Script Analysis: “La La Land” — Part 1: Scene By Scene Breakdown

Read the script for the Oscar nominated movie and analyze it all this week.

Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this bi-weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:

Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Plot
Wednesday: Characters
Thursday: Themes
Friday: Dialogue
Saturday: Takeaways

Today: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown. Here is my take on this exercise from a previous series of posts — How To Read A Screenplay:

After a first pass, it's time to crack open the script for a deeper analysis and you can do that by creating a scene-by-scene breakdown. It is precisely what it sounds like: A list of all the scenes in the script accompanied by a brief description of the events that transpire.

For purposes of this exercise, I have a slightly different take on scene. Here I am looking not just for individual scenes per se, but a scene or set of scenes that comprise one event or a continuous piece of action. Admittedly this is subjective and there is no right or wrong, the point is simply to break down the script into a series of parts which you then can use dig into the script's structure and themes.

The value of this exercise:

  • We pare down the story to its most constituent parts: Scenes.
  • By doing this, we consciously explore the structure of the narrative.
  • A scene-by-scene breakdown creates a foundation for even deeper analysis of the story.

This week: La La Land. You can download a PDF of the script here.

Written by Damien Chazelle.

Plot summary: La La Land tells the story of Mia [Emma Stone], an aspiring actress, and Sebastian [Ryan Gosling], a dedicated jazz musician, who are struggling to make ends meet in a city known for crushing hopes and breaking hearts. Set in modern day Los Angeles, this original musical about everyday life explores the joy and pain of pursuing your dreams.

La La Land
Scene By Scene Breakdown
By Sharita Gopal

P. 2 Morning rush hour on the 101 Freeway, cars are at a standstill. We drift past several cars and hear snippets of audio. One female driver starts singing, exits her car and starts dancing down the lane. Other drivers join her. This scene sets the tone and style of the movie.


P. 2–3 We are in the same traffic jam with SEBASTIAN, 32, L.A. Native, who listens to a tape of Thelonious Monk's "Japanese Folk Song" which he keeps stopping, over and over, rewinding to the same exact spot.

Further up ahead, in another car is MIA, 27, Nevada-raised who has experienced six years of 'No' in L.A, toughened but still a dreamer. She rehearses lines from a script and doesn't notice that traffic around her lets up and the car behind her honks. It's SEBASTIAN, he passes her and she gives him the finger.

P. 3–5 We follow MIA who works in a COFFEE SHOP on a STUDIO LOT. She ignores a call from her mom and leaves work early to audition for a CASTING DIRECTOR. Her audition gets interrupted by the ASSISTANT. Mia waits to continue but the casting director has seen enough and thanks her for coming.

P. 6–8 MIA goes home exhausted. She shares an APARTMENT with three girls: TRACY (27), ALEXIS(26), CAITLIN (27) who are going out and want MIA to join them but she isn't in the mood. TRACY breaks out into a song to persuade MIA, the other roommates join her singing and dancing. They are about to leave when MIA suddenly appears and joins them. They dance their way down the street and leave in one single car to a party in a modern HILLTOP HOUSE.

P. 9 We are at the party. MIA takes in the surroundings of the party where every Hollywood cliche is apparent and fitting in is not easy. In the bathroom, she takes a moment for herself and sings, feeling vulnerable, before she joins the party again. She moves through the party and ends up at pool where someone jumps in. Everyone joins in, circling the pool, singing and dancing. Here ends the song.

P. 10 MIA is alone at the parking spot. There is no car and she can't reach TRACY. She starts walking home and hears on her way a PIANO MELODY. She follows that sound.

P. 10 CUT BACK TO THE SAME TRAFFIC JAM THAT MORNING. We're back with SEBASTIAN, he honked and passes MIA, who gives him the finger. Moments later, he's at RAYO'S and looks with disapproval at a 30s Deco building where the sign above the door reads ' Van Beek — Tapas and Tunes'.

P. 11–14 SEBASTIAN finds his sister LAURA, 37 in his bare apartment; no furniture, boxes unpacked and not made like a home, much to the annoyance of LAURA. SEBASTIAN tells he will unpack the boxes in his own club and he can't believe it has become a tapas-samba place. His sister wants him to let go that he got ripped off and start living again. She wants him to meet a woman but he's not interested. After she leaves, he practices the same Thelonious Monk song we heard in his car that morning, over and over, till he gets it right.

P. 15–16 SEBASTIAN arrives to work in a restaurant. He has worked there before. His boss reminds him to stick to the set list. He agrees but later he drifts off and starts playing something else, more freely; it's the same melody MIA has heard outside and followed (from here on this song is called 'Mia and Sebastian's song'). Right then, Mia steps in and is immediately struck by this playing and a fantasy scene follows in which Mia and Sebastian are all alone. After the song ends, we're back to reality. MIA is struck by the song. She and SEBASTIAN look at one another for a moment. The boss fires SEBASTIAN for his free play and SEBASTIAN walks away, hurt and angry, ignoring MIA who approaches him to pay him a compliment. MIA feels slapped in the face.


We see a few of MIA auditions. It's pilot season cattle-call.

MIA visits a party where a 80s cover band plays. TRACY introduces her to CARLO, a writer but she's not interested. She sees SEBASTIAN playing the keybord-guitar in the band and requests to play 'I ran'. SEBASTIAN recognizes her and after the song, he apologizes for his previous behavior and they have a chat. After the party MIA dishes CARLO in the valet line and asks SEBASTIAN to get her key.

P. 21–24 MIA and SEBASTIAN walk to her car. MIA aims with her key fob at the lined cars but there is no beep. SEBASTIAN shows her a trick to get it work. They reach a clearing where the city skyline appears, a romantic sight but they downplay the romantic setting. They break into a song — a lovely night- and sing about this while they obviously feel something brewing. Bit by bit they've slipped into a dance and do really dance well together. At the height of their blossoming romance, a cell phone cuts through. It's GREG, whom MIA has been dating. MIA leaves. SEBASTIAN is disappointed, returns to his car which was across the party.

P. 24–29 SEBASTIAN visits MIA at the coffee shop and after her shift they wander on the lot. MIA shares how long she has been dating GREG, how she got into acting and that's the only thing she really wants, how she wrote her own plays when she was young and how she's still doing auditions. SEBASTIAN encourages her to write her own roles. MIA confesses she hates jazz. Then, they hear drums and enter an old-school jazz club, LIGHTHOUSE CAFE.

P. 29–31 SEBASTIAN shares with MIA his love for jazz and the importance to safe it from dying. When he has his own club Van Beek back, the musicians could play whatever they want. MIA is moved by him and they have a special moment which is interrupted when her phone rings. She has a call-back for a show which is sort of Rebel without a cause. MIA confesses she hasn't seen the movie and SEBASTIAN offers to take her to theater to see it, for research. They set a date for Monday evening. There is something brewing between them but they both suppress it.

P. 32 MIA and SEBASTIAN part. SEBASTIAN begins to sing — CITY OF STARS. He's lifted by a strange new feeling. Perhaps he's falling in love but there is also uncertainty if his dream will sustain.

P. 32–34 MIA answers her mom on the phone while she's on the way to the audition. It's a call- back on a pilot. Her mother doesn't really understand the idea of a call-back and thinks she's going to be on TV. MIA has practices her role a lot and is disappointed when she only gets one chance to say a few lines. She goes home humiliated. The idea of going to the movies with SEBASTIAN cheers her up a little bit.

P. 35 MIA is changing clothes for her date with SEBASTIAN when GREG shows up and asks her to hurry up for their date with his brother. She had forgotten about that. She's crushed she can't see SEBASTIAN but doesn't have his number to call him off.

P. 17–21

P. 35 SEBASTIAN is playing a jam session in the LIGHTHOUSE CAFE. He's looking forward to the evening with MIA.

P. 36 MIA is having dinner with GREG, JOSH (Greg's brother) and his fiancee. She hasn't spoken a word.

P. 36 SEBASTIAN paces at the RIALTO MOVIE THEATER, waiting for MIA.

P. 36 We are back at the restaurant. MIA is bored, restless and uneasy. Suddenly, she hears hers and SEBASTIAN'S song and the tune stirs something deep within her, which she can't deny any longer, and she runs out of the restaurant to the theater.

P. 37–39 SEBASTIAN is thrilled to see MIA. During the movie, their bodies grow closer inch by inch until their hands touch. When they are about to kiss, the screen goes blank. They leave for the GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY and sneak in. They walk around and somewhere they begin dancing. This dance is fulfillIng and they drift off into the planetarium where they spin and twirl as if they were in outer space. Finally, they lock lips. It's a kiss to remember.

P. 40 MIA works on her play at home. TRACY wants a role in it but it's a one-woman show. SEBASTIAN honks outside to pick her up.


P. 41 A series of glimpses follow with MIA and SEBASTIAN showing how they spend time with each other. Interspersed throughout we see images of L.A.

P. 41–42 SEBASTIAN plays the keys at the LIGHTHOUSE JAM SESSION. He has a great time and MIA dances her heart out although the place is almost empty. KEITH, 35, approaches SEBASTIAN but he's not happy to see him. They used to play together. KEITH is looking for keys for a new combo. SEBASTIAN turns the offer down.

P. 43–45 MIA reads her play for SEBASTIAN and he loves it although MIA is not sure if people will like it. SEBASTIAN tells her to fuck em and he promises to be front-row when she performs. This means the world to her and she surprises him with a drawing of the name design for his club. It says 'Seb's" but he wants to call it "Chicken on a stick" which MIA disapproves. SEBASTIAN has his eyes set on getting back Van Beek for its history but MIA tells him to make his own history. He likes that line. MIA asks if he's going to call back KEITH for the job offer but SEBASTIAN says no.

P. 46 SEBASTIAN overhears snatches of MIA's voice in the other room, she's talking to her mom and tells about her one-woman play which is going to pay for herself and that SEBASTIAN is going to open a jazz club but he has to get the money together first. SEBASTIAN takes this in and thinks about it.

P. 46–48 SEBASTIAN visit KEITH and his combo in their rehearsal space. KEITH offers him a deal and SEBASTIAN reluctantly accepts. He won't be playing a piano but a keyboard. He plays to see how it feels. The combo plays modern jazz with an electronic feel. It isn't his style but at least the guys can play. KEITH tells him that the music is different and that jazz is about the future and that he can have the job if he wants it.

P. 49–51 We are at SEBASTIAN's apartment. He plays the piano when MIA enters. A melody we have heard before. He starts singing and she joins him. We follow MIA and SEBASTIAN in their life and see a series of events.
SEBASTIAN signs paperwork with KEITH. MIA hands her apron to the manager. She's done working there. The band rehearses in their new place, KEITH sings and SEBASTIAN plays keys. MIA works on her play in a cafe. SEBASTIAN gets dressed up in a new suits. MIA haggles and shakes hands with the owner of a BLACK-BOX THEATER for her play. SEBASTIAN and the band waiting in a green room. MIA looking for props in a vintage shop and penciling out drawings for her play. We also see that MIA goes to be alone and SEBASTIAN comes home late in the morning. We return to SEBASTIAN'S apartment before this latest journey began and they finish the song.

P. 51 SEBASTIAN is on stage with KEITH and his combo in THE ECHO. The place is filled with people and MIA is also there, proud of him. When she hears the music she is taken aback but the crowd goes crazy. Back-up dancers appear on stage and the lights go nuts, which makes the crowd cheer. Something changes in MIA. She looks around and at SEBASTIAN and doesn't recognize him.

P. 52 FALL

P. 52–54 MIA has lunch/diner with LAURA and HARRY, her new boyfriend. SEBASTIAN is not there because he's playing in SAN DIEGO. MIA misses him and asks LAURA if SEBASTIAN is happy with the band, the travel and all of it. LAURA is glad that he gets to play music and get paid for it.

P. 54–55 Back home, MIA calls SEBASTIAN and leaves a message that she misses him. She visits his apartment and finds him there unexpected. He's there for one night for her and he has cooked a surprise dinner for them.

P. 56–61 SEBASTIAN asks her to come to BOISE but MIA can't because she has to rehearse. They agree they have to do things to see each other and MIA wants to know when he's done with the tour. She finds out he's in for the long haul, touring, recording and back to touring, probably for years. She asks him if he likes the music he's playing and if he's ready to give up his dream for being on the road. SEBASTIAN thougt that MIA wanted him to be doing what he does but MIA wanted him to have a steady job so that he could support himself and start his own club. SEBASTIAN says that no one likes jazz and will come to the club. MIA disagrees, she likes jazz because of him. They argue about his dream and SEBASTIAN snaps that she probably liked him more when he was a failure. MIA is hurt. She grabs her things and leaves.

P. 61 MIA is in the theater and prepares herself. She tells herself she can do this.

P. 62 SEBASTIAN is finished with rehearsal. KEITH reminds him there is a photo shoot tonight at seven pm. SEBASTIAN had forgotten about that.

P. 62 People are shuffling into the theater. MIA is nervous but she can do this. She starts her show around seven pm.

P. 63 A photographer takes the picture of SEBASTIAN, KEITH and the other members of the combo. SEBASTIAN does as told but his thoughts are elsewhere and he watches his watch.

P. 64 MIA is finished with her play and bows. The theater was less than a quarter full and SEBASTIAN's seat was empty. She's hurt and overhears two audience members criticizing her play. It's the final nail in the coffin.

P. 65–66 SEBASTIAN arrives when MIA carries her box of props to the car. He apologizes for being late and his previous behavior and he kisses her but she's not interested. She's done embarrassing herself; no one showed up and she can't pay the theater back. She's going home, LA is not her home anymore and she drives off, leaving SEBASTIAN alone. MIA goes to her parents in NEVADA and stays there in her old bedroom.

P. 67–68 SEBASTIAN is at the engagement party of LAURA and HARRY. At home, he receives a call for MIA, it's someone from the casting agency.

P. 69–72 SEBASTIAN shows up at MIA home with news from the casting director. She was at her play and loved it. She wants MIA to audition for a movie. SEBASTIAN is excited but MIA is not going because she doubts she's good enough. SEBASTIAN tries to talk her over and says he'll wait for her when he's going back tomorrow. Either she shows up or not.

P. 73–74 MIA shows up in the morning and drives back with SEBASTIAN to LA to the audition. She needs to tell a story by herself for the audition. She starts with her aunt living in Paris and then breaks into a song.

75–76 After the audition, they talk in the park. SEBASTIAN is convinced she'll get the part but MIA isn't. MIA asks what they should do about them. SEBASTIAN doesn't believe they can do anything when she gets the part because she has to give everything for her dream. He's going to stay here and follow his own plan. They say they are always going to love each other.


P. 77–78 A woman enters the coffee shop on the studio lot and all eyes are on her. She orders coffee. That woman is MIA. She looks different and carries herself different. After she exits, she's picked up by a crew member on a golf cart.

P. 78–79 SEBASTIAN is in his own club — small, simple and tasteful. He's done testing the piano. His employee tells him they didn't do too bad last month and that's great for him.

P. 79 At Chateau Marmont, MIA comes home and finds flowers and cards with congratulations written on them. She kisses DAVID, 35, and a two-year-old girl grabs her legs.

P. 79 SEBASTIAN enters his apartment which is more habitable, fully furnished, warm and welcoming than his old ones. He eats his meal.

P. 79 SEBASTIAN arrives at his club and passes a movie poster with Mia's face on it as he walks to his club, which is bustling. He has employed one of the old LIGHTHOUSE players.

P. 80 MIA and DAVID are dressed for an appointment and leave. They are stuck in traffic and decide to skip it, turn off and get somewhere dinner.

P. 81 MIA and DAVID walk down the street, hear music and follow it. Then, MIA sees that the sign on the door reads 'SEB's' , written like she had drawn it for SEBASTIAN years ago. DAVID suggest to go inside.

P. 82 The jazz club is bustling, there is a wide range of ages and styles. MIA and SEBASTIAN see each other and lock eyes. It's the first time, they've seen each other in years. SEBASTIAN plays their song and slowly a fantasy-flashback scene emerges.

We are back at that same restaurant when MIA laid first eyes on SEBASTIAN. Within this fantasy-flashback, SEBASTIAN doesn't walk past her once he's finished playing and having talked to his boss. Instead, he decks her with a kiss.

They enter their own new place, a one-bedroom. SEBASTIAN says no to KEITH when he approaches him at the LIGHTHOUSE cafe. SEBASTIAN watches MIA perform at the night of her play, her roommates and LAURA and HARRY are there, too. All seats are sold. Her play is a success.MIA auditions for the casting agency and they travel together in PARIS. SEBASTIAN plays jazz at a club in Paris while MIA is shooting her movie. They dance at nighttime Paris.

We see a series of footage on a projector: The first home, MIA's pregnancy, the newborn child, child's first birthday, child's first day of pre-school. SEBASTIAN and MIA, are married and parents, they have a date night and go into town. They are blocked by a traffic jam and take a side route to end up in a jazz club. It looks like SEBASTIAN's club. They sit down and listens to their song, played by the pianist. The kiss and we go back to reality.

P. 86 SEBASTIAN has finished playing their song. The audience loves it. MIA and DAVID leave after the song is finished. Before she steps out of the club, MIA locks eyes with SEBASTIAN and smiles for a second. It's the kind of smile that reveals she remembers the song he played.

Writing Exercise: I encourage you to read the script, but short of that, if you've seen the movie, go through this scene-by-scene breakdown. What stands out to you about it from a structural standpoint?

Major kudos to Sharita Gopal for doing this week's scene-by-scene breakdown.

To download a PDF of the breakdown for La La Land, go here.

For those folks who volunteer to write a scene-by-scene breakdown, beyond your name being noted here, my thanks, and your own personal dose of creative juju, you will learn something about story structure and further develop this important skill set.

Here is our current list of literary heroes and heroines!

A Monster Calls / Andrew Turner

Anthropoid / Marija Nielsen

Arrival / Ashish Chand

Captain Fantastic / Despina Karintis

Denial / Gina Gomez

Eye in the Skye / Abhinav Tiwari and Bruce Gordon

Fences / Matt Cowley

The Founder / Eric Rodriguez

Hail, Caesar! / Brianne VanTuyle

Hell or High Water / Andrew Lightfoot

The Invitation / Joni Trumpold Brainerd

Jackie / Karen Dantas

Kubo and the Two Strings / Nikki Syreeta

La La Land / Priya Gopal

Loving / Liz Correal

Maggie's Plan / Monique Mata

Manchester by the Sea / Ashley Lara

Miles Ahead / Alecia Hodges

Moonlight / Ryan Canty

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 / Nikki Leydecker

The Secret Life of Pets / Paul Huffman

Victor Frankenstein / Lisa Gomez

Zootopia / Will King

Italics = Turned in scene-by-scene breakdown

Bold = Have used scene-by-scene breakdown in week-long analysis

Now is YOUR chance to contribute to this most worthy cause and provide an additional resource for the online screenwriting community.

Thanks, all!

Even if you do not participate in the analysis, discussion, or write up a scene-by-scene breakdown, I strongly encourage you to read these scripts.

So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!

I hope to see you in the RESPONSE section about this week's script: La La Land.


Script Analysis: "La La Land" — Part 1: Scene By Scene Breakdown was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

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