Choreographer Mandy Moore Adds Jazz, Waltzes And Tap To “La La Land”

Choreographer Mandy Moore worked with car placement, camera moves and professional dancers to create the traffic jam jazz number in “La La Land.” Photo credit: Lionsgate

By: Marjorie Galas

The elaborate dance numbers in “La La Land”, director Damien Chazelle’s valentine to Los Angeles and its creative dreamers, literally lift the story’s star-crossed lovers off their feet. Searching for a perfect partner to realize the dancing, Chazelle met with nearly 40 choreographers, including Mandy Moore.  It took recommendations from David O. Russell (she’s choreographed three of the director’s films) and “So You Think You Can Dance” creator Nigel Lythgoe (she’s garnered four Emmy nominations for SYTYCD routines) and a two hour meeting discussing scene breakdowns and visions to secured the job.  Brought on before casting concluded, she spent several months with Chazelle dissecting songs, workshopping ideas and building upon mutual concepts.

“The process of collaboration was beautiful. Ideas would usher ideas,” said Moore.  “It was really inspiring to work that way.”

Moore’s Pre-production continued privately tutoring leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Moore became their athletic coach for six weeks, recommending Pilates and overseeing their daily strength training.   The plethora of dances her novices would be performing, including jazz, tap and waltzes required grace and fluidity.  To accomplish this, her training went beyond perfecting the physical movements to shifting their mindset towards exploring the passion of dance.

“I wanted to teach them how to learn about ‘learning to dance’; how to listing to music, to coordinate their bodies, to move their limbs,” said Moore. “Then we focused on the textures of the steps.”

Following the private tutorials, Moore had six weeks remaining to refine routines. She worked closely with all department heads, including scouting locations with production designer David Wasco, finessing color palettes with costume designer Mary Zophres and reviewing camera framing with DP Linus Sandgren.  Their mutual devotion to details helped Moore fully realize the complex choreography she’d begun visualizing upon reading the script.  One particularly complex number Moore built in multi-stages was the film’s opening number: a spontaneous, Jerome Robbins-esque jazz sequence that erupts during a highway traffic jam.  Where cars were placed, the distance between them and the camera movements had to be established first.  Adding the routine last, Moore hired 30 professional dancers she relies on for their athleticism, impeccable timing and intelligence.  The scene required prop work (slamming doors), intense physicality (jumping on hoods and roofs) and keen rhythm: dancers had to remain in time over twenty car rows deep.  To extend the dancing miles down the highway, the dancers performed the sequence on a green screen, which the VFX department tacked on to the end of the scene.

Moore also had the opportunity to work with stunt coordinators to create a waltz in the Milky Way, finding ways to incorporate graceful movements for the leads who wore cumbersome harnesses and wires. Equally complex was the tap number they perform on the asphalt of a sloping hill. The playful routine emphasizing the couple’s budding romance was performed in a long take without additional coverage to cut to.

“They were so open to movement and dance,” said Moore. “The really took a gamble being so vulnerable.”