The Peabody Award-winning Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen, from PRI and WNYC, is public radio’s smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy – so let Studio 360 steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.
October 7th, 2014
Episode 8 of 201 episodes
Before he made a movie, Damien Chazelle was a drummer studying jazz. After college, he wrote a screenplay based on his experience, but there was one big problem: it was about jazz, and no one wanted to make it. Chazelle figured out a way to show studios that his story wasn’t an homage to a worthy art form – it was about passion, ambition, and blood. On paper, Whiplash sounds like an intense version of Mr. Holland’s Opus: a young jazz drummer is challenged by a demanding band leader. But demanding isn’t even the word for Chazelle’s Terence Fletcher – he cares so much he’s insane. Chazelle’s highly praised feature is bloodier than Christopher Nolan’s entire Dark Knight Trilogy (and it’s rated R). No wonder the movie earned the nickname “Full Metal Jazz” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. As a guy in his 20s with no studio movies under his belt and a screenplay about an earnest jazz musician, Chazelle faced no small task in getting producers to fund Whiplash. This is not a little, DIY movie – it looks like the work of a master. To convince backers, he managed to scrape together enough money to make a short, which won an award at Sundance. “The idea was to take a scene and do it as a stand-alone short,” he says. “That will be proof of concept – show people how I would direct it, show people that I could direct it.” His confidence feels preternatural, but one day Chazelle had to show up – a rookie with nothing but a college thesis film under his belt– on a set, with a professional crew he didn’t know how to direct. He’d brought along a good friend from college to shore up his confidence. “That was probably the one thing that prevented me from having a meltdown.” Meltdown averted. Now, the 29-year-old’s biggest problem is fielding offers. Whiplash has yet to arrive in theaters and he’s already been tapped to direct another two movies.