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Arts and Entertainment

8 Things We Learned From The Team Behind 'It' Film 'Whiplash'

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Whiplash, a big winner at Sundance earlier this year, isn't your typical film about music. It's full of blood, sweat and tears. Literally.

In writer-director Damien Chazelle's movie, which is loosely based off of his own life, we follow Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a promising and dedicated drummer in an intensely competitive music conservatory in New York. He goes to maddening lengths in the pursuit of becoming one of the greats—and that means practicing until his hands are blistered and raw, with his blood is splattered all over his drum kit. Through his journey, he's faced with a truly frightening and abusive jazz maestro Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), who seems to have joy spouting insults at the aspiring musician and playing cruel mind games with him.

LAist recently attended a press conference with Whiplash's cast and director in Beverly Hills, and found out some interesting tidbits about the film—from how real Teller's explosive drumming performances were to how much the film paralleled Chazelle's life. We also noticed during the conference how Teller and Simmons pretty much are besties and made jabs at each other whenever they could; it was endearing.

1. Was the blood on Teller's hands real when he was drumming?

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Teller: "I started getting some bloody blisters and I was bandaging them up. [It's] just the nature of filming something like this in 19 days with very, kind of intense drumming sequences, a lot of that sweat is real and that's great because you don't have to act when you're playing to exhaustion."

2. How Simmons feels about what place characters like his tyrannical one have in real life:

Simmons: "I completely agree with feeling the need for or the benefits of being pushed and being directed and collaborating. But that kind of manipulation and abuse I think has no place in, well, life."

3. Teller's musical background:

He started playing piano when he was six and then played saxophone. He eventually moved on towards guitar and drumming and played in some bands.

Teller: "Everywhere I went my drums went with me. I went to NYU—[in] a very small dorm I had a drum kit. Now [at] my house three miles away from here I have my drum kit."

4. How Chazelle chose to give Andrew an old soul:

Chazelle: "Andrew's kind of an anachronism. He's not even really interested in contemporary drummers, and I wasn't growing up. I was interested in Jo Jones, and Chick Webb and Buddy Rich..."

Teller: "And Travis Barker."

Chazelle: "Miles and I differ there. So, it was important to me that this was a kid who—the pictures on his walls were black and white and the music he was listening to was from the '70s or earlier. He held his sticks with traditional grip where almost all drummers today use matched grip. He angled his snare drum down like the old military style whereas most modern drummers angle their snare drum up. So there are all these little things that were important where he's this guy who lives in this artistic bubble that almost has nothing to do with contemporary life, which means whenever he exits his bubble and goes to the dinner table [in the film], he's met with indifference."

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5. Do intense drummers' hands bleed that much in real life?

Chazelle: "It is interesting that the different reactions the script would get [from] people who hadn't been drummers or hadn't been to music school or hadn't been in that competitive world, the immediate question had always been, 'They can't be like this?' I remember like literally the same time when we were showing it to drummers, like this one guy who's a drummer for Jazz at Lincoln Center who's worked with [Wynton] Marsalis as well—he had a complaint as well, but his complaint was exactly the opposite. It was 'It doesn't go far enough' and 'It was worse for me.' I think what's fascinating to me is that there's this whole side of the world that people don't know about. A lot of music movies fit in a certain mold. It was important to me that if nothing else, this movie was going to showcase things I hadn't seen before in music movies. That was the blood, the physicality, that we don't think of instruments as physical. We think of dance as physical, we think of sports as physical and in music we don't. But trumpeters screw their lips up, violinists screw their backs up, and drummers screw their hands up."

6. Does the director condone Terrence Fletcher's behavior?

Chazelle: "I had a teacher like J.K.['s character] and it made me a better drummer. But as a humanist I can't condone what he does. And I wanted to make the character as monstrous as possible so that it's as hard as possible to condone what he does. But it's undeniable that it's this big part of jazz and history this kind of streak of tyranny leading to great musicianship."


7. Chazelle explains the feelings we're left with with the end of the film:

Chazelle: "It's tough because the movie operates on the screen differently than it does on the page for me. I think that's because the music itself is not on the page. When writing it—in my mind I think it was—you know a certainly more tragic ending than a victorious ending. And really I made it about it someone gladly returning to an abusive relationship.

It's interesting because you film a drum solo to that kind of music and it does something. My hope though [is that] the scene was to give you a certain amount of a kinetic rush but leave you with a question that maybe makes the rush kind of troubling."

Simmons: "[Chazelle's] point was to inspire discussion and debate and not to decide, 'Are we happy for Andrew Neyman?' or are we lamenting his loss for humanity at the end of the film?"

8. There's a scene where Andrew gets into a violent car accident, only to crawl out of his flipped car and run to make it to an important performance, still bleeding. It was actually based off of Chazelle's real-life experience:

Chazelle: "I crawled out of a car. That scene was based on me. In high school I flipped a car two times down a hill. I had scars on my hands, but I was fine otherwise as I walked out. So I compressed the time a little bit [in the film]. I walked over to my neighbor's house and put bandages on my hands and that was it. And the next day we had our big end of the year concert, so I will always remember playing the drums with bandages around my hands bleeding."

(Teller and Simmons were surprised to hear this story from Chazelle as they then yelled out "Oh my God" and "What the fuck?" after he talked about it.)

Whiplash is now playing in theaters in Los Angeles and New York

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