of the cheering spectators during "Another Day of Sun" when the truck drum and dance performance begins. He is a conspicuously older man on the left side of the frame.
Damien Chazelle: [song] The song "When I Wake" by Justin Hurwitz was first featured in the movie Whiplash (2014), with the two main characters listening to the song while out on a date. The same thing happens in La La Land as the song is featured in the background while Sebastian and Mia are talking about jazz - exactly the same topic the two characters from Whiplash were discussing.
Damien Chazelle: [Simmons] J.K. Simmons plays a similarly negative character in this and Chazelle's previous film, Whiplash (2014). In the earlier film his character is a jazz obsessive, in this, a jazz hater.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Mia gives Sebastian a tour of the Warner Brothers back lot, she shows him a window that was used in Casablanca (1942). Much later, near the end of the movie, when Mia and her husband go into Sebastian's club and he is stunned to see them, it is a clear homage to the famous scene where Ilsa and Victor go to Rick's Café Americain and Rick is stunned to see them.
The first and last time Mia and Sebastian meet are both because of traffic, one of the most recognizable things about LA. They pass by each other in a traffic jam in the beginning of the film. The last time they meet is also due to a traffic jam; Mia and her husband miss a friend's premiere because of it and decide to go to dinner instead, followed by a visit to Sebastian's jazz club.
The word 'fall' was not just representing the season but also the fall that would happen in their relationship. It was also the only season to appear on a black background, appearing not as joyful as the others.
After one of the auditions Emma Stone attends, she mentions the film has a plot similar to Rebel Without a Cause (1955). One of the most iconic things from "Rebel" is James Dean's red jacket, Emma wears a similar jacket to both the audition and the call back.
When Mia comes to see Sebastian play with "The Messengers", bandleader Keith (John Legend) is wearing a red leather jacket that, together with the red guitar strap over his shoulder, calls back the 80s-style red leather George Michael jacket Sebastian wears at his earlier party gig. In both bands, Sebastian is forced to juggle a kitschy second keyboard (key-tar at the party, synthesiser with The Messengers), rather than concentrating on his beloved piano. The implication is that the flashy stage band is just a better-paying pick-up gig, distracting him from his dreams.
In the epilogue sequence, when they are walking through Paris, the camera focuses on the clock which shows the time as 12:00, a gentle nod to the film Midnight in Paris (2011) starring Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. This is also where we question the reality of what has happened in the film, just like we do with Midnight in Paris. Rachel McAdams was Ryan Gosling's co-star in The Notebook (2004).
At the end of the movie, Mia's husband, played by Tom Everett Scott pulls her into Sebastian's jazz bar, which Sebastian wanted to own so he could play authentic jazz. This is an homage to That Thing You Do! (1996), in which Tom Everett Scott's character, Guy, loves jazz and asks his cab driver to take him to a bar with "good jazz".
Sebastian at first refuses to call his dream club anything but "Chicken on a Stick" because Charlie Parker was known for eating chicken. Towards the end of the film, Sebastian goes home and cooks chicken on the stove before heading out to his new club.
The film has a lot of mostly coincidental similarities to Cabaret (1972). Director Damien Chazelle is the first to win the Academy Award for Best Director for a musical film since Bob Fosse won for Cabaret. Both Fosse and Chazelle also directed an actress that went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress (Liza Minnelli and Emma Stone respectively) for the films. Both also lost out on the Academy Award for Best Picture (Cabaret to The Godfather (1972) and La La Land to Moonlight) to a film that won three awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Lead/Supporting Actor. Adding to the coincidental connections between the two films, Chazelle decided to cast Emma Stone after seeing her play Sally Bowles (the role for which Liza Minelli won Best Actess) in the 2014 Broadway revival of Cabaret. Both films also feature a relationship between a man and a woman that ends up falling apart and end with a song number featuring the main actress (Minelli singing the titular song "Cabaret" and Stone and Gosling reminiscing over what could have been with music from the rest of the film playing in the background). Despite La La Land's incredible success in awards and Box Office (earning almost double what Cabaret did when adjusted for inflation), Cabaret remains the record holder for most Academy Award wins without winning Best Picture, with 8 total wins, while La La Land totaled 6 wins. With all these similarities, it's possible in the future for both Moonlight and La La Land to follow their 1972 predecessors (Godfather and Cabaret respectively) and be considered two of the greatest American films of all time, with Moonlight typically ranking over La La Land. 45 years later, cinematic history appears to be repeating itself.