The critically acclaimed La La Land is now available on Digital HD, and Billboard has an exclusive behind-the-scenes extra prior to the film’s Blu-ray/DVD release on April 25. The short video features director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz discussing the process of writing the film’s music.
Hurwitz — who won two Academy Awards this year for best original music score and best song for “City of Stars” — explained that in composing the music for the film, he wanted a timeless feel, while still not “trying to be old-fashioned.”
The composer tells Billboard the key was to stay away from musicals that inspired him and Chazelle in the past. “We didn’t want it to seep in too much and actually make the music of La La Land sound like Singing in the Rain or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
“I was trying to compose honestly for what this project was, and I think the movie always had its own flavor and style, its own palette and set of colors. I wanted to do something that felt unique to this movie visually,” he adds.
Hurwitz scored the movie while it was being written — an opportunity rarely given to composers — and it took about three years of work. “When you do the dramatic underscore and the instrumentals under the scene, usually, a composer doesn’t do that until after the movie is edited,” he says. “I started the process from the very first week of the director’s cut, which is a few months ahead of when it would normally start. We wanted the score and the cut to evolve together.”
The originality and potential success is what kept him motivated through such a long process. “There are no recent movies that felt like what we hoped this would feel like. So it was definitely a gamble to work on something that doesn’t seem like the other big studio movies that are being made these days. We really believed in it and figured it was the kind of movie we wanted to see.”
Since the focus of the film is weighed heavily on the music, it is no surprise that the La La Land soundtrack has an almost hour-long running time with a 15-song set. Hurwitz’s favorite? “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” or the song Emma Stone’s character auditions with, landing her a role in a film that propels her into superstardom.
“I love how specific the lyric is; you know, ‘She lived in her liquor and died with a flicker.’ But then, as the song goes on and gets bigger musically, and as Emma [Stone] starts singing out more, the lyrics become broader and more general and more anthemic,” he says. “It goes from being about this one aunt and this one specific situation to being about us, the dreamers, and here’s to all of us dreamers who chase our dreams. I thought how the lyrics evolved was really lovely, and that’s the shape I was going for in the music.”