After Whiplash left critics open-mouthed, scooped three Oscar wins and two more nominations writer/director Damien Chazelle has proved it was no fluke and put himself firmly at the front of this year’s awards talk with La La Land.

Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as an actress and jazz pianist who fall in love and dream of stardom, it is a startling original musical that harks back to the golden age of Hollywood and has left critics falling over themselves with praise.

Speaking to us on the red carpet at the film’s premiere at BFI London Film Festival, Chazelle explained why he was compelled to write a musical.

He said: “I have loved musicals for a while but I wanted to make a musical that felt grounded and of the moment and felt realistic. I like the contradiction in that.

“I like the idea of marrying big Hollywood dance numbers and intimate stories. That was the idea.”

Chazelle was a talented jazz musician before dedicating himself to filmmaking and, of course, while not a musical Whiplash also dealt with the world of music.

The director said: “In broad terms, I have loved the idea of putting music on screen.

“I was a musician myself so that was definitely something that animated both Whiplash and this. And also stories about artists trying to express themselves – the sacrifices, the balance between life and art, dreams and reality – is again very personal ground for me so it is easy to write about.”

Musicals are far from commonplace at the cinemas these days, especially ones with songs no-one knows. But as far as producers Fred Berger was concerned, as long as Chazelle was able to translate his vision on to the screen they knew they were onto something remarkable.

Berger told us: “I think there is a hunger for something original and I think we always felt that if we pulled it off correctly and if Damien articulated the vision that he first mentioned to us many years ago then people would respond to something completely new and emotional and bold and audacious.

“He delivered on his promise and hopefully people are responding well for that reason.”

It is evident just how well Chazelle delivered in much-feted the opening scene where a traffic jam becomes a joyful musical number, seemingly shot in one take. When the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, that scene alone attracted an ovation.

Chazelle said: “That was probably up there with the most difficult things I have done.

“We had about two days to shoot it and all these little things kept going wrong – we had clouds which covered the sun, the truck door wouldn’t open, things like that.

“Everything came together in the end because we had a great crew, so it was fun.

“I think the result is about three takes that we stitched together.”

Going hand-in-hand with Chazelle’s bravura filmmaking are starry performances from both Gosling and Stone.

Berger said: “Important is a word that doesn’t even come close to the vitality and contribution they made. I think of it as the biggest gift this movie ever had. You can’t have an epic love story without two people who communicate that sort of chemistry, romance and level of frission.

“What they brought to the film is literally indescribable. They crafted those characters alongside Damien and if you have an emotional reaction to the film it is because of what Ryan and Emma bring to it, alongside Damien’s filmmaking.”

La La Land was the BFI London Film Festival Headline Gala on October 7. It is out at cinemas nationwide on January 13.

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