Hollywood loves stories about Los Angeles. There are countless movies about the city and the entertainment industry that always wind up being big hits with the those in the business and critics. Joining that list this week is La La Land, the new movie from writer/director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) and starring the ridiculously good-looking pair of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
La La Land is a love story but it’s also a completely original musical. Stone plays Mia, an actress who’s struggling to secure her big break. One day she meets Sebastian (Gosling), a piano player who gets by playing in bars but dreams of opening a jazz club of his own. The two bump into each other several times and finally form a romantic relationship. But that love affair is threatened when their careers actually start to take off and the struggles that brought them together now threaten what has been a magical romance.
The first poster is kind of great. Designed to look like a record cover from the early 1940s or so, it shows Stone and Gosling in a passionate embrace while in one of the vertical stripes next to them you see the L.A. Observatory, an easy way to establish the location of the story. At the top along with the actor’s names is a call-out about the key song (which we’ll see is also in the first trailer), enhancing the LP artwork feel of the one-sheet.
A second poster was just as good and also looks like something you found in your mom’s record collection. This one shows Gosling and Stone walking across a room, both decked out in nice outfits, the picture tinged heavily with a blue that stripes across the neutral background that’s seen at the top and the bottom. Even the rating and the “In Theaters” copy at the bottom looks like what on a record would say “In Stereo” or something.
A special poster for the movie’s appearance at the Venice Film Festival was also released. It’s not as interesting thematically as the first two but still sells the overall appeal of the movie pretty well, showing Gosling and Stone dancing on a hill top, the lights of Los Angeles below a dark night’s sky. “Here’s to the fools who dream” the copy at the top tells us.
The theatrical poster foregoes the artistic stylings of the earlier one-sheets in favor of a simple image of Gosling and Stone, shown from behind while staring out over the nighttime skyline of Los Angeles. Or at least it would be a simple image if it weren’t for the fact that all the negative space on the poster is taken up by accolades from critics, turning what should have continued the magical look and feel of the poster campaign into a cluttered mess.
The first trailer is all about setting the mood for the movie while revealing as little as possible about the story. Essentially a short music video, we get lots of shots of Gosling and Stone as the dance around each other, gaze across rooms at each other and otherwise engage in this storybook romance. So they’re at nightclubs, dancing in the streets and more.
Again, there’s not much about the story on display here but it’s still pretty great. It definitely establishes the setting of Los Angeles, presenting it as a place where literally anything can happen, most of it magical and romantic. The time period here is kind of iffy as we’re shown modern cars but a vibe that’s definitely more out of the 1940s or 50s than the 21st century. That’s not a bad thing, it’s part of the movie’s charm, it seems.
Another trailer came out a bit later that took the same approach but this time featured Stone singing about the mess they’ve made, with the same kind of shots that present a version of Los Angeles that seems to exist in all time periods, from the 1940s to the present, at the same time.
The official trailer starts off at a disappointing audition Mia is at, but we soon see her wandering into the piano bar Sebastian plays at. The two catch each other’s eyes just as we see him get fired and we’re off to the races. What follows is lots of them walking around and talking in the cutest way possible interspersed with shots of them dancing. There are scenes of them struggling with their careers, him going toward opening his own club, she trying to be an actress. More dancing, more walking around L.A. and it all ends in a big musical number, of course.
It works really hard to be just as charming and magical as the first couple spots while also adding more of the story into the mix. That comes through very well without getting in the way of the sweepingly epic scope the movie is trying to take with this very intimate story. Gosling and Stone has loads of chemistry (they should at this point, having worked together so often) and that really comes through here, helping sell the whole package.
Online and Social
Video from the trailers plays full-screen when you load the movie’s official website, which also starts playing some of the music from the soundtrack. That soundtrack is an important part of the movie’s overall brand with its selection of original music, which is evident from how there’s a big button encouraging people to buy the album on either physical or digital media at the bottom of the page. There are graphics touting the movie’s RottenTomatoes score along with Venice and Toronto festival wins and a couple of positive critical quotes around the title treatment. There are also links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.
The menu of content at the top starts with “Videos,” which is where you can (and should) watch all three trailers along with featurettes on the production of the movie and the music in the film. “Synopsis” has a pretty good recap of the story along with some of the credits for those involved.
That’s expanded on slightly in the “Cast & Filmmakers” section. There’s not additional information for the Filmmakers section but in the Cast area when you click on one of the names a picture of that actor in character comes up. Finally, “Gallery” has a handful of production stills along with a single behind-the-scenes photo.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I’ll hand it to the TV campaign, it didn’t try to hide much about what had already made the movie a word-of-mouth superstar. TV spots like this one made it clear it’s filled with singing and dancing, all of that serving a story of an epic, magical romance between two struggling entertainers.
The studio kept those spots coming throughout the last month or so leading up to release, with each one hitting slightly different notes but all of them selling this as a big-screen musical romance in the classic tradition but with plenty of modern twists. There were variations on that theme, but most all sold that basic approach.
TV spots and trailers were used in social media ads on Twitter and other networks. Other online ads used the key art or videos to drive ticket sales and outdoor billboards used the key art or image of Stone and Gosling dancing with the L.A. cityscape in the background.
Media and Publicity
A first look photo showing Stone and Gosling mid-dance appeared in EW. The movie was part of Fox Searchlight’s portion of Fox’s CinemaCon presentation, where the first footage debuted, which had everyone online oolong and aaaahing as they talked about the tone and visuals of that footage.
That premiere at Venice came off very well, earning the movie plenty of buzz and positive word of mouth. While there Chazzelle talked about why he’s so attracted to musicals, Stone talked about the story’s overt hopefulness and joy and more. The music continued to be a focus of the press, with composer Justin Hurwitz talking about creating the music that was so central to the story.
The movie was also among those selected for the Telluride Film Festival. Everyone came out of Toronto even more in love with the movie than they were already, culminating with Stone winning an award for her performance in the film.
Chazzelle talked extensively here about the long and sometimes tortured path the movie took to production as it was put into turnaround, had actors sign on and then drop out and ultimately just faced the challenge of being an original musical. Also covered is the working relationship between Stone and Gosling, since this is their third time out together inside of five years.
“Charming” is a word that’s hard not to use when describing this campaign. Everything here is designed to charm the audience, from the relationship between Mia and Sebastian to the plucky, upbeat music and the audacious dance sequences that are on display throughout the push. It’s all designed to seem completely unironic and sincere, sold as an antidote to the cynical world around us and the upsetting news we see almost daily. It just wants us to smile and enjoy the singing and dancing.
The entire campaign is meant to evoke a timeless nature. The throwback images that were used in early posters and the way the trailers make you think the movie could take place this year or in 1961 all creates a sense that the story exists out of time to some extent, reinforcing the slight nostalgia-esque approach to the marketing. Add to all that the almost universally positive word of mouth that’s resulted from festival screenings and the love the soundtrack has received and you have a campaign that’s…yeah, it’s ridiculously charming