On Sept. 29, yeahstub.com was on the scene for the “Variety New York: Entertainment Elite” party atop the Gramercy Park Hotel on their beautiful terrace. The evening celebrated and honored Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, the co-founders of Sony Pictures Classics. The event venue was like the Garden of Eden on earth, with ivy and greenery wrapped around the structured grid above guests’ heads. The fairy lights strung throughout gave the party a very relaxed feel.
The adjacent room had a 60’s rustic theme to it, with hundreds of miscellaneous light bulbs dangling from the ceiling and a checkered floor. Copies of Variety’s latest October issue were scattered in the main event area for guests to peruse and take home as souvenirs. The music was moderate so guests were able to mingle and enjoy refreshments as well as hors d’oeuvres. Sony Pictures Classics acquires art and independent films from around the world. Their most notable releases include “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and their most recent movie, “Whiplash.”
Director Damien Chazelle, as well as his cast members, J.K. Simmons, and Miles Teller were also in attendance to honor their distributors. Ethan Hawke also made a surprise appearance to support the cause. Later that evening, they headed to The Cinema Society premiere of “Whiplash” at at Paley Center For Media. An after-party followed at Carnegie Hall. The evening before we had the opportunity to see the film at the New York Film Festival and boy was it intense. While the premise may seem simple, the film is a must see. “Whiplash” is about a talented jazz drummer (Miles Teller) who yearns to be in professor Terence Fletcher’s Jazz group – the top group in the country, but once he is recruited his life takes a turn for the worst.
He falls under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform and live up to Fletcher’s expectations. J.K. Simmons gives an incredible performance embodying an abusive, perfectionist professor who goes to extremes to “help” his students master the assigned songs. There is physical and emotional abuse and Andrew (a very vulnerable Teller) is pushed to the brink. How this story unravels is exhilerating. Chazelle has created a masterpiece and we are excited to see his next film “La La Land,” which also stars Miles and Emma Watson.
On why he aquired the film, Michael Barker told us exclusively, “It has so much energy, it’s a fresh energy. It has the best in music, the best in acting, the best in editing, the best in sound mixing and the performances of J.K. and Miles are staggering and it’s the birth of a major major filmmaker in Damien Chazelle.” Read our exclusive red carpet interviews below:
What inspired the film?
Damien Chazelle: The initial idea came to me … just sort of writing about my personal experiences as a drummer in a jazz band with a very tough conductor and it’s just the sort of the swirl of emotions that I went through at that time. Music that had been something very freeing and enjoyable for me became a sense of dread and a source of terror.
How are you feeling about music these days?
Damien Chazelle: Looking back … It took me a while. This was ten years ago, I was in high school. It took me some distance to be able to actually do a movie about it. To me, what I find interesting is the questions that it poses. Sometimes these kinds of methods do get verfiable results, but if they do, is that worth it? Do we accept the means because of the ends. So I think it poses a certain moral question that I found interesting. But ultimately it started with my own personal experieces and wanting to put that on screen.
Tell us about the casting?
Damien Chazelle: I was lucky. Miles, I had seen him in “Rabbit Hole” his first movie. I wanted to work with him since I first saw that. J.K. I had known since forever just as an actor. You’re really lucky I think when you write a script like this and you get to actually have people like that come on set and just execute it because they automatically make it better than I could have ever hoped it could be. So I was really at their mercy and very glady so.
Who were some important male mentors in your artistic development?
J.K. Simmons: Going back to middle school now between coaches and teachers and conductors because I was a music student in college and my dad. I had a number of male mentors. Even my brother-in-law and friends of mine who were dads before I became a dad, who were sort of mentors in that way, too. Some of them were real perfectionists and not harsh, but not easy and some of them were more laid back. None of them were quite like Fletcher.
What was it like working with Damien?
J.K. Simmons: I knew he was smart, I knew he was a great writer, but his level of maturity and ability to think on his feet and put this thing on the screen was beyond anything I could have expected. It was awesome.
How did you channel Fletcher’s anger?
J.K. Simmons: Just driving to work and bottling up the roadrage in LA. It was awesome.
Fun fact: We interviewed Damien Chazelle back in Nov. 2009 on the red carpet at the Gotham Independent Film Awards when he was nominated for Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You for “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.” You can watch that interview here.
“Whiplash” opens in limited release on Oct. 10.