89th Oscars Backstage Interview Transcript: Music (Original Song)

CATEGORY: Music (Original Song)
SPEECH BY: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul
SONG: "City of Stars" from LA LA LAND



Q. Can you talk about those moments where you first met Damien, and tell me when you knew that you could fuse those skills you both had together to make something quite beautiful?
A. (Justin Hurwitz)  I first met him freshman week, the first week of freshman year of college.  We started a band together and we pretty ‑‑ it was a five‑person band and we just clicked immediately.  We were kind of friends.  We would talk about music.  We would show each other music.  We just clicked really, and then we became roommates.  We decided to become roommates sophomore year.  And that's really when the friendship took off, because we were living in close quarters.  We were sharing a bedroom and a work space and we were watching each other work.  I was watching the work he was doing for his filmmaking classes and he was watching the work I was doing for my composition classes, and really developing a respect for each other and getting excited about how we can put what we do together.  So it was really sophomore year as we lived together as roommates and watched each other work that I think stuff really started to take off.

Q. Can you tell us about "Audition" and what you and Damien envisioned when you were putting it together?
A. (Justin Hurwitz)  I'll start and then I'll hand off to these guys, because so much of "Audition" obviously is the lyrics and the story it's telling.  Damien wanted to create a scene that would start as an audition and then slip into song and almost be this like fantasy version of what that audition could have been if it became musicalized.  So, yeah, that's what he wanted and that's what I was thinking of as I composed emotionally what that has given Emma's ‑‑ given Mia's point in the story.  And these guys wrote a brilliant lyric that is just so narrative and beautiful.  They can talk about that.
A. (Justin Paul)  So when the song actually first started as the script formed going to lyric, it was originally Mia was just reading sides.  We were starting to try to lyricize that and put it onto music and having difficulty, and then Damien came up with the idea that she would be telling a story.  And he actually wrote a beautiful, beautiful monologue, a version of what that story was.  I think it was about an uncle instead of an aunt, and the details were different, but it provided the source material really, the seed of the idea for what the lyrics of the song became.  So as with basically everything in the film, it was very much inspired by what was in Damien's head, what was in his mind.
A. (Benj Pasek)  And we get to, as lyricists, we get to take some of the best work from screenwriters, and we come from Broadway world so book writers on Broadway shows, and we get to gobble it up and turn it into lyrics.  So we're very appreciative of the beautiful ideas that Damien provided for us to be able to weave those in and create a lyric from it.

Q. What a memorable night for you, of course.  How would you describe to other people what it was like to hear, "LA LA LAND, Best Picture," that moment, and then the switch?  How would you describe this?  Because they're going to talk about it forever. 
A. (Benj Pasek)  I think no one ‑‑ I think that we are very appreciative to be holding Oscars in our hands, and I think that we are incredibly appreciative to Damien Chazelle for creating a beautiful film.  We're incredibly appreciative to our fantastic producers for supporting the film, for Lionsgate for supporting the film.  And I think we just feel really, really lucky to be here and to ‑‑ we're guys who love to write music and we got the opportunity to do that and we're holding the Oscars.  So I think we are having a fantastic night.  We're really proud of our film and we're really proud of our collaborators and proud of the people who supported it. 
A. (Justin Paul)  And it was obviously a surprising moment, but we're thrilled for MOONLIGHT, and it's a fantastic film and one that we're all fans of.  And it was certainly a wild moment and, as you said, one that everyone will talk about for a while and we'll remember for a while, so it was quite a surreal experience to be on the stage for that moment and it certainly won't be forgotten. 

Q. I really love also the music that you composed for WHIPLASH.  So for this musical, you wanted to compose it for movies or do some other thing for opera, like Morricone, for instance? 
A. (Justin Hurwitz)  Yeah.  Well, it's been three jazz movies with Damien, three ‑‑ two musicals and then WHIPLASH, which is not a musical but it's a very music‑driven movie.  And I think his next movie, the movie he's making next, will definitely not be a jazz movie or a musical.  So I'm looking forward to doing just a traditional film score, something different, something maybe, I think it will probably be darker.  I generally think of myself as a film composer, meaning that I will be doing mostly scores.  I do want to do more musicals.  I have a real itch to get into ‑‑ I have such an admiration for Broadway and what these guys do and what goes on over there that I would love to figure out how to get into that world as well, as well as maybe other types of music, concert music, I don't know, but I think primarily I'm a film score composer.




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