Movie making is a perpetual battle between art and business. Directors want to make great films, while studio's want to make great films they can sell. This can result in conflicts between the two sides and studios providing notes on how they think movies could be changed in order to make them better received. Damien Chazelle, the writer and director of La La Land, is no stranger to studio notes and he recently revealed the worst note he received from somebody who read his Academy Award-nominated screenplay.
Does it have to be about jazz?
Now, if you've seen La La Land, then you know that the answer to the question is very clear. Yes, yes it, in fact, does have to be about jazz. That's sort of the entire point of half the movie. It has to be about a guy who has a passion for a musical genre that is not currently popular in the mainstream. If you change the music to literally anything else it changes everything about Sebastian as a character, and not in a good way.
Damien Chazelle made the comments about the terrible note at the PGA Producer By conference (via Deadline). While Chazelle doesn't say specifically who it was that gave him the note, we have to assume that it came from somebody who was afraid that the jazz focus might not attract a large audience, for all the reasons that the genre is key to the plot of the film itself. In the end, Chazelle was likely vindicated, as La La Land went on to not only win every award under the sun (including the Oscar for Best Picture for about four minutes) it also set records for box office success for an independent film.
On the plus side, not every note Damien Chazelle got on La La Land was ridiculous. The director says his producers urged him to write the script without even considering how they would afford to put it all on screen. This resulted in one of the film's most iconic scenes, as Chazelle says he likely would not have included the opening musical number otherwise.
[They said] write it with the ideal concept of the movie. If they hadn't said that, I wouldn't have had 100 people dancing on the freeway.
Dealing with budgets is one of those things that can also get in the way of making a great movie. It's understandable that a writer might never bother to write down a scene they know they can't realize, but it appears that the producer's of La La Land had a different philosophy. As producer's it would have been their job to figure out how to afford to make the script come to life, or tell Damien Chazelle that it couldn't be done. Luckily they found a way to make "Another Day of Sun" work. Also, it's great that Chazelle also knew which notes to just ignore.