Best film Oscar nominations 2014

‘Whiplash’: The $3 Million Indie Film That’s Now an Oscar-Nominated Best Picture

Daniel McFadden/Sony Pictures Classics

As award season buzz kicked into full swing a few months ago, J.K. Simmons has been on everyone’s mind as a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Terence Fletcher in “Whiplash.” And indeed, he did get a nod this morning. But the indie film wasn’t necessarily on the radar for other categories, yet nabbed writer-director Damien Chazelle his first-ever Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, with a total of five nominations.

“I knew what the possibilities were but you tried not to get my head too much in the sky, ” Chazelle tells Speakeasy about the film’s Oscar chances. “Now I don’t have to fight that anymore.”

“Whiplash” tells the story of Fletcher and his torturous relationship with his student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a drumming protégé at a prestigious jazz conservatory. For viewers, it’s a punishing look at a toxic relationship and Chazelle has said he wanted it to feel more like a war film, than a music film.

The movie was a hit at Sundance in 2014 (it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize) and the connection audiences have made with it stems from a few aspects he’s noticed over the last couple months, since the October 2014 release. “The big surprise for me is that people were able to connect with it with no interest in the subject matter, ” he says. “It’s not a movie about jazz drumming, it’s movie about more fundamental things. It used that world as a way to bigger questions. That was always my hope. But that seemed like a far-fetched hope.”

Chazelle made the film in 20 days for a little more than $3 million and credits that low budget to how it turned out; he says that if there was more money, he might not have gotten the same result. “There was never a creative compromise I had to make, ” he says. “That’s a deal that’s totally worth making.”

JK Simmons (left) and director Damien Chazelle (middle) on the set of ‘Whiplash’ Daniel McFadden/Sony Pictures Classics

“Whiplash” has already received some notable award recognition. Earlier this week, Simmons won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Yet even though he hasn’t seen “Whiplash” in a long time, Chazelle looks back at Simmons’s performance as Terence Fletcher with fond memories of creating such a demented character.

“I wanted him to be a great villain role and scare the s–t out of you without ever using a gun or a knife, ” he says. “I wanted him to scare the s–t out of you just by how he walks in the room, how he talks to you. And there are very few actors who can pull that off. He’s not playing a murderer or a terrorist. He’s playing a music teacher. That to me still makes me giddy.”

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