There’s blood on the cymbals — some of it real — in the out-of-nowhere indie darling that snagged top honors at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Whiplash, helmed by Damien Chazelle, immerses you in the gritty, full-throttle world of a competitive jazz band. That sounds like a joke, but the film, shot in 20 days, delivers genuine electricity. ”I wanted the music sequences to feel like action scenes,” says Chazelle. ”Big and intense and swirling and epic.”
Miles Teller (Divergent) plays Andrew Neiman, a laser-focused drumming prodigy who comes under the tutelage of a fearsome, tyrannical conductor (J.K. Simmons) at the country’s top music conservatory. The student/sensei dynamic gets explosive — even escalating to chair hurling and multiple face slaps. ”He’s actually slapping me — the first time he did it, I started laughing,” says Teller. ”I’ve seen J.K.’s face very up close, and it’s so well-defined. He’s got these wrinkles and a big ol’ head. I was just getting lost in his eyes.”
To film the virtuosic drum riffs, Teller — who played in garage bands in high school — had to train almost as hard as his character, to the point that he was actually bleeding from his hands. ”I played Miles a version of the solo he would have to do, and he emailed me two words after hearing it: ‘Holy f—,”’ recalls Chazelle. But the result — a ferocious blur of sticks, sweat, and ruptured blisters — could be a star-making moment.