A City of Stars
Long Beach is a city of stars. Just ask Robert Foulkes, the location manager on the 2016 Oscar-winning film “La La Land,” starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
“I love working in Long Beach,” Foulkes said. “I’m always drawn to wondering what cool places I can find down there. It’s a great place to film.”
“La La Land,” directed by Damien Chazelle, tells the tale of Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Gosling,) two struggling entertainers trying to fulfill their dreams. Their journey of love and success unravels in song and dance numbers, creating a timeless romance story with a hint of magic.
At the beginning of the film, Mia is discouraged after another failed audition and mopes around her apartment. Her three roommates, also aspiring actresses, come to cheer her up in the film’s first musical number, “Someone in the Crowd.” Mia eventually comes out of her courtyard apartment dressed in a flashy blue dress, on her way to a “razzle-dazzle” Hollywood party.
The outside of Mia’s apartment was actually filmed at the El Cordova Apartments, formerly known as the Rose Towers Apartments, located on 1728 E. Third St. in Long Beach.
“We wanted a charming, vintage, old Hollywood-style courtyard apartment building and we were thinking the Spanish-style would be nice,” Foulkes said. “I was flipping through a Long Beach book on architecture—a coffee table-type book—and it had a photo of the Rose Towers Apartments. It catches your eye; the building is well-kept, with a pink rose color, and the courtyard’s lush landscaping provided for a really charming exterior.”
Although the interior of the apartment was shot in Los Angeles to provide enough space for singing and dancing, the iconic scene that shows the four women strutting down the street swooshing their cocktail dresses was filmed outside of the apartments along Third Street.
“Those scenes were crucial in introducing Mia’s character, dancing out of that apartment,” Foulkes said. “They were dancing in the middle of Third Street during rush hour when we shot that scene. Our cinematographer [Linus Sandgren] wanted to do ‘magic hour’ shots during a lot of the movie—the dancing in Griffith Park scene, Ryan [Gosling] on Hermosa Beach Pier—they were all shot at sunset, and we wanted that same effect for the Third Street dance.”
Later in the movie, production captured the other side of the Rose Towers Apartments when Mia is seen leaving her apartment through an alleyway to meet up with Sebastian. The purple Long Beach City recycle containers have a cameo in the shot.
Foulkes says that once production got down to Long Beach to shoot, they looked for other places to film around the area. They needed a space to shoot the interior of their pivotal final scene where Sebastian finally realizes his dream of owning his own jazz club, called “Seb’s,” in the movie. Foulkes selected The Blind Donkey on 149 Linden Ave. for the scene.
“The Blind Donkey had a classic look, but also felt modern at the same time,” Foulkes said. “It showed Ryan Gosling’s character with his vintage sensibilities. It was a great-sized room to set up the crowd, see the band on one end, and Mia could walk in and see him across the room, and the whole dramatic finale plays out in that club at the end.”
On a balmy Long Beach summer evening, with the faint glow of the sun setting in the west, one could only wonder if the soft whistlings of “City of Stars,” the title song of “La La Land,” and the lingering sound of gentle tap dancing on the pavement could be heard somewhere above Third Street.