Rhythm of Editing, Musicality of Shots, and Whiplash.
In case you haven’t seen the movie Whiplash, I implore you to watch it. I have seen the movie 3 times at this point, and it might be one of the most terrifying movies I have ever seen. That might sound a bit strange if you haven’t seen the film, as on IMDB it’s has the dual-genres of Drama and Music.
But once you have seen the movie you realize that it is a film about a Jazz Drummer being emotionally, physically, and psychologically abused by his instructor. The acting, editing, writing, and overall craftsmanship of this movie is mind blowing, and it is one of the reasons why I keep coming back to this film.
I watched the movie again this morning and more specifically I watched the opening scene 8 times. I think taking time to see the beginning of something can tell you how truly special it is. If you write, create, or have the desire to create a story you have probably already been told to hook your audience as quickly as humanly possible. “Give them something that they have never seen before”. “The first shot/line/scene/word should capture the reader’s/viewer’s attention”.
So let’s talk about the first scene in Whiplash.
You can find it here:
This scene creates tension before the first word is ever spoken. A building drum roll over a black screen is all it takes.
The roll ends and we get the first visual. Andrew Neiman sitting at the drums. You better get used to this sight, because it is a large part of this movie.
The shot pushes forward slowly, to be more specific over the course of 55 seconds, in fact it might be one of longest continuous shots in the entire film. Andrew is perfectly in the door frame, creating a frame within a frame. Just from this we know, visually, that Andrew is trapped, feels small, and doesn’t know where he wants to go.
The camera pushes in on our protagonist, the frame fades away, Andrew gets bigger, only when he starts playing the drums. Andrew Neiman is destined for greatness and it should be clear at this point. Drumming is what makes Andrew feel powerful, big, and important.
Right at the end of this shot, Andrew speaks to someone. It’s then that you realize this shot is technically a POV shot. Then begins the dialogue and the audition. This is one of my favorite opening shots in Cinema, and the momentum of the rest of the film is dictated by this first scene.
The opening scene is roughly 3:21 seconds in total, there are a total of 37 cuts. So the average shot length for the opening scene is about 5.5 seconds.
If you take out that 55 second shot, the average goes down to around 2.9 seconds per shot. It’s fast. Especially when you realize that there are only 5 shots in this scene. The first push in, the shot reverse shot between Andrew and Fletcher, the second push in on Andrew when he’s failing at hitting the tempo, and then the final shot of the scene. A profile on Andrew.
The final shot of this scene, which is the photo on the top of this article, breaks the 180 rule. People stick to the 180 like they will be arrested if they break it.
You won’t, if you break the rule correctly. And it shouldn’t be shocking to realize that they pull it off. It’s this change of perspective that shows the audience that Andrew will do anything to become one of the greats, and we see it, visually. You may have seen this movie and may not have even noticed that this moment is the beginning of a downward spiral for our protagonist. This is the moment that pushes Andrew towards the brink of destruction. But it’s also the same moment that pushes him towards the finale of the film. The finale where we see what it takes to be one of the greats.
If you haven’t seen this movie, go out and watch it. If it’s been a while, watch it again. If you are in the arts you can learn from this film, because if you want to be one of the greats, it’s important to see how far someone can go. It’s also just as important to see the beginning of that story.
It’s sometimes more crucial than the end.