Oscar Directors: Chazelle, Damien–Background, Career, Awards

Damien Chazelle Career Summation

Occupational Inheritance:

Social Class: upper middle; both parents academic professors


Nationality: Parents French

Formal Education: Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University, 2007.


First Film: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, 2009 (Tribeca Fest); age 24

Breakthrough: Whiplash, 2013; aged 28

First Oscar Nomination: La la Land, 2016; age 32

Other Nominations:

Oscar Awards:

Nominations Span:

Genre (specialties):


Last Film:


Career Output:

Career Span:

Marriage: first wife, producer


Death: NA

Damien Sayre Chazelle (born January 19, 1985) is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter.

He is best known for his films Whiplash (2014), La La Land (2016), and First Man (2018). For La La Land, he received several accolades, including the Golden Globe Award and the Academy Award for Best Director; making him the youngest person to win either award at age 32.[4][5]

Chazelle was born in Providence, Rhode Island to a Catholic family. His father who is French, Bernard Chazelle, is the Eugene Higgins Professor of computer science at Princeton University, and was born in Clamart, France.[8] His mother, Celia,[9] is from an English-Canadian family based in Calgary, Alberta, and teaches medieval history at The College of New Jersey.[10]

Chazelle was raised in Princeton, New Jersey, where, although a Catholic, he attended a Hebrew school for four years due to his parents’ dissatisfaction with other local schools.[7] Chazelle has a sister, Anna, who is an actress. Their English-born maternal grandfather, John Martin, is the son of stage actress Eileen Earle.

Filmmaking was Chazelle’s first love, but he subsequently wanted to be a musician and struggled to make it as a jazz drummer at Princeton High School. He has said that he had an intense music teacher in the Princeton High School Studio Band, who was the inspiration for the character of Terence Fletcher in Chazelle’s breakout film Whiplash. Unlike the film’s protagonist Andrew Neiman, Chazelle stated that he knew instinctively that he never had the talent to be a great musician and after high school, pursued filmmaking again.

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.[14] The two were among the original members of the indie-pop group Chester French, formed during their freshman year.[15]

Chazelle wrote and directed his debut feature, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, as part of his senior thesis project with classmate Justin Hurwitz at Harvard. The film premiered at Tribeca Film Fest in 2009 and received 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.[18] Chazelle 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 brought in by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions to re-write a draft of 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) with the intention of also directing, but Chazelle ultimately chose to direct Whiplash instead.

Chazelle initially described 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 stated he initially did not want to show the script around, as it felt too personal, and “I put it in a drawer”.[11] Although nobody was initially interested in producing the film,[20] his script was featured on Black List in 2012 as one of the best unmade films of that year. The project was eventually picked up by Right of Way Films and Blumhouse Productions, who suggested that Chazelle turn a portion of his script into a short film as proof-of-concept. The 18-minute short was accepted at Sundance Film Fest 2013, where it was well-received;[21] financing was then raised for the feature film, and, in 2014, it was released to an overwhelmingly positive critical reaction.[22] Whiplash received numerous awards on the festival circuit[23][24] and earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle, winning three.[25]
Thanks to the success of Whiplash, Chazelle was able to attract financiers for his musical La La Land.[18] The film opened the Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2016 and began a limited release in the United States on December 9, 2016, with a wider release on December 16, 2016.[26][27] It has received rave reviews from critics and numerous awards.[28] Chazelle was particularly praised for his work on the film and received several top honors, including a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Director, making Chazelle the youngest director to win both awards, at age 32.[5]

Chazelle next reunited with Gosling on the film First Man (2018), for Universal Pictures. With a screenplay by Josh Singer, the biopic is based on author James R. Hansen’s First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, written about the astronaut.[29][30] The film received positive reviews,[31] with Owen Gleiberman of Variety writing that “Chazelle orchestrates a dashingly original mood of adventure drenched in anxiety”.[32]

Chazelle directed the first two episodes of the May 2020-released Netflix musical drama television miniseries The Eddy.[33][34] The series is written by Jack Thorne, with Grammy-winning songwriter Glen Ballard and Alan Poul attached as executive producers. The series is set in Paris and currently consists of eight episodes.

On February 6, 2019, Yusaku Maezawa formally invited Damien Chazelle to go to the moon as a part of the DearMoon project in 2023. As of yet, he has not formally accepted the offer.

On July 15, 2019, Variety reported that his next film, called “Babylon”, scheduled to be released in 2021 and set in Hollywood in the 1920s, was eyeing Emma Stone to star in it.[35] Brad Pitt has also been rumoured to have a role in the movie.[36] On November 11, 2019, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Babylon would have a limited release on December 25, 2021, before expanding into wide release on January 7, 2022.[37]

Chazelle married producer Jasmine McGlade in 2010; they divorced in 2014.

In October 2017, Chazelle and actress Olivia Hamilton, a Princeton University graduate and former McKinsey & Company consultant, announced their engagement. The couple married September 22, 2018.[41]

Due to his French heritage, Chazelle is fluent in French. [42][43]

Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
2009 Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench Yes Yes Yes Feature directorial debut
Also cinematographer, editor, and soundtrack lyricist
2013 The Last Exorcism Part II No Yes No Co-screenwriter (with Ed Gass-Donnelly); story writer
Grand Piano No Yes No
2014 Whiplash Yes Yes No Nominated — Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
2016 10 Cloverfield Lane No Yes No Co-screenwriter (with Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken)
La La Land Yes Yes No Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay
2018 First Man Yes No Yes
Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
2020 The Eddy Yes No Yes 2 episodes
Awards and nominations
Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Damien Chazelle
Year Film Academy Awards BAFTA Awards Golden Globe Awards
Nominations Wins Nominations Wins Nominations Wins
2014 Whiplash 5 3 5 3 1 1
2016 La La Land 14 6 11 5 7 7
2018 First Man 4 1 7 0 2 1
Total 23 10 23 8 10 9
Directed Academy Award performances

Chazelle has directed multiple Oscar winning and nominated performances.

Year Performer Film Result
Academy Award for Best Actor
2016 Ryan Gosling La La Land Nominated
Academy Award for Best Actress
2016 Emma Stone La La Land Won
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
2014 J. K. Simmons Whiplash Won