Writer/Director of Oscar-Winner, Whiplash Visits TCNJ


The opportunity to meet the director and writer of an Oscar-winning film is a rare one, unless you live in Hollywood — or go to The College of New Jersey.

On Monday, March 28, Damien Chazelle, the director and writer of the 2015 Academy Award best picture nominee “Whiplash,” came to the College for a screening of the film, as well as a question and answer session with students.

“Whiplash,” which stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, tells the story of a young jazz drummer and his experience as the new student in a class led by a tyrannical instructor who uses unorthodox and abusive methods of teaching. The film won three Oscars, including best supporting actor, best sound mixing and best editing, and received five nominations including best writing (adapted screenplay)

At the session following the screening, Chazelle spoke about his early career, when he would write and sell scripts to pay the bills.

“The only thing I could get people to pay me to write were sequels (or) horror movies,” Chazelle said.

But when he wasn’t writing to survive, Chazelle spent his spare time writing the kind of material that he enjoyed.

“This was just stuff I wanted to guard for the miraculous day in the future when I’d get to actually make it, and one of those things was ‘Whiplash,’” Chazelle said.

The path “Whiplash” took to get to the big screen was a bit circuitous. Before being made into a feature-length film, it was made into a short-film that premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

“The first iteration of (‘Whiplash’) was a feature-length script that I wrote and was basically the movie that you saw,” Chazelle said, “But no one in Hollywood really wanted to make it, or at least didn’t want to let me make it, so we made a short as a way of a sales tool.”

Chazelle attributes Hollywood’s hesitation to two factors.

“They didn’t trust me as a director because I hadn’t really done anything and I’m young,” Chazelle said. “And they didn’t trust the idea that a movie about jazz drumming, of all things, could be at all exciting.”

One thing that helped get the short off the ground was having well-known actor Simmons play the lead role as music teacher, Terrence Fletcher.


“One of the producers was friends with J.K. and had worked with him and said, ‘What do you think about J.K. Simmons? I might be able to get him to do a favor for us and do the short.’”

Chazelle laughed as he told students at the College that he was excited to have an actor that he could recognize.

Simmons went on to win the Academy Award for best actor in a supporting role for his performance in “Whiplash,” but Chazelle admitted that at first he didn’t think Simmons would be right for the role.

“He felt not scary enough to me, and I felt like I had seen him too many times as the insurance commercial guy,” Chazelle said. “He was J. Jonah Jameson, Juno’s dad. I thought he would turn everything into pure comedy.”

Chazelle’s mind changed the very first moment of shooting the short, when Simmons’s character started screaming.


“I thought, not only is he right for the role, but no one else can do this role,” Chazelle said. “It has to be him.”

Chazelle told students that he considers “Whiplash” to be the most personal thing he’s ever written. Back in high school, he, too, was in a jazz band taught by a tyrannical teacher.

“It was weirdly easy to write because it was either stuff that happened to me or stuff that happened to people I knew,” Chazelle said. “I was in a program where failure on stage, in front of an audience, was worse than death — like being in a battle and shooting your friend.”

After the question and answer session, Chazelle spent time taking selfies with students and answering their questions one-on-one.

Freshman communication studies major Tyler Law had the chance to tell Chazelle about a video-essay he had made about “Whiplash” for class, and much to the excitement of both parties, Chazelle told Law to send him the video.

“I was genuinely surprised he asked me to see it,” Law said. “I just hope he enjoys watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.”

Senior psychology and communication studies double major Adam Oppenheimer greatly appreciated the time he spent talking to Chazelle, as well.

“I got to talk with him one-on-one and he gave me great advice on getting started in the business,” Oppenheimer said. “Chazelle was a great guy who came across as humble and genuine and knowledgeable about filmmaking.”

Before making “Whiplash,” Chazelle had been trying to make a bigger movie, called “La La Land,” which, again, Hollywood was not interested in making. That all changed following the success of “Whiplash.”

“After ‘Whiplash’ came out, people who said no before suddenly went ‘Oh, sure, we want to make that now,’” Chazelle said. “It’s like becoming popular in high school — you don’t really change, it’s just that the reaction of the people around you changes.”

“La La Land,” which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, hits theaters in December 2016.

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Recent TCNJ Graduate Discusses Her Job In The Television Industry, Gives Crucial Tips

Jaqueline Ilkowitz (right) with co-workers.


After graduating from The College of New Jersey in May 2015, Communication Studies major/Interactive Multimedia minor, and former executive station manager of Lions Television, Jaqueline Ilkowitz, landed a pretty awesome job at a pretty well-known company.

I reached out to her and she happily answered my questions.

You work at Comedy Central! What do you do there?

I’m a production coordinator on the Multiplatform Content Strategy team at Comedy Central! This means working on different shows (like Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, Tosh.0, Workaholics) and turning them into an experience for people on different platforms and sites. This involves anything from helping run their social media accounts to creating online-only content for the shows or figuring out what the funniest GIF or meme is going to be in the episode so we can generate social buzz around the show when it airs!

How did you land that job?

I interned in the same department I work in now! When I graduated, I reached out to my former boss and he said that they have a position open and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for the position.

Coolest Perks? 

It’s really fun to watch comedy shows all day! It’s also fun to work with the people who create the shows to figure out how their show is going to look on all these different apps and platforms (digital is the future of TV!)

You’ve had some pretty impressive internships. What were they and which was your favorite?

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My first internship was at a small beauty PR firm where I learned how to draft press releases and talk to clients. Then I interned at WPST creating commercials, and helping out in the promotions department. Then I interned at Comedy Central and my final internship was at CNN/HLN in their programming department.

For me, Comedy Central was the most fun but I learned very important and valuable lessons from all of my internships!


Follow up to that: Can you walk me through the application process from sending in the application to actually getting hired?

I got my beauty PR internship through a family friend so I sent over my resume and spoke to an account executive and a manager and started the following week. I applied through WPST through an online application and an in-person interview. I applied to my Comedy Central and CNN internships online through the Viacom + Turner websites and went through multiple phone/skype/in-person interviews until I finally heard back. Those internships have a lot more applicants so often you’ll have to talk to HR so they can place you in a department that you best fit, and then you interview with those specific departments.

Have you experienced (or have you been aware of) any cons of working in the broadcasting industry? Any Pros? (I certainly hope so!)

It can be a lot of fun but it’s also a lot of hard work and very fast paced. Working on the multiplatform side of it, you learn just how quickly things can change and you have to try to stay on top of topical news so you don’t miss an opportunity.

It can also be hard to get your foot in the door, most people get their jobs through references from people from other places so you just have to be persistent and nice to people!

Which TCNJ classes do you think benefitted you the most in regards to your industry? (This can mean experience/qualifications you’ve gained)

All of my COM classes were certainly helpful in learning about the TV industry and how everything comes together on the TV side. My IMM classes were crucial to me getting my internship in this department in the first place, when I was being interviewed, my interviewers were very impressed with everything I learned in my classes and my ability to combine both the digital and tv sides of the industry.

Any tips on securing an internship?

Do your research before going into an interview!! Also- do something you’re genuinely interested in, it’s a lot more fun when you have passion for the work you’re doing!

Any tips for a college student trying to break into the broadcasting industry?

Internships are CRUCIAL. You learn a lot in the classroom, but you learn the industry by being a part of it.

Any other knowledge you’d like to pass on to the people of the internet?

Love the internet! Keep up the good work with the cat videos, internet.



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CNN – A Company Profile


CNN, the Cable News Network, has been one of the world’s leading news networks since its launch on June 1, 1980.

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The New York Times, Monday, June 2, 1980

Founded by media mogul, Ted Turner, CNN was the world’s first television channel to provide 24-hour news coverage. Headquartered in     Atlanta, Georgia, CNN has 36 bureaus—10 domestic and 26 international—and more than 900 affiliated stations. According to the February 2015 Nielsen U.S. cable channel coverage estimates, the Cable News Network is available to 96,289,000 households.

Ted Turner at the CNN launch in 1980.


With glassdoor reviews like “Family-like environment” and an overall rating that beats out strong competitors such as MSNBC, CNN is attractive to employees in the industry for reasons that go beyond a leading news reputation.

According to job review site, indeed.com, CNN has a 4 out of 5 rating in the category of “Work/Life Balance.”  For people who work in the crazy fast-paced never-stopping news industry, being able to have a good work/life balance can be just as attractive as a network’s Nielsen ratings. With crazy work hours and always being on the move, it’s sadly common to hear of industry employees missing important family events like weddings, births, birthdays and even the chance to find a significant other. But the fact that CNN has positive ratings in this category is reassuring and commendable.

According to a 2015 Cosmopolitan interview with Lisa Greene, Vice President of Human Resources for CNN Worldwide, “hiring is a nearly constant activity as the work evolves.” Between their full-time and freelance staff, CNN has approximately 3,500 employees around the world. CNN  also has a paid internship program, regularly hiring students who have completed their sophomore year in college prior to the start o the internship, and are seeking a degree (undergrad or graduate) at the start of the internship.

Greene says that with CNN’s culture “rooted in employees’ passion for the news, the desire to tell the story, and the love of the brand,” it’s required for anyone seeking a job at CNN to have a strong understanding of current events.

An Atlanta-based CNN Freelance Field Producer wrote a review on indeed.com in 2015 and said “A typical day at work is that it will be atypical. CNN is a 24/7 news company which means your schedule as a curator or writer of news is likely to change at any given moment. It’s an element of the job that is somewhat expected but can wear one out after a while.”

Have you worked at CNN and have something to add?
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