Everyone knows that Robert Pattinson is one of the most popular English actors of the moment. Since starring in the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby in 2013, he has been photographed countless times and has even been dubbed the “Sexiest Man Alive!” This year, Pattinson’s movie career took a remarkable turn. In addition to starring in three major Hollywood productions, he released his first-ever book, Bellezza: Beauty in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction, and he began a world tour to promote it. But perhaps his most exciting project of all was the creation of his production company, Rocket Pictures, which he plans to use as a springboard to direct his own original films. The actor-turned-author sat down with Vogue UK to discuss all things film and to promote his new book.
The Rise Of Robert Pattinson’s Film Company
The 31-year-old actor-turned-author began his film journey with an appearance in the 2007 romantic comedy What’s Cooking?. Since then, he has starred in a number of blockbuster films, played a gay penguin in a 2013 Wes Anderson movie, and appeared in The Great Gatsby, which was named the best film of the year by the New York Times. Most notably, he played the legendary vampire Barnabas Collins in The Dark Tower, for which he won a Golden Globe. In late 2018, he wrapped production on three films: an untitled Harry Potter film, a sci-fi movie with Netflix, and a medieval-themed thriller with Warner Bros. Now, he has begun production on his own independent films with the creative team behind La La Land, including director Damien Chazelle, who produced the Oscar-winning musical on which his film is based.
When Chazelle approached him with the idea for the film, he had already been planning to make his own creative contributions behind the camera. Inspired by the success of Netflix’s other original film, The House of Gucci, he wanted to create something “uncommonly special.” As a lifelong fan of Italian fashion, he knew just what to do. Together with his co-star, Emma Watson, they developed a detailed plan for the project. In September 2018, they officially announced the formation of Rocket Pictures.
In an interview with Fandango, Chazelle explains that he and Watson had always imagined that their characters, Eliza and Ethan, would be in a movie together at some point. After the pair’s first collaboration, The Circle, they knew they wanted to create a film around the fascinating and unique characters they had developed. In a 2017 Vanity Fair article, Chazelle cited La La Land as one of his favorite films because of its homage to the beauty of traditional Broadway musicals, elaborate costumes, and sets. The film also contains a number of cameos by famous musicians, including Florence Welch and Janelle Monae, who perform a haunting duet that pays homage to the classic song, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.
Chazelle describes La La Land as a “dream project” and continues, “We both love film, and we both love musicals, and we found a way to marry those two passions together.” The film’s soundtrack, which features classic songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s, was also widely regarded as among the best of 2018.
With his experience in music and performing arts, Chazelle knew exactly how to bring something new to the world of film. He explains, “I’ve always loved the idea of making movies, but I’ve never really felt that I was qualified to do it. With my background in music and theater, I feel like I can bring something new to the table.”
What Is La La Land?
If you’ve never heard of La La Land, then you’re in luck, because it’s one of the most iconic and beloved films of the 21st century so far. The story follows two aspiring musicians, played by Emma Watson and Ryan Gosling, who dream of one day performing on Broadway. Along the way, they meet and fall in love with various eccentric musicians, singers, and producers who help them to pursue their dreams. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture. It also won Best Director for Chazelle and Best Original Screenplay for Dustin Harrison and Stephen McCauley.
After viewing La La Land, Chazelle says he felt that “there should be more stories like that, where people are allowed to be themselves and to pursue their dreams.” He adds, “It’s not that there aren’t. There are, but they typically don’t end well.” Chazelle wanted to create a film that showed “the magic of putting on a show and seeing it performed on stage.” The singer-songwriter explains, “It’s all about the art of bringing art into everyday life and showing how beautiful it can be.”
Creating Art That Will Last
One of the significant differences between La La Land and other films is that it was very deliberate in its approach to film-making. Chazelle wanted to emulate the magic of theater and create something that would not be ruined by television. To this end, he shot the film in anamorphic widescreen format to achieve that “movie theater” feel. He also selected the locations meticulously, using real venues where possible.
Wallingford College, where the story takes place, is an independent day school in England that trains students in science, technology, and the arts. The school is closed for the winter holiday, but Chazelle was able to access its beautiful setting in Oxfordshire through a creative use of digital photography. Similarly, he used the Brooklyn Bridge, which connects New York City and Brooklyn, as a background for one of the film’s most iconic shots – the opening sequence, where the camera glides over the top of the bridge and toward downtown, revealing the iconic Statue of Liberty and the twin towers of the World Trade Center in the distance.
The designer Ralph Lauren, who has a cameo appearance in the film as a record producer, also helped with the creative process by lending his famous Polo House store in New York City to be used as a set. This enabled Chazelle to incorporate the fashion house’s signature plaid into the design of Eliza’s wardrobe, as well as to have items like the iconic leather jacket and ballerina pants seen alongside Gosling and Watson in numerous memorable scenes.
Besides the locations, Chazelle wanted to make sure that the look and feel of the film were authentic to that of a classic Broadway musical. He reached out to a number of famous musicians and artists, including Lennon and McCartney, who helped contribute to the soundtrack. La Monte Young, the pianist and composer who also appears in the film, advised Chazelle on the instrumentation for the various songs performed in the film. The director credits Young for helping him “create the perfect atmosphere” for the project.
A Film Without Walls
Another distinct aspect of La La Land is its pioneering use of digital technology. The film was shot almost entirely on set using a combination of handheld cameras and several cameras mounted on tripods. During the film’s production, Chazelle used the cameras to explore and document the locations, people, and events that he and his creative team came up with in their head during the creative process. Instead of relying on the usual cinematic techniques that would be used to ‘frame’ the action and place the characters in the story, Chazelle and his team used digital technology to shoot the entire film on set and to improvise during the actual filming. This enabled them to come up with new ideas and scenes on the spot, and to ensure that everything fit within the story in an organic manner.
This technique enabled Chazelle to bypass a number of the traditional challenges that a storyteller might face. A great deal of the magic of La La Land comes from watching the film unfold like a play. Even now, three years after its premiere, audiences still get teary-eyed when certain songs or scenes are performed in the film. This level of engagement and involvement from fans is something that Chazelle has not experienced before with other films and is a direct result of his team’s innovative filmmaking process.