Damien Chazelle on the 4 Criteria Whiplash Met that Made It the Story He Would Fight For, and the Benefits of Making a Short First
Seen from outside, there’s a lot of sparkles and magical glory behind Damien Chazelle‘s trajectory, from winning Best Short at Sundance in 2013, to winning Best Feature at Sundance in 2014, and starting 2015 with Oscars wins.
But as we see time and again, the overnight success is a myth, and Chazelle’s story is actually one of perseverance, endurance, trials and errors.
Before his Oscar’s win, Chazelle talked at the Film Society Lincoln Center about his career, from shooting his first feature on 16mm, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, to moving to L.A. only to end up doing rewrites on thriller and horror films, seeing that people in Hollywood did not care one bit about his aspiration of being a director.
The full talk is worth watching, but here are two bits I thought particularly interesting.
In the first one, Chazelle talks about the four elements that made Whiplash feel to him like the right story, the story to push for, after years of unsuccessfully trying to develop personal projects to direct another film:
The Four Criteria that Made Whiplash the Story to Fight For
“Whiplash was written a little bit out of frustration after a few years of those directing projects going nowhere, a little bit out of pragmatism, the idea you know ‘Can I write something that is small and contained enough, that takes place in a few rooms, is about a world I know intimately, won’t require a lot of research on my part or anything.‘
It’s something I know, something I haven’t seen before, something I can do for a price, and something that I could convince people that I’m the one who should direct it, because it’s my life.“
I just think there is something key in this last sentence, for indie filmmakers. Sort of the perfect equation to sell your story and yourself attached to it.
But writing Whiplash based on those four pillars wasn’t enough for Chazelle to convince financiers. So they went on doing a short film, and here is what he says about the process of doing so:
The Thought Process Behind and the Benefits of Making a Short Film
“And even that wasn’t enough. Even then we had to… the short your refer to was a short I never intended on making actually, it was purely designed as a proof of concept for Whiplash. It was a scene that we took from a script to convince financiers that this movie was makable and that I would be the one to make it.
So the real kind of change in the tied of events and the sort of turn in the road really was that short. And that short helped actually finally make this idea of a feature real, finally people in Hollywood sort of… the irony is that many more people in Hollywood saw the short than the feature, Guy and Madeline.
And that led to being able to doing this feature, but it’s only recently that I’m able to have any currency at all in Hollywood as a director, as opposed to as a rewriter of “Alien Invasion” movies. (…)
The short wound up doing even kind of more than what I thought it would in the sense that we initially made it and I thought ‘Well okay, we’ll just show it to a couple of investors, and that will hopefully break down the door to get one of them to give the money to make the movie.‘
But while we were doing the short we decided to submit it to Sundance, and so the first time I got something other than rejection from Sundance was with the short.
And so we took the short to Sundance and then suddenly, I remember, people who had not cared at all about any sorts of directing aspirations suddenly were you know, ‘Oh, oh, oh you want to direct, here is this script, and this script.’
And the irony is that suddenly this short that had been designed purely to make Whiplash, was also making other things makable.”
Watch the full conversation below for more about Chazelle’s journey and see below for more articles about Whiplash:
More about Whiplash: