TLG talks to Robert Foulkes, the Supervising Location Manager behind La La Land
After taking home all seven of the awards it was nominated for at the 2017 Golden Globes, La La Land cemented itself as an instant Hollywood classic. Notable for its unique use of locations within the Greater Los Angeles area, TLG spoke with Robert Foulkes, the film’s Supervising Location Manager, to delve into the making of La La Land.
The opening scene of La La Land is an incredible dance number atop an LA freeway. Can you run through the logistics behind it?
Obtaining permissions to pull off this ambitious scene involved several entities: CalTrans/DOT, Metro and CHP/Highway Patrol, along with support from the CFC (California Film Commission). I had shot this same stretch of freeway ramp previously for a wonderful, albeit very different scene for a film called Cake (that scene involved only two actors, one of them being Jennifer Aniston as she pulled her car over and gazed out over the cityscape). Those shots took only a partial day and did not require any rehearsal up at the location.
With La La Land, it was much more complicated and required several meetings followed by an enormous amount of emails. A tech scout was needed to shut it down just so that all the key crew members could see the location and prepare in advance, then a rehearsal day with picture cars and dancers in place and then ultimately two full days to shoot the scene itself.
In order to get the work done efficiently, we stressed the importance of bringing as much of our base camp and equipment vehicles as possible to the ramp. A dozen CHP officers assisted several vans across busy lanes of traffic to get crew and equipment to and from the ramp, much of which had to happen before and after our daytime filming hours so enough daylight was available each shoot.
With all the equipment vehicles and picture cars needing to be placed and ready in a specific way, the whole operation needed to be coordinated and timed perfectly. The weather was fortunately, another day of sun for most of the shoot (but not all which did lead to delays), and they ended up being the two of the hottest days of the year. I’m so proud to have been a part of one of the great opening scenes in film history!
Despite being set in the present day, La La Land features an aesthetic of old Hollywood. How much work went into adapting the locations?
There were always some wonderful adjustments made to each location, spearheaded by David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, to give Damien Chazelle splashes of colour here and an iconic streetlamp there.
What is your favourite location featured in the film?
Wow, it’s so hard to choose just one! I was so happy to see how many locations we shot not only make it into the finished film but were all showcased so perfectly. I suppose the one location that really makes me swoon as a Location Scout and Manager is the now iconic Hermosa Beach pier, where Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) performs his solo dance. That wasn’t where the scene was originally meant to be shot but the way Damien staged it, David dressed it and Linus Sandgren shot it, is truly magical and so apropos of the quality of the song.
With so many productions leaving California to shoot in other states, how difficult is it to sell LA as a location?
I’m finding it easier to have LA be chosen as the place to anchor a production. The town is very busy right now and it’s great to see! At times however, LA’s popularity results in us location folk all fighting for the same parking lots to park equipment - especially with so many surface lots disappearing amidst a record-breaking amount of construction happening in places like downtown and Hollywood!
La La Land’s clean sweep at the Golden Globes is record breaking. Can you comment on the film’s success and the prospect of Location Managers being given recognition during awards season?
My immediate boss on a film is the Production Designer, and I am thrilled to see my old friend, the nicest guy in Hollywood and legendary Designer David Wasco as the now presumed front-runner. Not to jinx it but finally seeing him and Sandy standing up on stage on Oscar night would be so well deserved. To have been a part of his team to help make that happen would give me great joy.
What projects are you working on now?
I am wrapping up an ‘LA for LA’ show and about to start another called Feud – a wonderful limited-series for Ryan Murphy set in early-1960’s Hollywood. After that I’ll jump onto Inner City, an exciting character drama starring Denzel Washington.
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