Romantic musical La La Land dominated the nominations announcement for the 89th Academy Awards this week.
Its 14 nods across a raft of categories ties Titanic (1997) and All About Eve (1950) for the most of any movie in history.
But writer-director Damien Chazelle spent six agonising years trying to bring his effervescent musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling to the masses.
Damien, 31, and composer Justin Hurwtiz reportedly came up with the concept as students at Harvard University.
It was the focus of their senior thesis – a musical short about two star-crossed lovers set in Boston that later became a full-length indie film.
But after moving to Los Angeles in 2010 and reworking the script, the duo had trouble finding a backer.
“I was told the concept and the material for La La Land seemed brazenly uncommercial,” Damien tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“The movie is not based on anything, and there are no familiar songs to build off the pre-existing fan base. And it’s a jazz musical.”
When Damien eventually did coax Focus Features into funding it to the tune of US$1 million, it was picked apart before it saw the light of day.
The creators were told to make the male lead a rock musician instead of a jazz pianist, to cut the dramatic opening number, in which characters dance atop car roofs on a packed freeway, and eliminate the bittersweet ending.
A battered and brusied Damien moved on to another project, Whiplash, about a young jazz drummer and his tyrannical instructor, played by JK Simmons.
The film went on to earn critical acclaim and was a worldwide smash – suddenly Damien had Hollywood’s ears and eyes.
He picked up a more generous budget from a new backer – Lionsgate and Black Label Media – and was finally given rein to make the movie he always wanted to.
Other standouts in the nominations for the Oscar awards on February 27 (AEST), include Moonlight, which is up for eight awards, including best picture, director (Barry Jenkins) and supporting awards for Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris.
The Mel Gibson-directed Hacksaw Ridge pulled in a surprisingly strong six nominations, with star Andrew Garfield nominated for best actor for his performance as World War II pacifist hero Desmond Doss, plus nominations for sound mixing/editing and film editing.
It was a big week for the 61-year-old Mel, who welcomed baby son Lars Gerard Gibson just a few days earlier with girlfriend Rosalind Ross.
The full list of Oscar nominations can be found here.