Whiplash: What Inspired the Editing–The Wild Bunch, The French Connection?

whiplash_3Tom Cross is the editor of the highly acclaimed film, Whiplash, a low-budget ($3.1 million) indie, shot in just 19 days.

Written and directed by Damien ChazelleWhiplash follows the relationship between an ambitious young drummer, Andrew, played by Miles Teller, and his demanding instructor Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons).

The film’s musical sequences are edited to pre-recorded music for the major scenes, including a dramatic finale that is set on stage at Carnegie Hall.

Teller had to transform into a world-class musician. “He did probably 99 percent of the drumming,” Cross reveals. Similarly, he said Simmons played the piano in the film. “Miles was a pretty good drummer when he came in to do the movie, and they gave him lessons on jazz drums. … There are also close ups of hand and some overheads that are a drum double.”

Editing involved picking the right clips to match the tracks, and some tricks in the cutting room. “Most of the time, Miles was very close in his drumming, to match sync. On occasion we had to help him a little with some editing manipulation,” Cross says.

whiplash_5_tellerDuring the final performance there’s an extreme close up of the drums sticks slowing down and then speeding up. “The sync to the music was close but not perfect.  We couldn’t alter the soundtrack and couldn’t slow or speed up the music; that would have been immediately obvious. I needed to line the pictures up, manually, for every drum hit. The most precise way was with jump cuts and to take out frames. And this had to be imperceptible.”

Chazelle had big ambitions for the film. “He always said he wanted the music scenes to feel like the fight scenes in Raging Bull, meaning that instead of being gentle and melodic, to feel violent and brutal. He wanted Whiplash to be an action thriller first and music movie last,” says Cross.


Cross says the director wanted to create a big editorial set piece in the finale. “He wanted that moment where Teller makes the decision to walk back onto the stage and continue to perform to feel like the end of The Wild Bunch when they decide to go out in a blaze of glory — that he was throwing in the kitchen sink,” he says, adding that for the final performance, “Chazelle was well prepared and did storyboard and even crude animatics. I used that to put together the first assembly, but when we looked at the first cut, it functioned by didn’t have any soul.”

“We realized we needed to really inject our characters in there and see their relationship — their looks at each other and the characters’ arc. It was important to move Teller from starting in a place of anger to a sublime place when he basically becomes the next Buddy Rich. Simmons] starts in a place of anger and humiliation, and is slowly won over and happy he found his Charlie Parker. Without these character arcs you just had a music video and not a scene as deep and intense as it could be.”

In approaching that scene, they also referenced the car chase from The French Connectionand the way that scene incorporated Gene Hackman’s character. “Chazelle wanted to look at the Whiplash finale in the same way.”

Cross’ next project again reteams him with writer-director Chazelle, on La La Land, a love letter to the 1950s and 1960s musicals.

But thanks to Whiplash, they have Lionsgate as a distributor,  a bigger budget, and more time.