Life lessons from La La Land
I’m just back from seeing La La Land with Mrs Taylor and two of my teenage daughters and WOW! What a welcome blast of colour, energy and fun, especially if you are shivering through a freezing cold, post-Brexit, post-Trump winter. We came out wanting to sing and dance and downloaded the soundtrack straight away.
In case you have been living in Outer Mongolia and have not hear of La Land, which won a record-breaking seven Golden Globes, click below to see the trailer and read on for some life lessons from the film.
1. Refresh something you love
La Land is the perfect example of rejuvenating a category, in this case the screen musical. Director Damien Chapelle cleverly looked back at what made the genre famous during Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, such as sound stage fantasies, montages of the city’s neon lights and big set-piece dance numbers. But he also created a romantic relationship that feels modern. He explained his approach in an interview in The Independent: “Trying to call back certain things from the past that I felt had been lost and didn’t need to be lost … and updating those things.”
Damien wrote the screenplay for La La Land way back in 2010. He was unable to produce the film for many years. “No studio was willing to finance an original contemporary musical, with no familiar songs to build off a pre-existing fan base,” according to this article. Not only was it a musical, it was a jazz musical, which which The Hollywood Reporter called an “extinct genre” according to the same article. And to make things harder, Damien and his composer partner Justin Hurwitz were unknown.
But Damien and Justin kept going. As I was told by my first boss at P&G, “If you feel like you’re banging your head on a brick wall, get a crash helmet!” As Damien explained in this interview, “Our stubbornness just paid out. You just don’t hang up. You don’t take no for an answer.”
3. Don’t compromise on quality
Even when a studio did finally get interested in La La Land they demanded alterations that Damien felt were “distinctive and pivotal to the storyline” according to this article. “The male lead was asked to be changed from a jazz pianist to a rock musician, the complicated opening number had to be altered, and the story’s bittersweet ending needed to be dropped.” It would have been tempting to compromise and get your first big Hollywood movie made. But Damien and Justin refused to make the sacrifices requested. Instead, they put La La Land on hold and moved on to another project. This just happened to be another movie masterpiece, Whiplash, which went on to win three Oscars and put the team on the map. This helped give them more leverage to finally get La La Land made the way they wanted.
4. Human connections still matter
The headlines today are full of stories about how robots are going to wipe out millions of white collar jobs. But La La Land shows that human connections will still be key to creativity and innovation, even in an age of big data and artificial intelligence. Damien and Justin met at Harvard, where they explored the concept of a re-booted musical in their senior thesis, through a low-budget musical called Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. I try to tell my daughters that whilst academic achievement is good, in today’s hyper competitive and global world its equally important to create and nurture a network of human connections.
La La Land is a bloody brilliant movie that I suggest you go to see tonight, if you haven’t already. And the story behind it is inspiring, showing how creative vision, persistence and excellent execution can pay off. At the time of writing the movie has grossed $173million on a relatively modest production budget of $30million.