La La Land in Concert | The Long Center for the Performing Arts

“Falling into Place” — La La Land Composer Talks Turning Film into Live Experience

Ever wondered how a live orchestra syncs up to a screening of a feature film? For Justin Hurwitz (surely you know this composer’s name by now!), this challenge became reality quicker than he ever thought. Now an Academy Award-winning composer, Hurwitz and director-collaborator Damien Chazelle aren’t leaving La La Land on the screen. June 30th, their most recent Oscar winner is screening in Dell Hall with the score performed live by the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

Our friends at CultureMap Austin chatted with Hurwitz about his latest successes and got the inside scoop on the challenge this “live-scoring” presents. Hint: the Austin Symphony jazz pianist will have to pay extra close attention to sync up with Ryan Gosling’s hands! Be sure to check out the full Hurwitz interview, too.

“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.

(Coincidentally, La La Land director Damien Chazelle and Hurwitz are actually old college roommates. After a short-lived rock band experience, the two realized their friendship could be a recipe for movie magic. Explains a lot, huh?)

[Hurwitz] 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 Sunday Film Festival as a short and won an award that led to financing for the feature. On the heals of Whiplash’s success, financing La La Land feel 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.”

Thanks for the intel, CultureMap Austin!

You know what else is really great timing? La La Land in Concert comes just in time to celebrate high summer with a full night on the town. Make it dinner, a movie AND a symphony with a twist—bring your tickets to Juliet Italian Kitchen down the street before or after the show, and you’ll get 15% OFF your dinner for the night!

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