Behind the jazz scenes in “La La Land”

If you look closely while watching the hit movie “La La Land,” you’ll see part-time Orange County resident and trumpet player Bijon Watson. The artistic director of jazz for Laguna Beach Live! was also our Person of Interest in the January 2016 issue. He sat down to give us the scoop about filming “La La Land” and the lowdown on Ryan Gosling.

Q: How did you get this gig?
I had a contractor I’d worked with before on “Secret Life of Pets” and a few other movies. He called and said they were looking for African-American males to play trumpet. Since I definitely fit that description, I submitted a headshot.

Q: Did you have to play for him?
No, he already knew my work from previous performances and working together before.

Q: Were your scenes actually filmed at The Lighthouse Café?
A: Yes, in Hermosa Beach. It was pretty cool. I hadn’t been in a film before, but I’d done a commercial or two.

Q: What was the biggest difference between a commercial and a film?
A: I had my own trailer. And the makeup artist was actually a former student of mine from Orange County, which was a weird coincidence.

Q: Any surprises?
The number of hours we spent shooting. We were supposed to shoot for two days, and it went for eight. We were there 15 hours a day. So for the minute or minute and a half that I’m in the movie, we spent close to 100 hours filming.

Q: Was it really 15 hours a day?
Call time was 7 a.m., we’d start shooting at 8:30, and we wouldn’t leave until 11 at night. We shot in August of 2015, so you don’t know what they’re going to use. We shot from so many angles.

Q: Did you meet the stars?
Yes, I got to work with Ryan.

Q: You’re on a first-name basis with him now, huh?
A: Ha! He was great to work with. He actually learned how to play the piano for this film. Some of those scenes you see him playing, he’s actually playing the notes over the pre-recorded track.

Q: Did he ask you for any advice?
He spent close to six months with a private tutor, working several hours a week. I don’t think he had previous experience playing instruments. He made sure to tell us how much he respected what we do as musicians.

Q: How many times did you play the same song?
At least 100 to 150 times over the course of the shooting. Some stuff they recorded live. Some of the stuff I transcribed and they pre-recorded. Most of the time, I was playing along with a pre-recorded track.

Q: You were in a scene with John Legend, too?
A: Yes, I’ve played with him before on a show called “Duets.” And I did the BET Music Awards with him. Oh, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 50th anniversary TV show. He was there because his wife (Chrissy Teigen, who was discovered in Orange County) was a swimsuit model. Once you start seeing people in certain circles, they sort of remember who you are. That’s kind of cool.

Q: What has the reaction been from friends?
A: I hadn’t seen the movie yet when I started getting barraged with emails and on social media right after the opening. “I can’t believe you’re in this!” or “Wow, you’re all over that movie.”

Q: What about your family? 
A: There was a photo from the trailer in Variety magazine when they were first promoting it. My mom called me and she said “I just got a phone message from someone asking if that was you in the photo.” So that was fun for her, too.

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