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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

La La Land

by writer/director Damien Chazelle

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I remember being struck by the giant sky, and the palm trees that looked so tall and thin that I thought they shouldn’t be able to stay upright. There was something immediately fantastical about the city. This was the “Dream Factory”—and it looked more like a dream than reality.

I’d moved to L.A. to make movies. And for years I felt like my face was pressed against the glass, my eyes peering in on a world I could see but not touch. With La La Land, I wanted to capture that feeling—of being a young hopeful in one of the most competitive cities, trying to reconcile big dreams with the limitations of real life—through the genre I love more than any other: the musical.

To me, musicals are all about the fine line between fantasy and reality, and how that line can get hazy. A magic-hour sunset can look like a painted canvas. A moon-lit street can look like an Old Hollywood backlot. And, sure enough, a stroll can turn into a dance, a word into a lyric, a conversation into a duet….

I think that’s a timeless idea. It speaks to a universal need—the need to find magic in the everyday, and to find hope in a world where sometimes hope seems in short supply.

I also think musicals are all about emotion. No genre can better communicate what it feels like to fall in love. To radiate with joy. To suffer heartbreak. To cling to a dream against all odds. Indeed, musicals by definition favor feeling over logic. If you find yourself falling for another person, the sounds of a 90-piece orchestra probably won’t emerge out of thin air to accompany you in song. But that sure is what it feels like.

The capability of movies—or any art form—to express the way things feel, instead of merely the way things are, is a profound capability, and one I wanted to harness in full. I wanted to make a movie where holding hands in a theater felt like an earth-shaking event. Where love could literally make you float into the stars. And where a dream could guide the way.

Ultimately, I wanted to make a movie about hope, joy, love, heartbreak, and the refusal to give up. To tell an intimate story about everyday feelings and tell it as though it were a giant epic, custom-made for the big screen. I wanted to take audiences on a kinetic ride, through the full range of emotions—from the loneliness in the middle of a crowd, when your song seems different from everyone else’s, to the infinite possibilities of a freeway dance or a gravity-free waltz, when anything seems achievable.

Because, ultimately, that’s what life feels like. Each and every one of our lives can feel like an epic, or like a big-screen spectacular.

Or…like a musical.