5 min readWhen your home is spotted by a location scout – like the home chosen for Oscar-winning ‘La La Land’, your bricks and mortar can become a star in their own right.
Fade in: Interior of a mid-century modern house in Los Angeles, summer 2015. Damien Chazelle, writer-director of the Oscar-winning Whiplash, meets Adene Lacy, owner of the house, to approve its use as a location in his latest project, a valentine to the movie musicals of yesteryear. Fast-forward one-and-a-half years to today. Chazelle’s La La Land could win as many as 14 Academy Awards on February 26, equalling the record for most nominations for a film. And Lacy has a nice chunk of change and the satisfaction of seeing her property in a hit movie.
Mia, played by Emma Stone, centre, attends a casual pool party in a scene from La La Land that was filmed in the backyard, below, of Adene Lacy and her husband, Rob. La La Land photos by Dale Robinette / Lionsgate
For the scene, the filmmakers sought a mid-century modern house with a pool in a lush setting. Cast Locations photos by Kevin Taylor
The role of a lifetime
La La Land was the first appearance in a feature-length film by the Lacy home. The movie chronicling the romance between aspiring actress Mia (played by Emma Stone) and struggling jazz purist and pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) counts eight private residences among 48 locations used over 42 days of shooting, location manager Robert Foulkes says. They were the interior and exterior of Mia’s apartment, the settings of two pool parties, Sebastian’s first and second apartments, Mia’s childhood home and ‘the flashback house to what might have been,’ he says.
‘Clean lines, glass and mid-century modern design with a David Hockney-esque pool were desired for the ’80s party scene,’ says Foulkes, referring to the Lacy homes big-screen moment. ‘That style and era are featured in so much iconic residential Los Angeles imagery that we wanted to get that feel into the movie.’
In the scene, Mia is surprised to run into Sebastian at a backyard pool party. In two previous encounters, he’d brushed her off. This time, though, he’s the hired help, dressed in a rad get-up and backing an ’80s rock cover band. Sensing her chance to give him his comeuppance, Mia requests A Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran, and a humiliated Sebastian winces through the pop song on his keytar as she gleefully lip-syncs and bops along.
The filmmakers wanted ‘a pool for a party scene – something with a lot of flora,’ says Cast Locations manager David Hatfield, who represents the Lacy home. ‘A big part of it also had to do with it being possible to film at night, access for trucks and equipment, and so on. The house is in the San Fernando Valley but feels like a Hollywood Hills house. The Hollywood Hills are much tougher for nights and access.’
In fact, though the movie’s opening musical number involved shutting down a ramp connecting two LA freeways for two days, that shoot was very contained, Foulkes says. ‘Shoots that take place in residential neighbourhoods are sometimes the most challenging in that you have surrounding residents that need to be included and handled properly on an ongoing basis,’ from planning through shooting, he says.
‘We also knew that we were going to choose a more high-tech, contemporary-modern house for the opening schmooze-fest party, so this would mix up the styles a bit,’ Foulkes says. ‘In a similar way, the classic Old Hollywood, Spanish courtyard of Mia’s apartment contrasts with the small, boxy Valley apartments for Sebastian.’
Those locations were transformed for the movie by the production designer and set decorator. ‘We had two of the best on La La, the husband-and-wife team of David and Sandy Wasco,’ he says.
Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, left, and his band mates perform just outside the Lacys’ bedroom, at right in photo below.
What winds up on screen isn’t always the most flattering portrait of the location, Hatfield says. Sometimes location managers ‘need a house that looks like a porn house, a crack house. This can be a difficult conversation, but I think homeowners have to know.’
‘In most things, we do recognise our house,’ says Adene Lacy, who has owned it with her husband, Rob, for a dozen years and who happens to be in the movie industry herself – not on the artistic side, she points out, but rather on the accounting side, as chief financial officer for Vendome Pictures. ‘We knew they were using the pool area. The band was by the pool equipment, adjacent to the master bedroom. They built a platform for the band and moved patio furniture out of the way. They removed all our stuff, and artwork because it’s not licensed, and put it in the garage.’
‘I love our home, but I don’t think it’s anything special,’ Lacy says. ‘We have a big, open space. You can see the inside from the outside. They can figure out what they want with a clean palette. When you walk in the front door, you can see 99 per cent of our house.’
‘For the most part, directors, designers and cinematographers love open floor plans, where you have ease of movement around a homes interior, and which can lend itself to nice depth of focus and various angles through doorways,’ Foulkes agrees. ‘Unless, of course, a more claustrophobic feel is called for.’
The Lacys spent two nights in a hotel at the production company’s expense while the filmmakers prepped, shot and wrapped the scene over five days. Aside from meeting Chazelle during the scouting process, they didn’t meet any of the cast.
Staying away was wise, Hatfield says. ‘You have to let go a little bit. They come in with 50 to 100 people and invade the property. It’s like a circus.’
As for the movie, ‘I really liked it,’ Lacy says. ‘It was very different and a little surprising how well it has done. I never thought that musicals were going to come back.’