'La La Land' Choreographer Mandy Moore Explains How She Transforms Actors Into Dancers

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling Learn To Dance

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s singing and dancing talents in LA LA LAND not only impressed their fans, but the film went on to earn 6 Academy Awards® including Best Director for writer-director Damien Chazelle and a record-breaking 7 Golden Globe® Awards. Ryan and Emma worked countless hours with choreographer Mandy Moore to get them into dancing mode. She explains to CineMovie how she transforms actors into Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

La La Land Choreographer Mandy MooreA four-time Emmy nominee for SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, Mandy Moore (the choreographer not the actress) worked with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and AMERICAN HUSTLE. LA LA LAND, however, was the perfect fit for Moore whose early influences include Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. LA LA LAND pays homage to the classic Hollywood musicals from yesteryear.

Written and directed by Academy Award® winning director Damien Chazelle and starring Oscar® Best Actor nominee Ryan Gosling and Oscar® Best Actress winner Emma Stone, La La Land tells the story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for making or breaking dreams. LA LA LAND is now on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD.

The first thing Mandy Moore does with actors like Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone is to assess their dancing skills. Stone was on Broadway dancing and singing in “Cabaret” while Gosling strutted his voice and feet in the Mickey Mouse Club. What if the actors cast were not light on their feet or suffer from two left feet?

“Well, the first thing is to make sure that everyone on the production understands what we’re dealing with. That’s number 1,” she tells CineMovie in a phone interview. “If I spot an actor that really is not really good at dance, part of my job is to manage expectations so people understand what we’re working with. From that point it’s just figuring out their path of how much they need to learn and do.“

La La Land Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling

An actor with two left feet doesn’t scare Moore, but she admits it certainly makes her job more difficult. Moore believes everyone can dance, it’s just a matter of identifying to what degree. Her background as a dance instructor is an advantage in working with beginners since patience may come in handy at the start.

In pre-production, the Colorado native starts with basic dance exercises. Coordination exercises, pattern building and learning how to transfer weight from the left foot to the right foot is the starting points for non-dancers. Then they have to learn how to do it in a musical way with a tempo. Learning how to move their bodies to music may take time and the exercises may be tedious, but it always pays off.

“It’s very mathematical. You have to break things down and count music,” says the Colorado native. “You have to teach someone to step on their right foot on 1 and their left foot on 2. It becomes really remedial but it builds a really good foundation.“

For the most part, Moore kept Emma and Ryan grounded, but one scene called for Emma and Ryan to dance while suspended in air for the scene in the Griffith Observatory’s Planetarium. That was a new experience for Moore, teaching and choreographing the actors to be literally light on their feet.  Emma and Ryan were in a harness against a green screen while Moore and the crew were on the platforms shooting and choreographing the scene.

“As much as I wish people could levitate and dance in the stars, they don’t know how to do that yet. It was very complex, honestly. That one was really difficult to put together. You can’t really practically just try things.”  

The mid-air dance scene was heavily storyboarded, and shot in many little pieces. Since it couldn’t be achieved on set, the magical scene came together in post production. The hard part was keeping the different pieces matching, says Moore.  Moore likes a challenge though. “It was fun to kind of crack that nut for sure.”

La La Land opening number

Another spectacular musical sequence was the freeway overpass opening number overlooking downtown Los Angeles. On the Blu-ray release of LA LA LAND, out now, one of the featurettes goes behind the scenes of the two-day shoot with director Chazelle and Moore.

LA LA LAND is also out now on Digital HD and DVD.

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