City of Stars
Thanks to recent successes, Justin Hurwitz can not only put Oscar-winning composer on his resume, he can also say he’s played the Hollywood Bowl. Late last month, Hurwitz, best known for composing La La Land, had another dream come true when he conducted a 100-piece symphony orchestra, playing the film’s score live as audiences watched the movie at the historic venue.
"La La Land in Concert" was an idea Hurwitz and film director Damien Chazelle had long before their third feature film cleaned up at the 2016 Oscars. Austin audiences will have a chance to witness the unique live movie scoring experience June 30 at the Long Center.
“It’s a really great opportunity for people to see all the musicianship that went into making this score,” says Hurwitz. “I had the pleasure of seeing it in the recording studio and it’s really incredible seeing everything the musicians brought to it and for people to see that live with the picture.”
The event preserves the film’s original vocal performances, blending them with live musicians. In Austin, those musicians will be the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Hurwitz spent several months leading up to the live tour creating clever ways to help the touring conductor (Hurwitz is only conducting a few of the dates on the worldwide tour) make sure the music is properly synchronized to the film.
“The whole thing needs to be prepared so that there are guides that help the conductor follow the movie. There’s a click track which is kind of like a metronome that helps them keep it in time and there are these visual cues on the conductor’s video feed,” explains Hurwitz.
He says there are also two new pieces of music in the live show not included in the film: an overture and a piece that carries the audience from intermission into the second half.
The story of how the film came to be is quite interesting in its own right. Hurwitz formed a band with Chazelle their freshman year of college. Chazelle, an aspiring film director, played drums and Hurwitz played keys. By their sophomore year, the band was dead but the budding collaboration between the two started to take shape and by junior year they’d made their first movie, with Chazelle writing the script and directing and Hurwitz composing the score. “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench was our first feature and it was a musical and a big stepping stone towards La La Land. We made that movie and we’ve been making them since,” says Hurwitz.
He says he and Chazelle have a unique collaboration style that really allows the script and the score of their films to form together — unlike most cases, where a composer writes the score after a film is already complete.
“The music and the story took shape together which is great because I wasn’t coming in to stick music into something that was already done,” he explains. “It was lots of conversations between me and Damien — me looking at his treatment and his script and him looking at my music and letting our work inform each other’s work.”
In 2011, the pair worked on La La Land for about a year but when they couldn’t find funding to make it, they switched gears and started working on what would later become Whiplash. Chazelle took a 17-minute scene from Whiplash to the 2013 Sundance Film Festival as a short and won an award that led to financing for the feature. On the heals of Whiplash’s success, financing for La La Land fell into place. “Suddenly everyone wanted to know what Damien’s next movie was going to be and we already had a package for La La Land ready to go, so it was really great timing.”
“If we’d gotten to make La La Land when we wanted to back in 2011 and 2012, we wouldn’t have been as good at what we do. It would have been a much lower budget and I don’t think we would have been ready as filmmakers — it was good to make something smaller first.”
The success of La La Land was definitely no small feat, and with their growing track record, the team of Chazelle and Hurwitz is well positioned to continue making great movies.
“These sorts of things open doors and you get to do your next dream project. I mean that’s certainly what happened with Whiplash and this movie, and hopefully that’s what happens next.”
Tickets for “La La Land in Concert” start at $39.