Daniel Schechter (Life of Crime) Talks Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash

As you watch a movie, your mind registers a million different thoughts. Here's how one filmmaker processed this year's big Sundance-winning film.

FUCK THIS GUY DAMIEN CHAZELLE. So here it comes: this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, this year’s Fruitvale Station…. You’re not getting me again, “Sundance and Cannes.” And “Twitter.” And “Rotten Tomatoes.” Every year, someone who is not me has a movie that is declared brilliant and that director gets to make whatever shit he wants for the rest of his life.

OK, calm down. You haven’t seen the film yet. It’s fun sitting in a press screening. All the seats are comfy, and everyone has like a group of four seats to themselves. Funny how everyone stays apart from one another. Kurt Loder is sitting next to me and he gave my last movie, Life of Crime, a shitty review. “It’s not a bad picture, but it’s not much more than okay, either.” He’s reading his Kindle. I heard there were three people in the Life of Crime press screening when I had mine six weeks ago… but there’s about 25 in here now for this movie. There’s another critic I know named Lisa Rosman, who liked my movie; she said she was coming to this screening on Twitter, but I can’t see her. I’m gonna find her and thank her after this movie ends.

I think my problem is: tell me these movies are fine, I’ll be all like, “Yeah, it was pretty good. I liked this and that bit…” Tell me they’re great, “the best movie of the year” or “genius”, and they either better be or I’m coming after you.

Later tonight I’m seeing Camp X-Ray with Kristen Stewart about Gitmo. (Terrible title.) Suspicious how little I’ve heard about it…

OK, lights dimmed, no previews. Sony Pictures Classics, huh? Well, they’re doing a lot more press for Whiplash than Roadside Attractions did for me. Good for this a-hole.

(It did win the Sundance Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award.)

(Shut up!)

I judge a movie by its opening shot and this one… well, it’s pretty good, I guess. A long shot of Miles Teller expertly playing the drums. I watched this scene already, it was on Indiewire or something as a clip. I hear J.K. Simmons is so great in this, but he’s kind of hamming it up here, isn’t he? OK, let’s wait and see.

A shitty manager I had once told me, “Every movie is a wish.” Or should be. I gotta say, in the first scene, this kid’s wish is clear: He wants in this band, he wants to be great. He wants to impress this dick teacher. I identify with that. I’m rooting for him because he works his ass off to earn it.

How did Miles get those scars on his face? Remember in Indiana Jones 3 when they show how the young Harrison Ford got HIS scar with the whip hitting his chin? That was River Phoenix, right? I wanna see Inherent Vice. I wonder if Miles will ever get a flashback of some kid actor getting their face scraped by a tiger or something…

So the J.K. Simmons character has a pretty great ear for music. In four notes he knows if a musician is good or not. It’s not untrue of filmmaking. Sorta what I was thinking before about knowing from the first shot. But they’re different, I know…

I love that line from the trailer: “The two most dangerous words in the English language are: ‘Good Job.’” I wonder when that’s gonna come up. Some girl just sent me her film on Vimeo and it was pretty lousy — should I tell her? She’s young and will improve and may appreciate the honesty.

We get it, J.K. You’re a dick who pushes people to the extreme, and to make that clear, you call people “faggot” and “spic.” But you also have a soft side… I mean, he’s good, but this is like begging for a Best Supporting Actor nom.

Stanley Tucci “presented” Damien’s first feature. I wonder if this role was written for Tucci — would’ve been good. But J.K. is very good and he deserves his moment.

Damn, that is a pretty cool shot. From under the drum kit looking up. Love Miles all sweaty and bloody, it’s badass. I’m exhausted watching him play.

Well, that’s a pretty thankless female role.

Huh. It’s interesting how we become artists because we want love and approval… and then to become great we have to learn to not give a fuck about what people think of us.

TARIK IS IN THIS MOVIE! I totally forgot that my friend had a role in this thing. He didn’t even know it was in Sundance until I told him. He said the director was a really nice guy, but that he couldn’t get a sense, while they were shooting, of how good or bad the movie was gonna be. Supposedly he learned to play piano for this, but I don’t ever see his fingers. He told me about a fight scene that’s coming, apparently.

Did Miles really learn to play the fucking drums that well? Damn. I heard he’s kind of an asshole but people think I’m an asshole and I’m pretty sure I’m not. So cool that it’s an actor who wants to be (and can be) “one of the greats” playing a character who wants to be one too. David O. Russell said Bradley Cooper worked in Silver Linings because he was as desperate to prove he was a good actor to people as his character was to prove he wasn’t mentally ill.

Too many people have called Jonah Hill an asshole for that not to be true.

This moment: Miles is sitting over this other drummer like a hawk, man. Just waiting for him to fuck up, one off-beat, just so he can jump in and show what he can do…. And that’s what I’m doing to this guy Chazelle. One false note and I’m jumping all over him. I want him to fail, don’t I? Maybe my article should be about that? Ambition? Being over-rated? Jealousy…?

This scene’s redundant. WE GET IT.

Once I get to know a filmmaker, I root for them. Bob, Destin, Jordan, Larry, Onur… But I don’t know this Damien. He’s a good editor, I can tell. Maybe music teaches you that or it comes with that instinct for timing. This movie really moves. I read Damien actually was a drummer in a jazz school with a dick teacher like this. I can’t play an instrument but when I edit it’s the closest I come to making music.

Love when actors like Paul Reiser do different stuff like this. They look like father and son.

This dinner scene is the best scene in the movie so far. There should be more stuff outside the music room. Much more revealing of character. Love Miles here. I am this guy.

I think this character has Asperger’s. My old best friend Josh self-diagnosed himself with Asperger’s after watching Oprah one day. He used to shoot my movies, and then, when I wanted to use a different cinematographer for a film, he stopped being my friend. A lot of directors have Asperger’s. Spielberg does, apparently.

Oh really, he LOST his drumsticks 10 minutes before the most important performance of his career?

It’s fucking hard to write a good movie. I hope people like my new script or I got nothing going right now.

I wanna look up the name of this cinematographer later. Movie is shot beautifully. Beautifully.

I wonder if I’ll get to talk to that critic Lisa about this movie after it’s over. I wanna talk to someone about this. Keep going back and forth.

I heard this was a short before it was a feature. It needs more story.

My last movie was a failure. It was a big opportunity.

Jesus, I haven’t taken a breath in the last 30 seconds.

There it is: the “Good Job” line. Man, trailers really fuck with your experience of a movie. Did Life of Crime fail because of the trailer, or because not enough people SAW the trailer?

PLEASE don’t tell me this movie is going to be about how hard teachers push kids nowadays, because that would be a fucking ridiculous message, are you kidding?

OK, OK, it doesn’t. Relax. What’s the matter with you and this movie?

Wait, this plot twist… Alright, remember when you were loving Silver Linings Playbook and then there was that one and only one really bad scene where everyone decides to parlay for the dance contest in the end? And then, if you bought that, you’d love the rest of the movie? This might be like that!

American Hustle just wasn’t good. Can’t remember anything from it. Why did so many critics call my movie a poor man’s American Hustle? Because they’re both ’70s? They’re idiots. I bet Kurt Loder’s gonna fucking love Whiplash. His Kindle looked five years old.

Maybe success isn’t good for young filmmakers. God, I can’t believe the director of Safety Not Guaranteed got to make Jurassic Park 4. That’s like my dream movie. I remember meeting with Aubrey Plaza and she was like, “Yeah, it just kept staying in theaters, week after week. We couldn’t believe it.” My movie was out of theaters in two weeks. I heard Spielberg loved Safety and that’s how that guy got to do Jurassic World.

I’m writing something for Aubrey now, and what if she hates it? What if she hated Life of Crime and doesn’t want to work with me now? Come on, it’s 66% on Rotten Tomatoes. Wonder what Whiplash is gonna be…

I heard Damien is “orbiting” a biopic on Neil Armstrong.

Some kid is gonna be watching my movie, hoping I fail.

My chest hurts. Breathe, man.

Whoa. This last scene, holy fuck he’s going for it. The editing. God, this movie is paying off. J.K. just did this thing I’ll never, ever forget. Smallest gesture, but it’s everything. This is like the final scene of Black Swan, loved when she turned into a swan. IT’S STILL GOING? How many days did he have to shoot this scene? BREATHE, DAN.

(This is what happened: The movie ends like this and OF COURSE people leave all fuckin’ pumped, tweeting and ripping off fives on the audience award ballot.)


Miles and J.K. are like Damien and Me. Right now in this moment. Director and Director-Audience Member… I’m done judging… You’ve shut my brain off… This is why I see movies… I’m supporting you now, rooting for you, I’m with you now. I’m in awe of this. And I know that cut to black is coming, and I know exactly where it’s gonna go, you fucking motherfucker, and then your name is gonna pop up and your life is gonna change.

Man, I want to touch greatness.

Hey, Damien: Good job.

Daniel Schechter is an indie filmmaker living in New York City. His micro-budget feature Supporting Characters is now available on iTunes and Netflix and his latest film, Life of Crime starring Jennifer Aniston, will be released on August 29th, 2014.