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Springboard: ‘Whiplash’ Director Damien Chazelle Only Does Projects That Scare Him

Springboard: 'Whiplash' Director Damien Chazelle Only Does Projects That Scare Him

Every Friday, Indiewire’s Springboard column profiles an up-and-comer in the indie world who deserves your attention.

This year’s Sundance Film Festival played host to a slew of strong indies, but none left their mark quite like “Whiplash,” winner of the Grand Jury and Audience awards. Damien Chazelle’s stunner of a drama marks the filmmaker’s second feature following his delightful 2009 debut “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.” “Whiplash” confirms that the 29-year-old is a filmmaker to reckon with.

The drama, which just screened at the New York Film Festival and opens this Friday in select theaters, centers on Andrew Neiman (a blistering Miles Teller), a promising 19-year-old drummer who butts heads with his cutthroat jazz teacher Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons in a performance that’s been earning Oscar buzz ever since the film’s Sundance debut). Indiewire spoke with Chazelle about the making of “Whiplash” and reuniting with Teller for his upcoming musical, “La La Land.”

READ MORE: Miles Teller on Bleeding for ‘Whiplash’ and Those ‘Divergent’ Comments

Everyone probably thinks that what they’ve done is special in some way, but they’re all also probably insecure about it. I was worried [going into Sundance] that I was completely deluded.

In a weird way, I’m always going to ground myself. I’m an insecure kind of pessimist, but I’m always kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Once Sundance was over I just collapsed in bed and kind of just slept for three weeks, ’cause we hadn’t slept since we started prepping the movie basically. That was the first moment I had to linger on everything.

I’m predisposed to never be in pure celebration mode. 

The most moving time on the festival circuit was taking the movie to Cannes and being there with J.K., ’cause J.K. hadn’t been able to come to Sundance due to his shooting schedule. I think he might have been a little skeptical about how much people would love the movie. To be there with him, and have this weirdly prolonged standing ovation… I remember turning to him and seeing him tear up. I’ll never lose that image of this guy who loves to have this jaded persona, and watching him standing in that theater surrounded by people showing him love. He was so overwhelmed.

My first movie was totally improvised. This was totally written. I spent a lot of time writing dialogue that was very precise. Some of my favorite, small little beats in the movie were things that J.K. and Miles came up with, that weren’t on the page. They both come from the music world, as have I, so it was helpful to be working with people who knew what they were talking about.

I first fell in love with Miles back when I saw “Rabbit Hole,” and that’s back when I was writing the first draft of “Whiplash.” He was on my mind from the get-go. I then learned about his drumming experience. It felt like it was a sign that it was meant to be.

If you thought “Whiplash” was hard for Miles, in “La La Land” he has to play piano, sing and dance. But he already does sing and dance, so the piano is going to be the bigger challenge. It’s going to be a challenge nonetheless, so I’m excited. We’re going to go full on Gene Kelly. We’re doing the film the old-fashioned, playback, “Singin’ in the Rain” way. It’s how I prefer doing it.

“Whiplash” scared me. I feel you should only do projects that scare you to some degree. I get motivated by those sorts of feelings. The feelings that if I don’t really work my ass off, it won’t work. That’s the stuff I want to do. 

I was probably pretty spoiled looking back at having actors this good.

READ MORE: Miles Teller Got Very Familiar with J.K. Simmons’ Wrinkles and More from ‘Whiplash’ TIFF Talks

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