Whiplash: From side project to 47 awards

Sometimes a piece of creative work is so staggeringly good it makes you question… well, pretty much everything. How on earth did they do it? How could a mere mortal like me get even close?

‘Whiplash’ by writer/director Damian Chazelle is a tense and taut story of human potential, performance, and limitation. JK Simmons won 47 awards for his performance alone. It’s a truly incredible film.

I watched it last week for the first time. I was on the road for our team co-location and had got sick towards the end of the week. Here I was holed up in bed. And I had things on my mind. Our team working sessions went well, but we couldn’t crack the code on new things we wanted to do, especially with our limited resources. They all felt out of reach.

As I watched the movie, one of guilty pleasures / annoying habits kicked in. I started referring to IMDb, which inevitably led to hopping between that and Wikipedia to learn even more (just me?).

Among the trivia and quotes, one note jumped out: ‘Whiplash’ wasn’t even supposed to be a movie. Chazelle was stuck on another script, and  simultaneously failing to get interest for a film called La La Land.

After a while, he changed up: "I just thought, that's not working, let me put it away and write this thing about being a jazz drummer in high school."

The jazz drummer thing didn’t go from story to feature film, though. It had to start life in another way.

Chazelle created a proof of concept - a 17 min short that squeaked its way into the Sundance Film Festival. The rest is history, of course, but here’s the thing that hit me.

Even the geniuses don’t go from zero to 100. Don’t assume everyone will get it. Sometimes we have to show, not tell. When everyone’s attention is elsewhere, we have find a way - any way - to demonstrate proof of the concept.

Oh, and that idea bubbling in the back of your mind… it might just be the one. How can you prove the concept?