It’s four years later and we still can’t get over how well La La Land looks.
Without doubt, La La Land‘s cinematography creates a dreamscape based on an old technicolor fantasy from Hollywood that I wish I lived in. So we all wish we could see Los Angeles instead of the very real version that so many filmmakers capture.
This fantasy Los Angeles can only be found in the campy-musical world of. function La La Land. The film is mostly shot at the magic hour (or golden hour), the time of day when the sun is on the horizon and creates warm and soft light that is perfect for any outdoor scene. So what was used to capture some of the best shots in the film?
Cinematography DB Fan # 2 breaks out some of the scenes La La Land and how they were created through camera work and the use of old and new school Hollywood lighting. Check out the video below:
If you don’t have 47 minutes to spare, here’s what we took away from the video!
Practice makes excellence
As I said, many of the scenes in this film take place right at the magic hour. The crew only have about thirty minutes to an hour to film what is to be filmed. That means it much to rehearse for the cast and crew.
Since La La Land was shot with a Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 with anamorphic 2X lens on 35mm film, everything had to be done with as few settings as possible. The standard was one and done.
To make sure this was possible, many of the scenes were rehearsed intensely and shot on an iPhone to find all the markings the camera had to hit during the shoot. This was done for almost every scene and practiced for weeks before the actual shooting took place. For dialog-heavy scenes, two cameras were used to capture both actors at the same time. It’s a more expensive way of filming, but you can capture a real reaction from the actors.
For the opening number of the film, the entire scene consists of three takes that are put together for two days. Since the scene was heavily dependent on natural light, the sun had to be at the perfect angle so that the camera wasn’t over-lit. The result was magical and made LA traffic look more fun than frustrating.
The magic lies in the lens flares
Linus Sandgren knew that a lens flare could transform the scene from plain and mundane to the headspace of an LA dreamer. Every single lens flare in the movie was completely deliberate and fully controlled to make the scenes look great and to represent the characters’ headspace.
When we see Sebastian’s (Ryan Gosling) shabby apartment for the first time, we run into boring and subdued neutrals that don’t make the room look special. Only when Sebastian starts playing the piano does a lens flare appear in the frame and the room feels somehow magical. Sandgren marked where the camera would be at a certain point in Sebastian’s song and placed LED lights outside the window that created the lens flare we see in the scene.
There’s also the movie scene when Mia (Emma Stone) meets Sebastian. The lens flare is subtle, but it comes from the projector because you see each other from the other side of the room. Sandgren uses this light source again to put us in the heads of these characters and to transport the typical experience into something theatrical.
There are many impact pans out there for good reason
There are many beating pans in La La Land. Like a lot. But they do their job. It was used to hide cuts like in the opening number or the party scene when the dancer jumps into the pool, or just to create a sick transition, and some of these whips were done in a very simple way.
By now, you’ve probably got the behind-the-scenes video from. seen La La Land Director Damien Chazelle, pat a cameraman on the shoulder while filming the jazz / tap dance scene. The cameraman stands in a very uncomfortable turn until Chazelle taps his shoulder, then ducks under the camera as it moves to perfectly frame either Mia or Sebastian. To be honest, it’s such a cool way to switch between two actors instead of framing both of them at the same time or cutting on their character’s performance.
When the cameraman wasn’t panning the camera, Sandgren decided to switch from a steadicam shot to an arm crane shot. From then on, the camera attached to the arm crane almost begins to get out of control. The effect was simple and delivered a scene that still turns my head.
Old Hollywood movie lighting is still a method of choice
The beauty of filming is that it picks up colors beautifully without the need for a ton of color grading. Most of LA’s nighttime shots are a bit bright, and that’s because digital cameras capture the light from the city. The film takes up the shadows and lights of the night and creates an abundance in one shot.
Most of the night shots were based on an old-school trick. The crew simply hid the light source behind trees or buildings in order to set the required highlights on the street or certain buildings. When the light source wasn’t hidden, typical old-fashioned street lamps were the main source of light. Out of town Chazelle and Sandgren had this idea of what LA looked like based on classic Hollywood cinema. In town, some street lights were replaced with an older style that created a timeless look when Mia and Sebastian walked around during Magic Hour.
Unless you have a mega budget to replace street lights for your movie, the regular street lights should work too.
A little bit of distortion hasn’t hurt anyone
Remember how I said that La La Land feels like a dream? Well, there is a good reason for that statement. The lens used for fantastic shots, such as the Panavision E50 50 mm T2.O lens, distorts the edges of the image very easily. In pretty much every close-up of Mia or Sebastian, see the corners of the shot bend and curve unnaturally. However, when we see the recording, the distortion is not noticeable or noticeable at first glance. The slight distortion adds a subtle depth when used.
With the Panavision everything feels soft and slightly fuzzy. The audience is not forced to look at something in particular, but what catches our eye. The intentionally used camera and lens do not produce sharp images for fear that an overly sharp image will feel wrong.
Even on a much smaller budget, something awesome can be created by using old school techniques and playing around with different methods of transitions, films, and lenses. All you need is a vision (and some tools, of course) to bring your dream to life.
Let us know what you think about cinematography from. With La La Land in the comments below!