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Damien Chazelle

best known for his films Whiplash (2014), La La Land (2016), and First Man (2018). For La La Land he earned several accolades, including a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Director — the youngest person to win these awards.

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Damien Chazelle (born January 19, 1985) is a French-American director, film producer, and screenwriter, born in Providence, Rhode Island to a Roman Catholic family. His father, Bernard Chazelle, is a computer science professor at Princeton University, and was born in Clamart, France. His mother, Celia, is from an English-Canadian family based in Calgary, Alberta, and teaches medieval history.

Chazelle was raised in Princeton, New Jersey, where, although Catholic, attended a Hebrew school for four years because of his parents’ dissatisfaction with other local schools. Chazelle has a sister, Anna, who is an actress.

Filmmaking was Chazelle’s first love, but he also had serious musical aspirations and struggled to make it as a jazz drummer at Princeton High School. He has said that he had an intense music teacher, who was the inspiration for the character of Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons) in Chazelle’s breakout film Whiplash. Unlike the film’s protagonist Andrew Neiman, Chazelle stated that he realized that he didn’t have the talent to be a great musician and after high school turned his ambitions again to filmmaking. He studied filmmaking in the Visual and Environmental Studies department at Harvard University and graduated in 2007.

At Harvard he lived in Currier House as roommates with composer and frequent collaborator Justin Hurwitz. The two were among the original members of the indie-pop group Chester French, formed during their freshman year.

Chazelle wrote and directed his debut feature, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, as part of his senior thesis project with Hurwitz at Harvard. The film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2009 and won various awards on the festival circuit before being picked up by Variance Films for limited release and opening to critical acclaim.

After graduation, Chazelle moved to Los Angeles with the ultimate goal of attracting interest to produce his musical La La Land. He worked as a “writer-for-hire” in Hollywood; among his writing credits are The Last Exorcism Part II (2013) and Grand Piano (2013). He was also enlisted by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions as a script doctor for 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) with the intention of also directing, but Chazelle eventually chose to direct Whiplash instead.

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Chazelle initially explained Whiplash as a writing reaction to being stuck on another script: “I just thought, that’s not working, let me put it away and write this thing about being a jazz drummer in high school.” He said he didn’t want to show the script around, as it felt too personal, and “I put it in a drawer”. Although nobody was interested at first in making the film, his script was featured on Black List in 2012 as one of the best unmade films of that year. The project was eventually taken up by Right of Way Films and Blumhouse Productions, who suggested that Chazelle turn a portion of the script into a short film as a proof-of-concept.

The 18-minute short was accepted at Sundance Film Festival 2013, where it was well-received; financing was then raised for the feature film, and in 2014 it was released to overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim. Whiplash received numerous awards on the festival circuit and earned five Academy Award nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle.

Thanks to the success of Whiplash, Chazelle attracted financiers for his musical La La Land. It opened the Venice International Film Festival in August of 2016 and began a limited release in the United States starting in December 2016, which soon led to a much wider release before the month was out. It won rave reviews from critics and many awards. Chazelle in particular was praised for his work on the film and received several top honors, including a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Director, making him the youngest director to win both awards. He was 32.

Chazelle next reunited with Gosling on the film First Man (2018). With a screenplay by Josh Singer, the biopic is based on author James R. Hansen’s First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. The film received positive reviews, with Owen Gleiberman of Variety writing that “Chazelle orchestrates a dashingly original mood of adventure drenched in anxiety”.

Moving on from First Man, Chazelle was set to direct the first two episodes of the musical drama TV series The Eddy, for Netflix. The series will be written by Jack Thorne, with Grammy-winning songwriter Glen Ballard and Alan Poul serving as executive producers.

In January of 2018, Apple announced that they were partnering with Chazelle for a new original television series, the first season of which to be written and directed by Chazelle.

Chazelle married producer Jasmine McGlade in 2010; they divorced in 2014. In October 2017, he and actress Olivia Hamilton, a Princeton University graduate, announced their engagement. They married September 22, 2018.


Memorable Quotes by Damien Chazelle

“When you’re trying to paint a portrait of a very specific world, you’re trying to show what makes the world different. So, sometimes it means exaggerating certain kind of aspects, but I don’t think it’s that important or it’s that much of an issue as long as you get an emotional truth across.”

“There are a lot of musicians in my life. But movies came first for me. That was my original passion.”

“The go-to reflex all over Hollywood is still likeability. I’ve always had a problem with it because I think I have a weird barometer in the sense that some of the characters I’ve cared about the most in movies are characters that are often thought of as despicable.”

“I find L.A. kind of romantic, actually. As a movie junkie, it’s a city that was built by the movies. There’s something really weird and surreal about it that I find energizing.”

Things You May Not Know About Damien Chazelle

Directed 3 Oscar nominated performances: J.K. Simmons, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Simmons and Stone won for their performances in his films.

His Best Director Oscar win for La La Land (2016) at age 32, made him the youngest recipient of this award category in the Academy’s history (26 Feb 2017).

He is the youngest person to win the Golden Globe for Best Director.

Damien Chazelle’s directing credits include…

Year Movie
2009 Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
2013 Whiplash (Short)
2014 Whiplash
2016 La La Land
2018 First Man
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