March 2017

Songs for the Screen

Examining the production process behind the movie musical.

National Standards: 7-9, 11

Prepare: Have the class read Songs for the Screen (page 48 of the student edition). The article features an interview with composer Justin Hurwitz to go behind the scenes on the creation of La La Land.

Key points in the article:

  • La La Land stands out for being an original screenplay, and a successful movie musical that did not originate on Broadway.
  • Hurwitz worked with director Damien Chazelle (his former college roommate and bandmate) to write the music to the film first, going through hundreds of ideas.
  • Hurwitz would finalize song structures and melodies with Chazelle before passing them off to lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
  • The film was finished with composer and director working essentially side by side, with Hurwitz filling in musical cues while Chazelle worked on the final edits.

Begin: Discuss the unique process of the creation of La La Land. Topics may include:

  • Hurwitz and Chazelle’s collaborating style and the pros and cons of Chazelle’s direct approach to critiquing Hurwitz’s ideas
  • How Pasek and Paul worked long distance with Hurwitz and Chazelle in the creation of the lyrics, yet their final ideas came together as a group with Chazelle
  • The pros and cons of Hurwitz communicating cues to Chazelle during the final editing process

Develop: Play the following video of “We Both Reached for the Gun” from Chicago, the movie musical based off of the Broadway play:

How would you describe the performance?

  • The scene mixes a routine designed for the stage with more cinematic shots
  • The music is influenced by a ’20s and ’30s jazz style
  • The characters’ exaggerated characters onstage are cut alongside more realistic personas

Expand: Now play the following clip from La La Land.

How does this scene compare to the one from Chicago?

  • The visuals are all cinematic, with no strong visual Broadway influence
  • The music is influenced by pop and modern jazz
  • The characters are entirely realistic personas