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‘Whiplash’ Screenplay: That Touch of Horror Made Chazelle’s Script Sing

Whiplash Sundance

There may not be an obvious connection between Damien Chazelle’s horror script “The Last Exorcism Part 2” and “Whiplash,” but the adapted screenplay nominee drew heavily on his training as a writer-for-hire of horror films when penning the tale of a music student and his sadistic professor.

“Even though I was writing something personal in this case, almost autobiographical, I (used) the same technique I used writing thrillers,” says Chazelle. “Ultimately the script I wrote was a psychological thriller. As a horror writer, I (learned) how do you to keep people turning the page.”

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Ten years after his performing arts high school experience with a barbarous conductor — he based J.K. Simmons’ character on his own teacher and on drummer/bandleader Buddy Rich’s legendarily brutal treatment of his musicians — Chazelle sat down to write the screenplay.

“I immediately knew what the tone and flavor would be, but the script itself was messy and sloppy and I had to tinker with it for a while,” he says. He ultimately winnowed it down from 130 pages to 100. Once Chazelle, who also directed “Whiplash,” handed it over to his agent, the script remained fairly intact: “I think there’s a particular kind of cruelty in music teachers,” he says. “That’s really what I wanted to capture.”