Their city of stars. The biggest filmmakers and artists of 2017 will descend upon the Dolby Theatre for the Oscars on Sunday, February 26, with one exceptional musical of the season predicted to sweep the 89th Academy Awards. Ever since its release, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land–with its catchy soundtrack, dazzling dance sequences and gorgeous imagery–has inspired cinephiles everywhere, and now, an engagement session.
“I figured another photographer had probably beat me to it and done something similar,” Marlies Hartmann of MHart Photography tells The Knot in an exclusive interview. “But after searching online, I couldn’t find anything [like it]! I knew we had to take advantage, and that Ellen and Corey would be perfect… They were both huge fans of the film.”
The couple first sourced Hartmann on The Knot. “We met up at Philz Coffee in Santa Monica,” Hartmann recalls. “They hired me to document their big day, and I was super excited because I knew they were such a wonderful couple and great fit as clients.” Eventually, the bride brought up a recent engagement session Hartmann had captured in Santa Monica. The pair decided they wanted their own special pre-wedding shoot, and it fell into place organically.
“Ellen always felt that Corey looked like her own personal Ryan Gosling,” notes Hartmann. “She also already owned an iconic yellow dress and the rest of the wardrobe fell into place effortlessly.”
According to Hartmann, couples will oftentimes request something unique for their engagement sessions as opposed to more traditional wedding pictures. “It’s an opportunity to make awesome photos without the pressure, stress or chaos that comes on the wedding day,” the professional suggests. “Finding a theme like La La Land not only resonated with the couple personally, but it also fit with their personal love story… which resulted in something unique, and [now it’s] a great story for them to share with their grandchildren!”
The goal for the shoot was to channel the same, vibrant energy from one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. “Classic love is timeless,” Hartmann continues. “Ellen and Corey’s relationship incapsulates the same romance, passion, playfulness and chemistry that was felt between Mia [Emma Stone] and Sebastian [Ryan Gosling] throughout the film. Not only did they resemble the characters physically, but their relationship embodies all the best elements of Gosling and Stone’s characters.”
There were, however, some unexpected challenges. “Our original plan was to shoot the entire thing in one day, but on our way to the shoot location in Griffith Park, my car literally broke down,” Hartmann recalls. “So my boyfriend and assistant stayed with my car while I took an Uber up to the Observatory to meet the couple.” They had to reschedule the second portion for two weeks later.
“Getting the night shots were definitely the most [difficult] part, but also the most necessary to evoke the feel of the film,” she tells The Knot. “We made a plan to meet the couple and shoot at Cathy’s Corner, where the film shot the iconic dance number. On our way, we realized that we’d have to hike the last two miles up to the location.”
With so much equipment and gear, the group opted instead for the backup plan. “We hurried over to the Hollywood Bowl Overlook and quickly set up there just in time for blue hour,” says Hartmann. “We were shooting on such a steep angle and the wind gusts were strong. We didn’t want to lose all of the ambient light, so my boyfriend and assistant Robert Mauriell ended up literally hand-holding the heavy strobe to create our street lamp lighting. We had to work fast.”
Later, Hartmann cautiously edited the images to reflect the La La Land aesthetic. “I enhanced the color tones [and the stars] so it would closely resemble the movie poster,” she says.
Ultimately, she wanted to do justice to the film. “I’m a wedding photographer because I’m deeply fascinated with love and relationships,” she concludes to The Knot. “If I had to pick a moment from the film that deeply touched me, it would be the end montage where the audience sees the ‘alternate’ ending… the life that could have been. We wanted to show the [happy] side with Ellen and Corey’s shoot… what it would have looked like if Mia and Sebastian had ended up together for their Hollywood, happily ever after.”