2017’s Oscar front runner, La La Land, has employed thousands of craftspeople, technicians and artists to help flesh out director Damien Chazelle‘s vision of a Hollywood musical with a modern spin. Two such trusted teammates were sound designer and supervising sound editor, Ai Ling Lee and Mildred (Milly) Iatrou, supervising sound editor.
According to Lee, Damien Chazelle had originally wanted to work with the famous Andy Nelson, the well respected re-recording mixer, known in the industry for his stellar work on major films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998), L.A. Confidential (1997), and Heat (1995), just to name a few. Ai Ling Lee and Milly Iatrou had both worked with Nelson previously as sound editors and Chazelle wanted to maintain the excellent quality of work that the team was known for.
Although Iatrou had worked on several musicals before, such as Hairspray (2007) and Rock of Ages (2012), she noted that La La Land was indeed an entity all its own. One of their biggest challenges of course, was to create a smooth transition from the pre-recorded musical scenes to spoken dialogue. Because the songs were shot in a studio, the outdoor scenes proved especially tricky. Iatrou was given the task of being in charge of ADR and production dialogue, and her biggest concern was during the character Mia’s crucial scene (played by Emma Stone), when she auditions with an emotional song that will change the course of her career. When Iatrou was first handed the scene, there was a tremendous amount of noise in it and she hadn’t realized that background actors were moving furniture behind Mia, while the actress was singing. Iatrou didn’t know what this noise was, but knew Chazelle wanted her to clean it up in order to use Emma Stone’s live number. It took her two days just to remove the noise, but the sound editor is justified in being very proud of the meticulous work.
Chazelle had also given Iatrou and Lee the direction to think about how music works seamlessly in other films, especially Mean Streets (1973). Just as New York became a character in Martin Scorsese‘s seminal film, Chazelle wanted Los Angeles to live and breath as its own character as well. The sound department made sure that the audience could practically hear the lights, and the naturalistic ambiance of the teaming city. Iatrou explained, “So that when the scenes went into fantasy, the sound would fall away and the audience would be left with pure music.”
Because Lee, Iatrou and Andy Nelson also had experience working on the challenging set of Wild (2014) together, they understood what Chazelle wanted for this project, but with a modern twist. Lee added that their goal was to “create a soundscape between Los Angeles and the musical numbers.” The sound designers build city sounds and radio sounds into a cacophony that became a natural, rounded sound palette that those of us who live in the City of Angels simply call home.