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Damien Chazelle: 10 Things You Didn’t Know

by Conor O'Brien
Damien Chazelle

Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle has hit films such as Whiplash and La La Land under his belt.

Here, Courageous Nerd takes a look at some things you may not know about him.

10. He has English relatives… in the Entertainment Industry!

Despite being born in the United States and having French heritage (hence the surname), Damien Chazelle also has an English family history.

His maternal grandfather, John Martin, was born in England and is the son of stage actress Eileen Earle.

9. He made ‘Whiplash’ twice

Chazelle is perhaps best known for directing the acclaimed film Whiplash, released in 2014.

The psychological drama follows the abusive relationship between a jazz instructor (JK Simmons) and his ambitious drumming student (Miles Teller).

In addition, the film also starred Paul Reiser and Melissa Benoist; with Simmons winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Image courtesy of Bold Films, Blumhouse Productions and Right of Way Films

However, you may not know that the beloved film was actually the second version of Whiplash.

To show proof of concept for the full screenplay, Chazelle directed a short film comprising 15 pages.

It starred JK Simmons and Johnny Simmons (no relation), the latter playing lead character Andrew Neiman.

The short film winning the Jury Award for fiction at the Sundance Film Festival attracted investors to fund the feature-length version.

8. Whiplash has elements of truth

Much like the Andrew Neiman character, Damien Chazelle was a jazz drummer in his youth. This was while he attended Princeton High School and even had an intense teacher who inspired Fletcher (JK Simmons) for Whiplash.

Unlike Neiman, however, Chazelle knew that filmmaking was his first love.

Also, that he was not talented enough to make it as a drummer, so he switched paths.

7. He has worked with JJ Abrams

Abrams, the veteran writer-director-producer of LOST, Alias, Felicity, Super 8, and recent Star Wars films, brought Damien Chazelle in to rewrite 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Released in 2016, science-fiction psychological thriller starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher, Jr.

Chazelle almost directed Cloverfield, a job that eventually went to Dan Trachtenberg in his directorial debut.

In fact, Chazelle decided not to direct in favour of Whiplash, his own original script.

6. He recasts actors in his later projects

Image courtesy of Bold Films, Blumhouse Productions and Right of Way Films

The aforementioned JK Simmons went on to star in 2016’s La La Land, also written and directed by Damien Chazelle.

This film, a romantic musical comedy-drama, went on to receive 14 Academy Award nominations, winning 6.

This includes Best Film, where La La Land was memorably incorrectly announced as the winner.

Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling, who played the lead role ‘Seb Wilder’ in La La Land, worked with Chazelle again on First Man, released in 2018.

This is a biopic centered around the late American astronaut Neil Armstrong and the years leading up to the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969.

5. Chazelle has transitioned into television

Chazelle served as director and executive producer of The Eddy, a musical drama miniseries released on Netflix in May 2020.

The series followed an American former jazz musician (played by Andre Holland of Moonlight), who moved to Paris to run the titular club.

However, despite sharing a jazz theme with Whiplash, Damien Chazelle did not write or create The Eddy.

This was the brainchild of English writer Jack Thorne – known for adapting Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, writing the films Wonder and Enola Homes, and adapting the television series His Dark Materials.

4. He’s been married twice

We all know Chazelle has a string of hit films under his belt.

You might be unaware that he’s also been at the altar more than once.

His first marriage was to producer Jasmine McGlade, which lasted from 2010-2014.

In 2018, Chazelle married actress Olivia Hamilton, with whom he has a son.

3. One of his earliest credits was a Spanish thriller

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Despite – Whiplash being excluded- Chazelle has since established a track record for romantic comedies and musicals.

However, one of Damien Chazelle’s earliest credits was much darker fare.

He wrote the screenplay for the 2013 film Grand Piano – starring John Cusack, Elijah Wood and Tamsin Egerton.

The film followed a pianist (Wood) who is threatened to be shot by a sniper (Cusack) if he plays a wrong note.

2. His latest film was a box-office bomb

Damien Chazelle
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Chazelle’s most recent project, Babylon, was released in December 2022.

Much like his other films, Chazelle both directed and wrote the screenplay.

Unfortunately, despite assembling a cast including Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, Babylon was a box-office bomb.

It took a gross of just $13.7 million compared to its production budget of approximately $78 million.

However, Babylon received 5 Golden Globe nominations – winning one, for Best Original Score.

1. Chazelle was the youngest person to accomplish a major feat

Damien Chazelle
Courtesy of Getty Images

At the age of 32, Damien Chazelle became the youngest person to win the Academy Award for Best Director.

This was of course for directing La La Land and as mentioned earlier, the film received 13 other Academy Award nominations.

By contrast, the next youngest winner was Norman Taurog, for the 1931 comedy Skippy, starring Jackie Cooper.

Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood is the oldest winner of that award, most recently winning at age 74 for Million Dollar Baby.

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