To further explore and develop our research, we’ll be focusing our spotlight onto the 2014 film Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014, USA)  written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Through Whiplash, a film which we deem to be original, we will be looking specifically at its success in garnering universal claim and Academy Award attention, while presenting a unique approach for an original (and somewhat riskier) film to gain financing by attaching itself to an existing audience the way superhero films and book adaptations do. Taking this all into account we are then hoping to consider whether it was successful or not in order to make judgment on an original film’s ability to succeed.

To further provide more information about the plot, here is a summary provided by imdb.com user Spencer Higham:

“Andrew Neiman is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher, an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man’s life. Andrew’s passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability-and his sanity.”

While we consider Whiplash to be a unique film, this is certainly not an unpopular belief amongst film critics. Peter Debruge in his review for Variety, said that the film, “demolishes the clichés of the musical-prodigy genre, investing the traditionally polite stages and rehearsal studios of a topnotch conservatory with all the psychological intensity of a battlefield or sports arena” (Debruge 2014). Similarly Henry Barnes from The Guardian called it a rare film, “about music that professes its love for the music and its characters equally” (Barnes 2014). So while Whiplash quite clearly fits in within the niche of a music film, and features a fairly standard setup of an amateur musician protagonist with big dreams pursuing a career in the arts, it is when the film takes upon the guise of a psychology thriller that the room for inimitability occurs. This can be reflected in the highly positive critical acclaim the film received, with it garnering an Academy Award for Best Screenplay as well as a Best Picture Nomination and a score of 88 on the website Metacritic which aggregates a score of 100 based on the professional reviews of a film. Upon looking at these figures it becomes clear that there seems to be room for ingenuity amongst film, however we will now look at how this translates in terms of box office success.

Using IMDb and Metacritic as a resource once again, we want to now use the user rated scores and comments of the film to hopefully demonstrate how critical success translates into public reception. Through IMDb Whiplash holds a publically voted rating of 8.5 out of 10, indicating a high degree claim. This is reinforced by results of the user generated aspect of the website Metacritic which is cited as 8.8. There still remain limitations to looking at these establishments to ascertain an understanding of general audiences, as being film based websites they obviously attract a population of film enthusiasts. The next logical step is to analyse the film’s box office figures. During its run in cinemas, Whiplash grossed $13,092,000 with a production budget of $3.3 million. While this is certainly a success as the film earned quadruple the money of its production value, it is by no means a blockbuster and confirms the idea that an audience’s knowledge, receptiveness and willingness to take a risk on an original film is still slim.     

However, another area of interest pertaining to Whiplash, is how it can also provide an example of how to attract an existing audience and financial backing to an original film as Chazelle went about achieving this by creating a low budget short film version which attracted audiences and financial backers alike. With the short version of Whiplash undergoing a relative smooth production, Chazelle used his ability to advertise and attract a following to the film, with the short being featured at Sundance Film Festival, which ultimately lead to the financing of the feature film. On a much smaller scale Whiplash exhibits a similar path to receiving funding by demonstrating to investors that a project contains an inbuilt success due to an existing audience.

In summation through Whiplash, it can be demonstrated that the road to critical appreciation is through the use of highly original narratives and techniques, yet this does not necessarily translate to financial success. This therefore means that whether the film is defined as a success or not lies within how you measure success and what it is you look for as filmmakers; a big pay-check or artistic credibility?


Terence thinks there are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job” but surely he won’t mind praise for Whiplash through a star rating below: 

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