'Whiplash' Director on Resisting Tentpoles: "I'm Not Interested in Being a Puppet on a String"

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Oscar hopeful Damien Chazelle has two in the pipeline: a Miles Teller-Emma Watson musical and a Neil Armstrong biopic he calls " 'Whiplash' in space"

It's been a whiplash-inducing year for writer-director Damien Chazelle.

After beginning 2014 as a relative unknown, the 29-year-old who became the toast of Sundance with his semi-autobiographical Whiplash now finds himself a frontrunner (according to The Hollywood Reporter awards analyst Scott Feinberg) for Oscar nominations in the director and original screenplay categories.

But don't expect Chazelle, who has two buzzy projects lined up, to take long before getting back behind the camera. As he recently explained to THR, he has spent a lifetime studying the careers of his favorite directors and had been mapping out his next career move well before his Park City breakout.

"The movie I'm doing next I wrote before Whiplash," explains Chazelle. "It was just too big to get off the ground, so the hope was that Whiplash would allow the doors to open for that movie."

That project is La La Land, an L.A.-based musical about young dreamers striving to make it in the big city, which is set to go into rehearsals in February. The love story will feature Whiplash star Miles Teller as a jazz pianist and Emma Watson as an aspiring actress, both of whom are pushed to the edge of madness in a city of artistic dreamers.

The theme of characters pushing themselves to extremes is central to Chazelle's work and is what attracted him to also sign on to First Man, a biopic about astronaut Neil Armstrong that is in development at Universal.

"It's like Whiplash in space," Chazelle tells THR. "It's going to be another portrait of someone driven to the brink of what some people might term 'insanity' and also questioning the cost that goes into great achievement. I guess as someone who is kind of driven to the point of alienation myself, I'm attracted to characters like that."

Both First Man and La La Land represent a significant step up from Whiplash's reported $3.3 million production budget. But don't look for Chazelle to sign onto a franchise film anytime soon.

"There's also a temptation to jump right into some giant tentpole," explains Chazelle. "I think for some people that works, but for me I wouldn't be interested in that because I'm only interested in things I can actually direct. I'm not interested in being a puppet on a string."

Chazelle points to Christopher Nolan's career path as being one he emulates.

"His career is very interesting, where he worked his way up to [big budgets] more slowly than people try to these days," says an admiring Chazelle. "I want to make things that are personal, like Nolan, that are seen by people."

He continues: "There are certain movies I want to do that are huge and would require huge resources, but you have to build your way to them. You have to earn the right. And I have no problem with that."

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