From Pikesville to 'La La Land,' producer Marc Platt sees a bright future for movie musicals

Did you know that one of the producers behind Oscar front-runner "La La Land" is from Pikesville?

If this year's Oscars play out as predicted, the night's final award could be accepted by one of Baltimore's own.

Pikesville native Marc Platt is one of four producers of best picture nominee (and early front-runner) "La La Land." The musical, an ode to  dashed dreams but inextinguishable hopes starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as young artists in a Los Angeles filled with people just like them, has already won a Golden Globe for best musical or comedy and a BAFTA Award (or British Oscar) for best film. If its momentum keeps up — the movie's record-breaking seven awards at the Golden Globes bodes well for its continued success — "La La Land" could well end up as the big winner on Oscar night, Feb. 26.

"It's an exciting time," says Platt, 59, who has spent almost two decades producing films (among his first was 2001's "Legally Blonde," with Reese Witherspoon). "Nothing is really as fun or as meaningful as the Oscars, because of the sense of history that one gets just by being recognized, even as a nomination."

As befits an Oscar-nominated producer with more than 25 films to his credit (including last year's "Bridge of Spies," which was also up for a best picture Oscar), Platt is far from resting on his laurels. Last week he was between jaunts to London, where his next movie, "Mary Poppins Returns," is being filmed, with a planned release date of Christmas 2018. He also has several projects in pre-production, including live-action musical versions of "The Little Mermaid" (with music from Lin-Manuel Miranda, of "Hamilton") and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (with music from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the lyricists behind "La La Land" and the Broadway hit "Dear Evan Hansen").

Speaking from his West Coast office — he splits his time between New York and Los Angeles — Platt reflected on the runaway success of "La La Land," his affection for stories told through song, and whether we're on the verge of a new golden age for movie musicals.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

So, how's it feel to have the most buzzed-about movie in the country going right now? That's got to be a pretty good feeling.

"You know, making 'La La Land' was a joyful experience from beginning to end, and the fact that the film itself is being embraced by audiences around the world is even more gratifying, and really icing on the cake."

As this project was going through … did you have any inkling that it would get this kind of reception?

"What we were trying to accomplish, and what [director] Damien Chazelle's vision was for this film, felt so singular to me, that I thought it was either going to be a really beautiful work of art and work, or it wasn't going to work at all. I didn't feel there was a middle ground.

"Having said that, nobody can predict a phenomenon. The fact that the movie actually did work so beautifully, and now has been embraced globally to such a large extent and become a phenomenon, is impossible to predict, but really quite joyous to experience."

How did you and the film link up?

"The film was developed for a number of years by Damien Chazelle, the writer-director, and two young producers, Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz. They developed it for some time. After 'Whiplash' got made, Damien Chazelle's first film, both they and the studio that was developing the film, Lionsgate, came to me and said, 'We need help putting this film together and producing it' ...

"Really from my first meeting with Damien — I'd already read the script, I'd heard some of the initial music — but just listening to him describe the movie over what was a three-hour meeting, with such precision and with such passion and with such vividness, I found it exhilarating. I said that I would delightfully jump in here.

You are hardly a neophyte at producing overall, but especially at producing musicals. Is that by accident, or by choice? Are musicals your first love?

"I don't know if it's my first love, but they are certainly a love of mine. I've always loved music, and I've always loved musical storytelling. I guess having spent so much time in the world of musical storytelling, I feel I have strong intuition about how to marry story, character and narrative to music — whether it's on stage, as in something like 'Wicked'; whether it's on television, as in something like 'Grease Live,' which was my last live TV event; or on film, like 'Into the Woods' or 'La La Land.' I think it comes natural to me.

"You know, the thing about music, the thing that I love so much, is that it has no filter. It's something that all of us can experience collectively. And when you can then take a story that has a visual component … when you can take a vision and character and marry it with music, like in the instance of 'La La Land' … when it works, it reminds one of the great power of cinema to be transportive, to be unifying and to give us all the kind of collective experience that kind of reminds us of our humanity."

Do you think that 'La La Land,' with its story and its exuberance — is this a film that we kind of need right now? Is that one of the reasons for its success?

"I think that any entertainment that is satisfying is wonderful. I think something as artful as 'La La Land,' there's always a time and place for it. ...

"Do I think, in this particular moment in our history, that the power of art is needed more than ever? The answer would be yes. … Great cinema, great stories, great music — that power can not be denied. It knows no borders. And it can't be banned from the hearts and minds of people everywhere. So I think there's always a time for it — but particularly now, probably more than ever.

"Also, I think we always want to believe, and perhaps especially now, that love can change our lives, much as love can change the world."

Every time a musical comes out and does well, there's a question of whether we are finally going to have this musical renaissance we've been waiting for. Will we see more and more musicals in cinema? Do you think we're ever going to have another golden age of musicals? Or will we keep having a sprinkling every couple of years?

"I think we are in a golden age of music, because music is part of everybody's life. Part of the reason, of course, is because it's mobile now — people can carry their phone and listen to music all day long.

"I think musical storytelling is prevalent everywhere. Broadway's never been more popular, more successful. You see musical storytelling on television all the time. There are television shows on that are serialized musicals — 'Glee' was a number of years ago; ['Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'] is on now. ...

"I do think that films like 'La La Land' will hopefully inspire musicals made initially and originally for cinema, as opposed to adaptations. So yeah, I do think you will see more musicals. But at the end of the day, a good movie is a good movie. And if they're good movies, you'll keep seeing more of them."

The opening number of 'La La Land' sets the tone so beautifully. Where in the process of the filmmaking was that shot? Was it done early on?

"Actually, it was the back third of the movie. ...

"It was always something we were excited to do. It took a lot of preparation, a lot of rehearsals. It was an extraordinary couple of days. We only had two days to shoot it, on this ramp on the freeway in Los Angeles. We had to be transported there by California Highway Patrol. It was 100 degrees both days — very, very hot September days, a big heat wave — and 150 dancers out there.

"It was hard work, but it was exhilarating work. It was a Saturday and a Sunday, those were the only days we could shut down that ramp. And at the end of that Sunday, it was 5 o'clock in the afternoon when we were finally done, everyone was depleted, and nobody wanted to leave the ramp. Everybody had loved what they'd done.

"So we set up these monitors that you watch as the footage is being shot, and we played back, for all the crew and the dancers, the takes that we'd already liked. We did a screening of what they had just done. Nobody left, everybody cheered and everybody applauded. It was very indicative of the kind of experience that making 'La La Land' was — just a really very happy, very lovely experience."

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

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