Kevin Cody

Hermosa Beach celebrates city pier’s role in ‘La La Land’

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Karen and Chris Woods stole the Hermosa Beach pier scene in “La La Land,” and stole the scene again in Hermosa Beach during a celebration of the film. Photos by Kevin Cody

by Kevin Cody

The Hermosa Beach pier earned a place in film folklore last year, during a scene in the Academy Award winning “La La Land” when star Ryan Gosling leaves the Lighthouse Cafe on Pier Plaza and wanders out on the pier, whistling “City of Stars.” It’s the first time the movie’s signature song is heard in the film. But what makes the scene memorable is neither Gosling, nor the song, but rather the older, black couple Gosling encounters on the pier. Gosling impulsively starts dancing with the wife, prompting the husband to brusquely cut in.

The couple, played by Karen and Chris Woods, reenacted their dance at the pier Sunday afternoon (minus Gosling). The occasion was a celebration of Hermosa Beach’s role in the film, organized by the Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce, the City of Hermosa Beach, local residents and Lionsgate Studio, which distributed the film. In addition to Best Musical Score by Justin Hurwitz, the film won Academy Awards for its director Damien Chazelle, its cinematographer Linus Sandgren and its production designers David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco.

“La La Land” location manager Robert Foulkes and music supervisor Steven Gizicki address a celebration of their film on Sunday at the Hermosa Beach pier. 

The Hermosa Pier scene wasn’t in the original script, location manager Robert Foulkes told the crowd that packed Pier Plaza for the celebration.

“We had scheduled two days in Hermosa to shoot the scenes in the Lighthouse Cafe and it didn’t take that long. The script had a half page note about an outdoor dance scene. So we thought we’d use the time to shoot the dance scene. Damien [director Damien Chazelle] planned to shoot it in front of the store fronts that wind up Pier Avenue. But when we walked out of the Lighthouse at dusk that first day, we looked out at the pier and thought, ‘That’s the place,’” Foulkes said.

Matt Mancusco and Liana Bakhtiarova, from You Can Dance, in Hermosa Beach reenact the Mulholland Drive dance between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

Music supervisor Steven Gizicki, who also addressed the crowd, said the beautiful sunset that lights the pier scene was not, as many have suspected, a special effects creation.

“The lighting came from just another Hermosa Beach sunset, like you’ll see this evening,” Gizicki said.

The lights on the pier, though, were pure Hollywood, Gizicki acknowledged. Hermosa’s pier lights are at knee level, allowing pier visitors to view the night sky without light pollution. But Chazelle wanted the pier lights to contribute to the film’s continuity by matching the street lights in the film’s Mulholland Drive and Griffith Park Observatory dance scenes, Gizicki said. So street lamps were installed on the pier for the film and temporarily reinstalled for Sunday’s celebration. The pier was packed following the event with people taking selfies in front of the tall lights and sunset. When the sun set, the crowd applauded.

“La La Land” fans packed the pier to take selfies in front of the sunset and the film’s street lamps.

Gizicki said he found several of the musicians he cast in the film during his early visits to the Lighthouse. Among the musicians were 80-year-old saxophonist Charles Owen and guitarist Jacques Lesure, two of country’s most respected jazz musicians. Both performed at Saturday’s celebration and both perform regularly at the Lighthouse, according to Gloria Cadena. Gloria and her now deceased husband Ozzie, began booking jazz at the Lighthouse in 1974. Owens will be back at the Lighthouse on Saturday, May 13 for the club’s regular Jazz Brunch. The show runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Saxophonist Charles Owen was performing during the Sunday afternoon jazz sessions at the Lighthouse when he was asked to perform in “La La Land.” The “La La Land Sax Man” will be back at the Lighthouse on Saturday, May 13, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the club’s regular Jazz Brunch.

Jacques Lesure was among the regular Lighthouse musicians who were cast in La La Land.

Another significant Hermosa Beach connection to “La La Land” was the film’s stunt coordinator Mark Kubr, Hermosa councilman Jeff Duclos told the crowd. The Hermosa Beach resident coordinated the film’s unforgettable opening scene. Dancers leap from car to car while stuck in a massive traffic jam on the connector ramp joining the 110 and the 105 freeways in downtown Los Angeles. The scene shut down Los Angeles’ busiest connector ramp for two days.

“We’re a small city, but we dream big,” Duclos said at the close of the event. ER

Diana Flores drove from Moreno Valley to do a photo shoot on the pier with the La La Land lights.


Video by Marci Klein, Klein Creative Media


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