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‘La La Land’ Director Damien Chazelle Lucks Out, Channels Blanche Dubois

Variety logo Variety 6/10/2017 Dave McNary
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La La Land” director Damien Chazelle admitted Saturday that he had been the beneficiary of good fortune in getting the film made.

“You really are very much dependent on the kindness of strangers,” he said, quoting Blanche Dubois’ deathless line in Tennesee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” while concluding a conversation with “Shameless” producer John Wells at the Producers Guild of America’s 9th Annual Produced By conference on the Fox lot.

32-year-old Chazelle, who became the youngest recipient of a best director Academy Award for “La La Land” in February, was attempting to explain how he had managed to succeed at a relatively young age. He began work on the comedy-drama musical in 2010, noting he was inspired by the French classic “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

“It had one foot in the past and one in the new,” he noted.

As for the aforementioned strangers, Chazelle credited Matthew Plouffe — who was then a Focus executive — for showing the first professional interest in him as a director, which led to a writing gig on “Ouija” with Cooper Samuelson. That relationship led to Helen Estabrook coming on board as a producer on “Whiplash,” which wound up being nominated for five Oscars and winning three, including Best Supporting Actor for JK Simmons.

But it wasn’t just luck; Chazelle was fulsome in giving credit to “La La Land” producers Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, and Marc Platt for leaving him alone when he was shooting while still giving him enough feedback when it was “desperately needed.”

Chazelle also stressed the importance of the director being accountable for the notes given to actors as scenes are being shot, rather than leaving actors to wonder if the note is coming from a producer or the studio.

“Once the shooting starts, the single most exposed person is the actor,” he added.

“Write as much as you can,” he also added at the end of the conversation.

“La La Land” won six Academy Awards after being nominated for a record-tying 14 on Jan. 24. It was shot in 70 different locations in Los Angeles, mostly on location rather than on lots.

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