There’s a reason Whiplash was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year. It’s a stunningly unique take on the classic mentor story, showing us the high price we pay for greatness. It possesses none of the heartwarming training montages and or bonding moments of seemingly similar movies. Instead, it opts for a visceral, heart-wrenching look at obsession, striving to be the best, and why it may very well not be what most of us want. Our two main characters, Fletcher and Andrew, clash like lightning and thunder on-screen, putting you on the edge of your seat from the first minute on.
But Whiplash is far more than simply a well-made movie. The production process was rigorous, the creative decisions were planned out to the smallest detail, and the resulting collateral damage quite literally involved blood, sweat, and two broken ribs. All this came together to make a film that, for all intents and purposes, should win Best Picture this year. It’s only natural that we find out about all the craziness that went into creating this masterpiece.
1. Miles Teller performed most of the drumming himself
It’s never easy for an actor to pretend to play a musical instrument in a movie. What’s arguably even more difficult though is actually having to play that instrument as well as the character you’re playing. Despite having been a drummer himself since the age of 15, Miles Teller prepped for the role by practicing for four hours a day three times a week. A visual double was used for close-up shots, but for the most part it was Teller playing on camera to a pre-recorded track laid over the final product. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, the editor for the film Tom Cross estimates Miles Teller having done “probably 99 percent of the drumming.” It’s no small feat for an actor who definitely wasn’t a world class jazz musician prior to shooting.
2. Both J.K. Simmons and Teller suffered brutal injuries during production
At a number of points, both leads for Whiplash found themselves in actual, real pain. In one scene, Teller’s character tackles Simmons’s to the ground. The end result was Simmons himself suffering from two broken ribs. Additionally, Teller dished to IndieWire on how some of the blood we see as a result of his vigorous drumming did indeed belong to him. To top it all off, we even see Fletcher repeatedly slapping Andrew across the face. In initial takes, they used angles and sound effects to fake the slap, but later opted for actually having Simmons hit Teller (hence the redness on his cheeks we see on screen).
3. Whiplash is the lowest grossing Best Picture nominee since 1990
This dubious title was previously held by 2009’s An Education, but according to IMDB, Whiplash‘s $7.6 million gross puts it on top. This isn’t quite such a bad thing though, given the film’s reported budget of $3.3 million. The whole movie was shot in a lightning-fast 19 days of production, likely due to its simple set pieces and focus on acting over big-budget special effects. It’s not typical for a Best Picture nominee to be generally unseen by most of the country, but this one has gotten by on its quality over popularity, making it an intriguing choice should it take home the Oscar.
4. Whiplash is based off a 17-minute short film that debuted at Sundance in 2013
In its current cinematic form, Whiplash checks in at a speedy 107 minutes. But the origin for the feature came from something far shorter, in the form of the 17-minute short film that took Sundance Film Festival by storm back in 2013. It focused on just the first day at Shaffer for our main character Andrew, although not played by Miles Teller. J.K. Simmons was the one holdover from the short, with bits and pieces of the exact dialogue even being used for the final product in theaters.
Simmons tells of one bit in an interview with Fandango, where he messed up a line the short film ended up using with the colorful insult hurled at Andrew, “I will f*ck you like a pig.” Simmons, noting that it was non-sensical, refused to say it on camera for the cinematic reshoots, instead opting for the original line, “I will gut you like a f*cking pig.” In the final cut, director Damien Chazzelle used the original audio from the short film with the botched line, citing it being a funnier, more effectively angry take.
5. The supporting cast in the Shaffer band were real life jazz musicians, not actors
In an interview the AV Club did with Chazzelle, the director admits that the supporting band members surrounding Miles Teller were all “music students or young, professional musicians,” and “had never been on-screen before.” This in turn lent a feeling a realism to the scenes where Simmons is throwing chairs and yelling: The fear on the faces of the supporting cast is about as real as it can be. Among Teller’s background as a drummer, Simmons’s experience as a professional pianist, and the actual jazz musicians in the room, there’s no one who can doubt the true musicality of Whiplash.