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Entertainment Weekly


La La Land: How songwriters Benj Pasek, Justin Paul got the job

Dirty Sugar Photography

Posted on

Sometimes the stories behind movies are as cinematic as the films themselves.

Case in point: Songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the creative team behind recent Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen) penned the lyrics to Justin Hurwitz’s musical compositions in the bright, heart-swelling movie musical La La Land — but they might not have gotten the job if not for one bold, spontaneous flight.

“We heard about the project, and we were really excited about it,” Pasek tells EW. Pasek and Paul — who met as freshmen at the University of Michigan and have been writing songs together ever since — hopped on the phone with director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) and Hurwitz immediately. “They were college buddies,” Pasek explains. “This was their dream project.” Two sets of college friends-turned-work partners, all four the same age — sounds like a perfect match, right?

Not quite. “Our manager called us and was like, ‘They liked you… they didn’t love you,'” Paul says. But instead of chalking it up as a loss, their manager suggested a tactic straight out of a comedy, which Pasek and Paul recall in sentence-finishing snippets:

PASEK: “He’s like, ‘What you’re going to do is, you’re going to get on a plane over the weekend, go to Los Angeles…'”

PAUL: “You’re just going to show up and say, ‘Hey!'”

PASEK: “‘We happen to be in L.A.!'”

PAUL: “‘Let’s meet up!'”


Adds Paul, “That’s just how he is. He was like, ‘You guys have to work on this film. It’s so exciting, and it’s original. These are groundbreaking filmmakers.’ We’re like, ‘Totally, okay. But the thing is, we can’t go to L.A. because we have this, and that…’ And he’s like, ‘Okay, but the thing is, you are going to L.A., so let’s talk about what that looks like.'”

So they cashed in all their airline miles, booked the flight, and casually texted Chazelle and Hurwitz about meeting up for pizza. On the plane, they wrote what would become one of the film’s standout songs, “City of Stars,” and mentioned it at dinner. 

“We got together the next day at Justin’s apartment and played it through,” says Paul. “We immediately clicked — at least enough that we were like, ‘We’d love to work with these guys.'”

“And they didn’t say no!” Pasek says. “We thought our manager was crazy at the time, but we have him completely to thank for forcing us to get on that flight.” Judging from the La La Land soundtrack — and the film itself — it looks like we all have that manager to thank.

La La Land opens on Dec. 9.