When director Damien Chazelle was in high school in Princeton, N.J., he played drums in his school’s highly competitive jazz ensemble, which was led by an intense conductor who ruled with an iron fist.
“Drums had always been like a fun hobby for me, and for four years, when I was in that ensemble, it became just a source of constant dread and just terror and anxiety,” the 29-year-old director said last winter at the Sundance Film Festival, where his film Whiplash won top prizes. Practicing constantly, under mental if not physical duress, left scars that were still raw when Chazelle decided to write Whiplash. ”This was the most personal thing I’d ever written, and I put it in a drawer for awhile,” he said. ”I was almost embarrassed to show it because it seemed like exposing a part of myself that I didn’t really want exposed.”
The writer/director admits he still has nightmares—nightmares that audiences can understand after meeting J.K. Simmons’s music teacher in Whiplash. Mr. Holland he is not.
In this exclusive scene from the film, which opens in theaters Oct. 10 after recent screenings at the New York Film Festival, Miles Teller’s eager drum prodigy meets the school’s revered conductor, a man who can make or break his future. In a romantic-comedy, this scene might be termed the meet-cute. But in this tense drama, it immediately sets the unsettling tone for the clash of wills to follow.
“It’s really kind of mano-a-mano between this two characters in a way that hopefully explores this question of how much pushing is too much, how far is too far, especially when you’re pursuing some kind of competitive goal,” Chazelle told EW at Sundance. “Not just being a great musician, but being a great anything, basically. At what point do you have to draw the line?”
Watch Chazelle and the cast discuss the movie with EW’s Anthony Breznican in the clip below.