INSPIRATION INFORMATION: "Whiplash" & Excelling in Your Craft


“There are no two words in the English language  more harmful than good job”

- Terence Fletcher, “Whiplash”

As of late, I’ve been taking the casual record store visit approach when it comes to movies. I remember walking into a Media Play, Camelot Music, or Sam Goody. I would go down the categorized aisles and look at album covers that really caught my eye. They would not just spark my interest because of the artwork, the titles enticed me, and the sticker information brought me closer as well. In the pre-Napster universe, pre-iTunes world, we did not always have the luxury of previews or streams of albums. All we had was a radio single or music video. By contrast, movies always had trailers to hook potential moviegoers. The first movie that I remember going to see in the movie theater was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”. It was a groundbreaking film that was the first animated/live action film to win four Academy Awards. When it came out on VHS, my parents bought it as my Christmas gift and I watched it so much that the tape broke because I rewinded it so much. That was one of the first times that I can remember a movie having such a profound effect on me. The story, the acting, the colorful characters pioneered a tower of mysticism around filmmaking before me. That movie  mysticism wouldn’t begin to diminish until I saw “Love & Basketball”. “Love & Basketball” was the first movie that I saw sitting in the theater that made filmmaking seem tangible. But in 1999, I saw a movie without seeing a trailer at all. And it blew my mind. It was like no movie that I have ever seen and it was so revolutionary that dozens and dozens of movies mimicked their special effects techniques for many years after. The movie that I am speaking of is “The Matrix”. I saw “The Matrix” without seeing a trailer beforehand which allowed me to watch it with no expectations. I did not have the disappointing privilege of seeing a scene in the movie that made me say to myself, “I saw that in the trailer”. Everything was fresh. Everything was new. I told myself that I will never watch a movie trailer before I watched a movie again. Did I adhere to that never statement? No. But I still do it 90 percent of the time. Even when I edit trailers, I give a conscious effort to not show too much of the movie’s big moments, but just enough to make them interested to see more. I used my “I will never watch a movie trailer...” approach on the film “Whiplash”, and I couldn’t be any happier that I did.

Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” is my favorite film of 2014. Do I think it was the best? No, but favorite, just like best, are both subjective and here was a film that really moved the creative spirit of me. A movie about jazz music with the intensity of a heist or action film. A motion picture that reminded me what it takes to master a craft. “Whiplash” had some extreme examples of pushing someone to their potential excellence. The methods that the head music teacher Fletcher used could be potentially damaging in the corporal punishment arena, but the underlying message was clearer than cellophane. “Do better”. Fletcher says, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘’good job”. Meaning, most people will give someone a compliment or praise someone to pacify them to complacency. The exceptional, iconic individuals local or international who have all had long standing legacies tirelessly practiced their crafts. These same individuals also oftentimes had “larger than life” personas that potentially distracted people from their discipline. For example, Floyd Mayweather is one of the most brash, and obnoxious fighters in the history of boxing, but beyond that larger than life persona, is a brilliant boxer. It is undeniable. Here are 4 main characteristics that I think all of us who are honing our craft needs to posses to be great in our respective fields. “Whiplash” re-emphasized the need for these qualities.

1) Passion.

Obvious, I know, but is it really? The passion that I’m referring to is a lingering, haunting passionate fire that cannot be quenched. How many of us know of an incredible singer who rarely sings in public, or the marvelous, insightful writer who looks at writing like getting a kidney removed. You can have talent, but without passion for your talent, excellence in that talent will not be achieved. Passion is not something you cannot learn or fake. Some people’s passion is stronger than others. There are talented individuals who claim to be passionate about their gifts or talents, but they need to be reminded to cultivate and actually do their talent. Passion should be our motivation. No one had to tell Pablo Picasso to paint. If you’re passionate about something, you should have a burning, intrinsic motivational desire to do it. Passion does not need reminders. Certainly, life may get in the way with bills, responsibilities, and other mandatory commitments  may cause priorities to shift, but like the saying goes, “You will either find a way, or find an excuse”. Passion is the catalyst. The more you do with it, and explore your abilities, you will gain more tools and know how and the passion in your heart will match the work you create. I think of the story I read about a young Donny Hathaway. As legend has it, he was a frustrated little boy pounding on his grandmother's piano. He had the passion to play, but his skill set wasn’t developed where he could play the beautiful music that he heard in his head. The main character, Andrew, in “Whiplash” had the intrinsic fire of passion within him and did not hesitate to sacrifice relationships, his own sleep, or even physical pain from getting in the way of his musical passion.


2) Resilience

“It takes at least 10 years to make an overnight success” - Eddie Cantor

If you look at stories behind the careers of some of the most successful or prominent individuals in any field, you will notice a common denominator. Before a famous singer was “discovered”, they already had a body of work, training, work ethic, and passion for their craft. Before Kanye West was discovered by Damon Dash and Jay-Z, he already had thousands of hours of practice under his belt on cultivating his craft of musicianship. Author Malcolm Gladwell, really goes into detail in his 10,000 hours chapter in his book “Outliers”. Facing rejection or denial of any endeavor or opportunity that we pursue may affect us in different ways. The top three statements that float through my mind when I face rejection are:

  1. They don’t know real talent. They’re missing out = Arrogance

  2. Maybe this craft isn’t for me. I should do something else = Self-Doubt

  3. I need to work harder and improve my skill set so I will be rejected less. - RESILIENCE

Resilience is a necessity because rejection is inevitable. No one can deny us of our destiny if we stay determined and work hard at our goals. It sounds cliche, but it is true. In “Whiplash”, Fletcher, the antagonist says, “I was there to push people beyond what’s expected of them. I believe that’s an absolute necessity.” However, the protagonist Andrew poses a question, “Can’t you go too far? You can push people and they may become discouraged”. Fletcher adheres to his vision for pushing people to greatness. He says that “The Greats” cannot become discouraged. That’s what makes them great.

3) Discipline

Again, as I mentioned above with passion, when you love doing something, no one should have to remind you to do it. More times than not, passion will lead you to strengthen your discipline. If you have a great idea, do it. We live in a digital age where tons of information is readily available with the click of a mouse. The first thing that I always tell someone who comes to me with an idea is “Send me the treatment” or “Send me the outline”. Anyone can talk about ideas, but an idea is never really real until it exist outside of your mind. Creating an outline, treatment, or script is very easy because you can download samples of them all over the internet. I also tell people to “send me a treatment” because that already shows me if they are taking their own idea seriously. I don’t want to put more effort into someone’s project or idea than they are willing to do themselves. It takes discipline to sit in a room, block out the distractions, and focus on brainstorming and make progression with your ideas. Discipline is a way for us to improve our habits that are beneficial to our crafts. I look at discipline like caring for a plant. Buying the seed, planting it in a pot, watering it every day, the plant grows and you have to  make sure it gets enough sunlight, pruning the leaves, et cetera. If you don’t water the plant every day, you run the risk of the leaves drying up and dying. There is a daily operation and modus operandi to cultivating your craft. Some people want the blossomed flower without watering the seed everyday, and these are the people who lack discipline. In “Whiplash”, Andrew had an amazing amount of discipline to cultivate his drumming craft. He practiced for hours everyday, he listened to great drummers to emulate their rhythmic patterns, he watched videos of great drummers and studied how they played, he researched older jazz standards and knew the year they were recorded and who played each instrument on a song or album. Anyone who excels in a craft must have unshakable discipline. Greatness does not exist without it.

4) Sacrifice

“I tell you one lesson I learned

If you want to be something in life

You ain’t gonna get it unless

You give a little bit of sacrifice

Oooh, sometimes before you smile you got to cry

You need a heart that’s filled with music

If you use it you can fly

If you want to be high” - The Roots “Sacrifice”

My sister gave me advice before I went to college that I’ll never forget. It was in reference to balancing partying and my studies being free from parental supervision long-term. She said, “you can party and handle your academic responsibilities, but it’s not easy. When there is a party that I want to go to, I know that I have two choices. 1) Stay in and study and not go to the party. 2) Party, then be willing to put in an all-nighter to get the work done to make up for time missed while partying.” That advice stuck with me to this day. It was one of the earliest examples of decision making that I applied to my life as I transitioned into adulthood. During my 8 years in New York City there has been countless times where I was unable to attend an awards show, a fun party, or a cool event in order to work on my craft or a project. One of my good friends has a running joke to this day, “Let me guess, you can’t go. You have to edit”. On a recent visit to LA, I had a catch up session with this friend and I told her the projects I was working on, and she said, “Wow, that definitely sounds like you. You’re always editing! But look at where it got you! You’re living in LA now, working on TV shows.” Sacrifice is extremely difficult. Sacrifice is not always just missing out on a fun time, but it also means missing out on time with family, friends, promising opportunities, sleep, and sometimes our health. Sacrifice means missing out on short term joys in place of long-term ambitions. If you’re not careful, sacrifice can lead to isolation so it is wise to balance intense periods of work with enjoying the moments, relationships, and experiences that will prove to be fruitful in the long run. It is important that when we make sacrifices, it is worth the reward. Another one of my favorite movies of this year, “Selma”, showed how brave individuals in the civil rights movement sacrificed their safety, jobs, and lives for their long term ambitions to gain rights in America. Andrew sacrificed a relationship with his girlfriend in order to hone his craft more vigorously. Andrew told his girlfriend that he could no longer be with her because she would hinder his progress of being a better musician. Later on, he realizes his mistake and tries to make amends with her, but she already moved on into another romantic relationship. Sacrifice is not always chosen wisely, but whatever we chose to sacrifice, it ends up being a lesson in itself.

Here are a few clips of some of the jazz greats mentioned in "Whiplash"

Jo Jones.

Legendary drummer who famously humiliated Charlie "Bird" Parker by throwing a cymbal at him.  

Charlie "Bird" Parker

Buddy Rich