Whiplash and the Power to Suffocate an Audience

How filmmakers use deliberate editing and frantic camera movements to create overwhelming tension

Ahad Sheriff
5 min readDec 30, 2019


Whiplash, 2014

Damian Chazelle’s 2014 film, “Whiplash”, is a beautifully crafted masterpiece that tells the story of a battle between two obsessive characters devoted to their craft of jazz music. On one side we have our protagonist, Miles Teller’s Andrew Neiman. An ambitious and arrogant first-year jazz drummer at a prestigious school that wants to become a legend. In the other corner, we have J.K. Simmons’s Terrence Fletcher, the egomaniacal and imposing conductor of the school band who often pushes his students to their breaking point. The creators of “Whiplash” used a variety of techniques to display the toxic dynamic between the two characters, but the primary focus of this analysis is to observe Chazelle’s brilliant use of cinematic editing and camera movement to subconsciously tell the story.

Cut On Tempo

In one of the most memorable scenes of the movie, Nieman is unable to play at the correct tempo during a band recitation. One of the reasons this scene is so powerful is that makes us feel Nieman’s pain with the use of quick cuts and close up shots. When Andrew is unable to play his music properly, Fletcher suddenly throws a chair at Andrew and the camera shakes as if we were hit by the chair.

The scene then shifts into a series of quick cuts of dialogue and close up shots of Fletcher getting right in Andrew’s face. The angry teacher slaps him in the face every time he makes a mistake in counting too fast, and the editing here is incredible because with every slap, the frame switches to the other characters’ eye line keeping the dialogue flowing. We see every emotion in Andrew’s sunken face while quickly getting scene cuts to Fletcher’s hostile expressions. The intensity builds up during this scene as Fletcher gets more and more personal with his attacks on Andrew, and this series of quick cuts make the audience feel almost as overwhelmed as our…