Detailed Breakdown of the Academy Award Winning Cinematography of La La Land

Cinematographer Matt Workman has created an extensive video detailing the methods and tools used by Director of Photography Linus Sandgren to create the Academy Award winning look of La La Land.

Gear heads rejoice! Or, sing, perhaps.

"La La Land," the romantic musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as two star crossed lovers trying to make it in the dog eat dog world of Hollywood, is one of the best movie musicals to be released in the last decade. Or the worst, depending on who you ask. It even won the Academy Award for best picture… until it didn’t.

But for lovers of musicals and classic Hollywood, the film was both a throwback to a more romantic time and an update to the classic formula for our modern era. A nod to the likes of "Singing In the Rain" or "Swing Time" even if lacking the unrivaled singing and dancing acumen that made those films so unrivaled in achievement.

Carried instead by the natural acting talents and chemistry of the film’s leads, and cinematography and art direction equal parts old school and contemporary, "La La Land" was an immense joy to watch, and an equally immense effort to create.

Rewatching the film over the weekend, I was struck by the extensive use of light and color both in set decoration and in the photography that help to tell the story. No colors are there by accident. The elaborate use of gels harkens back to the Technicolor days. The film's throwback bona fides are further burnished by the production team's choice to shoot on film rather than digital. As anyone who came of age prior to the advent of digital can attest, film simply feels different. Not better or worse. Just different. Somehow the peculiarities of the chemical process lending an extra dreamlike quality to our carefully crafted fairy tale.

But the choice of medium was only one of the tricks up the filmmakers' sleeves. In this extension video, fellow cinematographer Matt Workman, attempts to break down the cinematography of "La La Land" scene-by-scene. Using detailed behind the scenes stills, Workman attempts to breakdown the film’s lighting step-by-step. Clearly a gear head by nature, Workman provides extensive information on the photographic tools used the film as well as their impact on the final product.

Spoiler warning, it also includes details of the film’s plot, so for those of you who have yet to see it, be sure to check out the film first.

For those of you who have seen it, and have about 45 minutes to dig into a deep analysis of the film’s look, and perhaps learn a thing or two along the way, dig in.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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