Penned and directed by Whiplash filmmaker Damien Chazelle, La La Land is a on ode to the sheer fantastical wonder of Los Angeles set in musical form. We follow the romance of jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone) as they traverse the neon, surreal wonders of “la la land,” a world which, though filled with romance, also posses its share of dark undercurrents.
But the day was far from over, as I trekked to Hollywood to catch an evening discussion with this year’s Oscar nominated screenwriters. The “Q&A With Jeff Goldsmith”event took place at The Los Angeles Film School, a venue which, along with being an educational institution, also offers up free screenings and discussions for the general public.
Although Foxcatcher scribe E. Max Frye humorously complained to Goldsmith that the group was much funnier during their Santa Barbara International Film Festival panel, Monday evening’s discussion was definitely informative. Each scribe reflected on the most challenging moments of their screenwriting careers and broke down the challenges of creating their respective narratives.
Along with Frye, the attendees included writers Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), Anthony McCarten (“The Theory of Everything”) Graham Moore (“The Imitation Game”), Alex Dinelaris Jr. (“Birdman”), Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler), and Jason Hall (“American Sniper”).
For more information on the Oscar nominated screenwriters panel and The Los Angeles Film School, click here.
One of Whiplash’s strengths rests in the sheer physicality of the performance of actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. The story of a highly ambitious young drummer (Teller) who takes his sanity to the limits while learning from an abusive jazz instructor (J.K. Simmons), Whiplash should be a favorite come awards season time, and the feature also marks the arrival of promising filmmaker Damien Chazelle.
Whiplash maintains its fever pitch throughout its 106 minutes, and the final chapter, which features a showdown between the drummer and his mentor, is a sight to behold. “We don’t think of instruments as physical,” said Chazelle, whose story was inspired by his own experience as part of a high school jazz orchestra. “We think of dance as physical. We think of sports as physical. (With) music, we don’t. But trumpeters screw their lips up, violinists screw their backs up, and drummers screw their hands up.”
Although Terence Fletcher (Simmons) is a teacher who crosses the line with his students, there is a perverse method to his madness. Certain musicians thrive under pressure and may actually flourish under abusive tactics, and it’s an issue that Chazelle addresses in the narrative:
“I had teacher like (Terence Fletcher) 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 hard to condone what he does. It’s undeniable that it’s a big part of jazz and music history – this kind of streak of tyranny leading to great musicianship.”
Whiplash captures the pulse and rhythm of New York, but most of the production was shot in downtown Los Angeles. During the press conference, Chazelle explains why, even with tax credits available in the Big Apple, he shot Whiplash in the City of Angels.
Whiplash is now playing in New York and Los Angeles.
Opening October 10 in New York and Los Angeles, Whiplash centers on Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller in a breakout role), a driven jazz drummer who risks it all to learn from revered instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher’s emotionally and physically abusive methods push Andrew to the brink at the prestigious music conservatory, and their battle of wills serves as the story’s heart and soul.
The picture is inspired by director/writer Damien Chazelle’s own life in the music world. “I asked Damien some technical questions with drumming because he is a better jazz drummer than I am,” said Teller at the Whiplash press conference. “I was using him for that as much as I could, but for the character, it was all there on the page. It was very clear what Andrew Neyman was all about. For Andrew, he wants to be the greatest drummer of all time and that’s really his sole kind of desire.”
Miles Teller’s extensive music background started on the piano at just six years old. Eventually he would move on to drums, and those well honed skills helped ease Whiplash’s seemingly steep learning curve.
Click on the media bar below to hear Miles Teller talk about his music background (J.K. Simmons is also heard on the clip):