Reflecting on the genesis of La La Land, writer and director Damien Chazelle said, "I guess you write what you know...There is something to be said for having even unrealistic dreams. Even if the dreams don’t come true—that to me is what’s...
Damien Chazelle is an American screenwriter and director, best known for his two feature films Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016). His film Whiplash was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, and won three, for editing, sound mixing, and best supporting actor (J.K. Simmons). At the time of writing, La La Land has earned Chazelle nominations as best director at the Director Guild of American Awards and BAFTA, and he has won the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and a record-breaking seven Golden Globe Awards, including best screenplay and best director. He is 32 years old, which makes him the youngest person ever to win best director at the Golden Globes.
Chazelle was born in Rhode Island in 1985, to parents who, as he said in his Golden Globe speech, "believ[ed] me when I said I wanted to make movies when I was three years old." Although filmmaking was his first love, Chapelle initially wanted to be a jazz drummer. He gave up the dream of becoming a musician after high school and went to Harvard to study filmmaking in the Visual and Environmental Studies department. It was at Harvard University that he met some of the key collaborators in his professional career, among them former wife and producer Jasmine McGlade and composer Justin Hurwitz.
Chazelle's first dual credit as writer and director was for the 2009 black and white micro-budget jazz musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (originally planned as his thesis project for Harvard Film School. At this stage of his career Chazelle was what he called a "writer for hire," writing screenplays for other directors, while he also worked on his own films. Experiencing writers block on his nascent script for La La Land, Chazelle decided to free himself up with a new script about a jazz drummer. He drew on his own, intense experience in a high school jazz band, where he recalled feeling constant "dread...and not being able to eat meals before rehearsals and losing sleep and sweating my ass off." The bandleader in this script was based on the man who had led his band in high school.
Even though Chazelle got some interest from producers for what became Whiplash, he couldn’t get it made. So, instead, he made a short film of the same name which was accepted and won in the short film category at Sundance Film Festival in 2013, and became a proof of concept film for the feature. He then secured the backing of producers and raised the money for the feature that was released in 2014.
Chazelle wrote the screenplay for his next hit, the romantic musical comedy-drama La La Land, in 2010. Initially unable to find financial support for the film without compromising his vision for it, La La Land was picked up by Summit Entertainment after Chapelle’s success with Whiplash. It premiered at the 2016 Venice Film Festival and was released in the US on 9th December 2016.
Chapelle also shares a screenplay credit with director Ed Gass-Donnelly (2013) on The Last Exorcism and is credited as screenwriter on Grand Piano (2013) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016).