Chazelle at the Deauville American Film Festival in 2014
|Born||Damien Sayre Chazelle
January 19, 1985
Providence, Rhode Island, United States
|Education||Princeton High School|
|Alma mater||Harvard University|
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter|
|Notable work||Whiplash (2014)
La La Land (2016)
|Spouse(s)||Jasmine McGlade (m. 2010â€“14)|
Celia Martin Chazelle
I've always, especially through old Hollywood musicals, loved just to watch tap dancing; I adore it. I think it's fantastic.
I find L.A. kind of romantic, actually. As a movie junkie, it's a city that was built by the movies. There's something really weird and surreal about it that I find energizing.
My hands were constantly blistered or bloody; my ears were always ringing. I tore through drumheads and drumsticks like there was no tomorrow.
It's easy to show terrible people's behavior on screen, and we all just kind of nod and go, 'Isn't that terrible.' It's more interesting when you can show terrible behavior in the interest of something good.
Certainly, my manager Gary Ungar was the first person to give me any attention and hustle for me. This was back in 2009.
It was only through getting interested in more out-there and avant-garde forms that the musical suddenly seemed like such a wonderful genre to me.
It's a little difficult when something goes from being an utter obsession – a thing where your skill defines you as a person – to it just being a thing you occasionally do.
My motivation for being a good drummer was born out of fear, which, in a way, seems so antithetical to what art should be.
Practicing is not normally fun. Sometimes people say they're practicing, but they're really just enjoying themselves and the instrument. That's not real practice.
My version of a stress dream is, really, showing up on a concert stage with a drum set and not knowing the chart.
There are a lot of musicians in my life. But movies came first for me. That was my original passion.
I was a jazz drummer, and it was my life for a while: what I lived and breathed every day.
It's a weird thing where, especially in jazz, you have to totally mention cutting sessions and people one-upping each other and people being super, super tough on each other. And out of it emerge these genius musicians.
I was in high school, and when you get to be 14, 15, you start to feel a little more like your own person so that you can assert your adulthood a little bit.
If you're on the varsity team, the responsibilities are a lot bigger and there's more stress, but you also walk around feeling probably like you can hold your head high.
I don't think of 'Macbeth' as the villain. I don't think of 'King Lear' as the villain. I don't think of 'Hamlet' as the villain. I don't think of 'Travis Bickle' as the villain.
If there's a good review, I'll skip over the headline, but I always find the bad reviews and read those. I don't know why. It's a little sick and demented.
I was interested in music and making movies about musicians, but my own experiences, and doing what it felt like for me to be a drummer? Nah, I wasn't interested in that.
If you're an artist, you want to draw from real life; you want to draw from experiences, emotion, and it's something that a lot of musicians juggle with. I've always found it so fascinating.
I do truly believe that the smallest stories can wind up being the biggest because it's through the specific that a writer can best access the universal.
The greatest thing has been that projects that were pipe dreams before 'Whiplash' are now feeling more realistic.
The end result of my personal story is that I became a really good drummer, and I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn't have without this really tough conductor and this really cutthroat hostile environment I was in.
Going back to my film education, I always have that voice in my head that's always screaming, 'Sell out!' And that's good: you want that, because it keeps you on your toes, and it's important to remember what's actually important.
I didn't have traditional stage fright. If there was 500 people in the audience or three people in the audience, it didn't really make a difference. What made a difference was the conductor. Everything that I was scared about as a drummer was him.
First time that I cried at a work of art was at a drum solo that I saw. A drummer named Winard Harper, part of the Billy Taylor Trio, gave back in – I would have been in high school – 2005 or something.
When you're trying to paint a portrait of a very specific world, you're trying to show what makes the world different. So, sometimes it means exaggerating certain kind of aspects, but I don't think it's that important or it's that much of an issue as long as you get an emotional truth across.
There's something very particular about the kind of rage you feel when you're alone in a practice room by yourself, unable to master a simple thing like a rudiment.
I like the idea of working my way up. I don't feel impatient to immediately jump into something that could literally bring down a studio if I don't do it well.
I remember when I first met Jason Reitman with the 'Whiplash' script; he quickly became a mentor figure who guided me through the process and also protected me and made sure that when it came time to actually make 'Whiplash,' I was able to make exactly the movie I wanted to make.
There are a few musicians that I know who seem on the outside like very asocial or somewhat unemotional people, people who aren't capable of emotions, and people think they're very cold inside.
I think, especially living in L.A., it's very easy to get wrapped up in weekend announcements and the trades and the whole social life of the city, and to get divorced from what actually matters.
It's interesting when you wind up distilling all your ambitions and your goals and dreams into one single person. It's giving that person a lot of power.
I like movies that are specific. Movies that home in on a very specific subculture, a specific discipline, a specific world.
By the end of high school, I had this fork-in-the-road moment where part of me considered going to vocational music school to really pursue it.
What's great about musicals is their energy and go-for-brokeness – stopping the story to sing and dance. How can you not love that?
If you look at 'West Side Story,' a lot of those numbers are actually pretty cutty, but the cuts are always musically motivated.
People like Art Blakey and Buddy Rich, you look at them playing music, and it's just like looking at a heavy metal drummer. I mean, they're playing with the same amount of ferocity. It's not to say all jazz is like that.
I remember being inspired myself when smaller films, whether it's 'Beasts' or 'Winter's Bone,' wound up in the Oscars lineup.
I didn't feel the kind of joy every day playing drums that I thought you were supposed to feel.
I don't like the idea the viewer can kind of sit there and go, 'Make me like this person.' People aren't inherently sympathetic.
There were so many specific things from high school jazz band that I remembered: the conductor searching out people who were out of tune, or stopping and starting me for hours in front of the band as they watched.
At the upper echelon of musicians in general, I guess performers in general, you have to have this kind of live-or-die, cutthroat mentality.
Before 'Whiplash,' I'd had a string of failed scripts. I'd pour my blood, sweat and tears into them, and no one would like them.
The go-to reflex all over Hollywood is still likeability. I've always had a problem with it because I think I have a weird barometer in the sense that some of the characters I've cared about the most in movies are characters that are often thought of as despicable.
As a kid, I was just writing scripts and taking whatever film classes I could in college.
I actually grew up wanting to be a filmmaker. I wanted to make movies, and music was a detour, almost.
As delicate as 'Guy and Madeline' was, it was important that 'Whiplash' come off as more of a fever dream.
As a drummer, you're always fighting for a level that you never quite attain.
I was really trying to sell to people who hate jazz: to make a case for the art form as youthful and energetic, not the sort of rarified intellectual activity it's painted as.
I was a kid living in New Jersey, who – I'd wanted to make movies since I was a little kid, so that came before music for me. But I started playing drums just as a hobby, and I wasn't even really into jazz that much.
I was always pretty decent at fast stick work or doing stuff that seems impressive that's not really; I was pretty tasteful and had good ideas musically. But I had a terrible sense of tempo, which is like being a blind painter.
Certainly, I've loved musicals for a while, so I did some short films in college that had musical numbers and things like that, so I've kind of been obsessed with Fred and Ginger and Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen and Jaques Demy forever.
I love the idea of using film language similarly to how musicians use music – combining images and sounds in a way that they create an emotional effect.
I guess art itself is insane. Its actual function is rarely clear, and yet people give their hearts and souls and lives to it, and have for all of history.
If you want to make a movie, there may be many forces trying to pull you down, but really, a lot of it is will power. You can will it into being if you just believe that you are going to make a movie.
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.
I was in this public high school in Princeton, and it had this topnotch jazz program – if you were a musician of any kind of caliber, your holy grail was to be in that orchestra. It was that claim to fame of the school, of the town, other than the university. But it was better than the university band.
One interesting thing about jazz, or art in general, but jazz especially is such an individual art form in the sense that improvisation is such a big part of it, so it feels like it should be less soldiers in an army and more like free spirits melding. And yet, big band jazz has a real military side to it.
I would break a lot of cymbals. You whack the cymbals hard enough, and they will crack in half. Drums are not actually as sturdy as they look. They're actually somewhat fragile instruments.
I hadn't seen that many movies that really go deep enough into the fears of playing music or the language that musicians can use to treat each other or, like, the way that you can see it dehumanize and the way that it can feel like boot camp.
What I love about jazz is that it's full of legends, full of myths. It's an oral history because it started in New Orleans and Kansas City, under the radar.
I wanted to look at the mentality that can breed that sort of intensity, that kind of cutthroat, pressure-cooker feeling, especially a form of music like jazz, that should be – or you'd think should be – all about liberation and improvisation and everything.
It's certainly no coincidence that big bands became the entertainment of the army in WWI and WWII, and that jazz drumming style is very military influenced. The snare drum comes from the military and becomes the core kind of sound of jazz drums.
'Whiplash' scared me. I feel you should only do projects that scare you to some degree. I get motivated by those sorts of feelings.
I think there is something to be said for not coddling people and not accepting good as good enough.
Real practice means working on stuff you're not good at. Real practice is about butting your head against the wall repeatedly until you get it right.
'Whiplash' was always the song I hated the most because it's a song designed to screw with drummers.
I like a set to be a happy place, where people can feel free to experiment.
In some ways, jazz is the most precise of art forms and the loosest in the sense that it's all about improvisation, but the musicianship required is kind of insane. To actually play with real jazz musicians is a different level of musicianship that almost has no equal in any other form of music in the world.
I had seen a lot of music movies that celebrated music or that showed the kind of joys from playing music, which is a big part of it of course, and not something that I would want to deny.