‘La La Land’ High-Flying Highway Opening Scene: How’d They Do That?

OscarWrap: Director Damien Chazelle explains how he created a huge six-minute dance number on an L.A. freeway overpass

La La Land

A version of this story on “La La Land” first appeared in the December 9 issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

The opening scene of Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” is one of the film’s most spectacular scenes, plunging viewers straight into an environment where characters are likely to break into song and dance at the drop of a hat.

The scene, which is six minutes long, comes before the opening credits. Seemingly unspooling without a cut, it is a huge dance number that takes place on a Los Angeles freeway overpass during a traffic jam. Dozens of drivers jumping out of their cars and join in a choreographed extravaganza set to the original song “Another Day of Sun” by composer Justin Hurwitz and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

In an interview for TheWrap’s Oscar magazine, director Damien Chazelle explained some of the intricacies that went into staging and shooting the scene.

• The scene was shot over two days on a ramp connecting the carpool lanes of the 105 and 110 freeways in Los Angeles. The regular lanes of the freeways remained open, and traffic is visible during the number.

• The scene was designed to look like a single shot nearly six minutes long — but in fact, said Chazelle, “it’s three shots stitched together.”

• The two stitches come during whip-pan moves, the first at the three-minute mark, the second at 4:45.

• Most of the number was shot by a camera on a crane. “We talked a lot about how exactly we’d move the camera,” he said, “but because we needed the camera to glide over cars, we had to use cranes.”

• Strong winds forced the crew to be cautious with the crane, “because we didn’t want the camera to hit a dancer or a car or miss a focus mark.”

• While the first two shots were entirely shot on cranes, the final shot began with a Steadicam. “It gives you a little more flexibility and precision in terms of getting close to the dancers,” he said. The Steadicam operator ran between cars for most of the one-minute sequence, and then hopped onto what Chazelle called “a makeshift crane” for a final shot that rises slowly and ends up looking down on the dancers.

• And in addition to the dozens of performers choreographed by Mandy Moore, Chazelle said his “dancers that you don’t see” were “a phenomenal crane operator and a phenomenal Steadicam operator. They were just as choreographed as anyone you do see in the frame.”

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