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‘La La Land’ Composer Justin Hurwitz Created 1,900 Piano Demos To Find Just the Right Melodies: Awards Spotlight

The Oscar-nominated musician breaks down his exhaustive collaboration with director Damien Chazelle.

Justin Hurwitz - Awards Spotlight 2016-2017

Justin Hurwitz

Daniel Bergeron

When Justin Hurwitz first collaborated with Damien Chazelle, the director had yet to make his breakout “Whiplash.” Now, “La La Land” maestro Justin Hurwitz has three Oscar nominations for the hit musical, and is the favorite to walk away with two of the statues at the Academy Awards on February 26.

“We couldn’t find a studio or any kind of financing,” said Hurwitz. “We couldn’t make the movie. So we were just working on it because we we believed in it and we were passionate about the story and the idea of doing a totally original musical.”

Hurwitz and Chazelle met at Harvard, and have been collaborators since Chazelle’s black-and-white jazz musical “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” which they started filming as undergrads. As a result, Hurwitz came into “La La Land” well aware of Chazelle’s drive and desire for perfection.

“This is the third movie I’ve worked on with Damien, so I know what the process is and I know along the way I send some very bad ideas, I send some good ideas, I send some really good ideas,” said Hurwitz. “The composing process in the very beginning is very long, and it can get frustrating if I’ve worked through so many ideas and still don’t have the [right] one yet.”

The composer would keep sending melodies to Chazelle until the director would “flip out,” at which point he knew he was on the right track.

Hurwitz’s composition process starts by creating melodies on the piano in an effort to find the right sound for a particular song or the film’s score.  In total, he estimates he created 1,900 different piano demos for “La La Land.”

In addition to being nominated at this year’s Oscars for Best Score, Hurwitz also wrote “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” both of which are nominated for Best Song. They also happen to be the musician’s favorites, capturing emotionally powerful moments in the film’s narrative.

This year’s Awards Spotlight series is produced with help from our partners at Movies On Demand, who shot and produced the video interviews, and from Hollywood Proper, who provided location services for our Los Angeles shoots.

You can find all Contender Conversations at our Awards Spotlight homepage.

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