Screening Series: ‘Whiplash’ director on making the leap from short to feature film

“Whiplash” actor J.K. Simmons and director Damien Chazelle discuss what it took to go from their Sundance-winning short to a full-length feature film.

When “Whiplash” writer-director Damien Chazelle won the short-film jury award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, he didn’t exactly rest on his laurels. He didn’t have time -- not if he was going to turn his 18-minute vignette about a jazz drummer at an elite music school into a feature film.

As Chazelle told Los Angeles Times reporter Glenn Whipp at a recent presentation of the full version of “Whiplash” for the Envelope Screening Series, the plan was always to start with a scene excerpted from the complete script and build from there. (Watch a clip from the event above.)

“It was mainly because as a script alone -- and I didn’t have a lot of directing experience -- it was a hard sell,” the 29-year-old filmmaker said. “And so the short was really intended as just a way to convince financiers.”

For Chazelle and star J.K. Simmons, who stars in the short and the full-length version of “Whiplash,” the approach had further benefits. “It wound up kind of being a way to get our feet wet,” Chazelle said. “I figured out certain things I wanted to do or not do in terms of the camera, in terms of the cutting, with the short. I joke that it was sort of like the rehearsal that we didn’t have time to do on the feature.”


Chazelle also praised Simmons for not only anchoring the project, but for joining in the first place. “J.K. signed on back before there was any kind of money at all, any promise even of there being a feature -- which I still don’t get why you did, but I’m eternally grateful,” he said.

“I had three days,” a nonchalant Simmons quipped. “I was bored.”

Chazelle continued: “We had me, J.K. and this short, and the script. And then everything else just had to be built from there.”

For more from Chazelle and Simmons, check out the clip above, and check back every day this week.

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