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At the tender age of 33, Damien Chazelle is one of the most sought after and exciting (and relatively new) talents working in Tinseltown. His short but substantial body of work has kept critics and audiences alike invested, evidenced both by box-office figures and review ratings – and not to mention his Academy Award for Best Director for La La Land, making Chazelle the youngest ever winner in the category.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, to professor parent, Chazelle also had family ties to the film industry; his maternal grandfather, John Martin, was the son of stage actress Eileen Earle and Chazelle’s sister, Anna, is an actress. Although film-making was his first and true passion, Chazelle had aspirations to become a musician, in particular a jazz drummer and pursue this goal during his time at Princeton High School. However, he knew that he did not have the innate or instinctual talent to become a great musician so turned his attention back to film-making once again. He combined his two major interests in his directorial debut feature Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), a black-and-white jazz musical film. It premiered at Tribeca Film Festival before being picked up for limited release and opening to acclaim.

Ryan Gosling and Damian Chazelle on the set of La La Land. Getty Images

Ryan Gosling and Damian Chazelle on the set of La La Land. Getty Images

                         Although not a commercial success, Guy and Madeline on a park bench gave Chazelle enough of a career boost to land him a gig as a scriptwriter, contributing his talents to the films The Last Exorcism Part II and 10 Cloverfield Lane “I was a writer for hire,” he says. “I wrote to pay the bills.” Chazelle couldn’t shake his experiences in the music rehearsal room as a high school student where he suffered under an abusive instructor, and he poured his former fear and anguish into a screenplay called Whiplash. In order to secure financing for the feature length, Chazelle shot an 18 minute short based on scenes from his 85 page screenplay. It won the Sundance jury award in 2013 and he was soon given the financing to turn it into a feature. Production took place in a head-spinning 19 days as the cast and crew worked tirelessly to finish the product. Everyone’s hard work and the long hours paid off as Whiplash (2014) eventually found itself in the race to the Oscars, with J. K Simmons winning the Academy Award and every other award going for Best Supporting Actor. Following Whiplash’s immense success, Chazelle’s passion project La La Land was picked up by Summit Entertainment. The musical romantic comedy film became a cultural and critical phenomenon, breaking Golden Globe and Academy Award records and grossing nearly $450 million worldwide. For his upcoming project, Chazelle has taken a departure from jazz and made one large step into space to tell the story of First Man, a biopic based on author James R. Hansen’s work First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, written about the astronaut. The director has reunited with La La Land collaborators Gosling and composer Justin Hurwitz and assembled a supporting cast of Claire Foy, Corey Stoll and Jason Clarke. The film’s trailer dropped just days ago and with its October release date, it’s almost a given that First Man will be competing in the forthcoming awards season. Could Chazelle nab his second Oscar for directing? Time will soon tell. Unmissable Picks:
  • Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009)
  • Whiplash (2014)
  • La La Land (2016)
By Evie Brudenall          
Wiro
Author: Wiro

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