“I want to thank Justin (Hurwitz) who I have known since I was 17 for riding with me on this,” said Damien Chazelle, who won Best Director for La La Land tonight. Having just celebrated his 32nd birthday last month, Chazelle now ties as the youngest director ever to win for Best Director. The last 32-year-old to win was 86 years ago — Norman Taurog for the film Skippy in 1931, although technically, Chazelle was older than Taurog by about a month. Chazelle developed the movie for six years with (as of tonight) two-time Academy Award winner Hurwitz who was not only his composer but his best friend.
Although he was nominated last year for Best Adapted Screenplay for Whiplash, Chazelle did not take home the win; instead Whiplash, nominated five times, won three, including for J.K. Simmons (as Best Supporting Actor).
The director had a very distinct vision for La La Land. He described, shot by shot, the opening song-and-dance number on a congested L.A. freeway to producer Marc Platt when they asked him in to produce with Jordon Horowitz and Fred Berger.
Chazelle, who grew up in Princeton to parents in Academia, recently told their hometown newspaper that their son informed them when he was only three years old that he wanted to make movies. The following year, they said he began writing stories for movies.
A student of jazz, it’s not surprising that Chazelle’s protagonist in La La Land portrayed by Ryan Gosling (who was also nominated for Best Actor) was a jazz enthusiast. Chazelle went to Harvard and his senior thesis became his first film called Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. With his Harvard classmate Hurwitz, Chazelle performed in the indie pop band Chester French and then made a black-and-white $50K musical film entitled Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Sound familiar? That film laid the groundwork for their collaboration on La La Land and the storyline was very similar.
In the black and white film, a jazz trumpeter meets Madeline, and although he embarks on a quest for a more gregarious paramour, ultimately the two seem destined to be together.
After that, Chazelle moved to Los Angeles and ended up co-writing the screenplay for the 2016 sci-fi film 10 Cloverfied Lane.
He and Gosling are sticking together for their next film, working on First Man, a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong from a script by Spotlight scribe Josh Singer, who won (with Tom McCarthy) the Best Original Screenplay.