by Thomas Curley CAS
People are astonished that principal photography on Whiplash was only nineteen days and a $3.3M budget, so every day had to count. Add to this a first-time Director, Damien Chazelle, and a complex music intensive plot and the degree of difficulty increases. When the script and actors are top notch, then there is no room for compromise.
Pulling off the shoot took a lot of logistics and the AD team led by Nic Harvard was instrumental in making all of this work. I have worked with Nic several times in the past, so when I took his call to do Whiplash, I knew it would be a challenge, but he put me at ease.
I do not have a musical background. After finishing film school, I worked as a licensed Broadcast Engineer for television; my approach is both artistic and technical. Music is like a foreign language to me. After reading the script, I knew that the sound department would have our work cut out for us; we had to knock this out of the park.
I met with Director Damien Chazelle, and we spoke about the problems he had in shooting the short version, which won the Sundance Film Festival Short Prize in 2013 and how we would approach this for his ‘big screen version.’
For these scenes, Miles Teller would wear a wire, and the boom would dance back and forth between J.K. Simmons and the drum kit. The rest of the music scenes were 95% playback. We recorded every playback take with the boom and faded the track down, rather than just stopping playback, so that any resonance, room tone and noises from the real instruments, were part of the production track. Additionally, Craig Mann recorded impulse responses on each set to get a precise model to apply reverb and the results were very convincing.
I improved my package for Whiplash and purchased a Schoeps CMIT 5U microphone, a Lectrosonics OctoPack, with four SR dual receivers and a Sound Devices CL-9 controller. I had previously owned a Yamaha 01V96 and a Sonosax SN-S eight-channel console. I gave them both up for a much more streamlined workflow with the CL-9. While it lacks some functions of a traditional analog console, the elegance of the system more than makes up for it. I like that it controls the mix track in the 788T without having to lose an iso track. It works off of the same power as the 788T, which is important to me, as I never know what our power source will be.
Even if my cart power and NP1 systems go down, I can still mix off the CL-9 with the internal 788T battery.
Our tech scouts revealed how we were going to pull off a nineteen-day shoot. Two weeks of our shoot were at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. The building proved amazing for the art department to build different sets on different floors. We had at least ten different sets in that building. All we had to do was hop in the elevator.
By the end of the nineteen days, everyone on the crew knew they had worked on a really great film, no matter where it ended up. The level of professionalism and collaboration was exemplary. I felt like this was the set I dreamed of working on when I was driving from upstate New York to Los Angeles many years ago.
Whiplash turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. I was thrilled to learn that it would open the Sundance Film Festival. I was on a mission to get into that screening. Just five minutes before the film started, I got the very last ticket and witnessed a standing-room-only crowd blow the roof off as the end credits rolled. What a rush.
A few weeks later, we were BAFTA and Academy Award nominees! I have never been so pampered in my life. We were thoroughly surprised to win a BAFTA, a unique and unequaled pleasure. This was was also a special honor for Ben Wilkins, who is from the UK. We were suddenly backstage, a whirlwind of press and then partying until the early morning.
When they called our names, it was an overwhelming rush of pride and terror. I now had to gracefully walk to the stage in front of a 1.5 billion television audience! We were told that only one of us could speak, but when they didn’t play us off, I had to get a shout-out to my crew. It is still somewhat surreal to see these trophies in my living room. I got to check off several items from my bucket list, thanks to Whiplash. My life will never be the same. However, looking forward, I am excited about the great things I’ll be working on to keep challenging me much further.