Arts Vanity: So You Want to be Damien Chazelle

Ethan B. Reichsman '19
Megan M. Ross

We all know by now that being Damien Chazelle '07 sounds pretty good. Maybe his last film didn’t win Best Picture, but he’s still the youngest person ever to win Best Director! And why shouldn’t he be? After all, he went to Harvard.

But now, us Harvard students interested in the world of film are in a tough bind: which of our many successful exemplars of Harvard alums in the film business should we follow? For some, this is a tough choice. You could go the straight acting route, à la Natalie Portman '03, Tommy Lee Jones '69, or Jack Lemmon '47. You could join the Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine, and go on into the world of White Guy Comedy™ like B.J. Novak '01, Colin Jost '04, or Conan O’Brien '85. You could even try to pull a Matt Damon (who left the college in '92) and get famous enough that you can just drop out!

You, however, are special. You’re not interested in acting, it’s just having other people tell you what to do. You never comped the Lampoon, claiming you disapproved of it, but really just scared of getting cut. And let’s be honest, you’re having a hard enough time making it through finals already without trying to write an Oscar–winning screenplay on top of it. Instead, you have chosen the ultimate path of Harvard graduate: to become a true filmmaker.

Terrence Malick '66 did it. Darren Aronofsky '91 did it. And now, Damien Chazelle has done it as well. Why not you too? You can make deeply philosophical films, like Malick, or psychological films, like Aronofsky, or even jazz films, like Chazelle! Malick’s use of sunlight and voiceover, Aronofsky’s of close-ups and controversy, and Chazelle’s use of jazz—all these have been influential in the film world. With some hard work and dedication, you too could make such an impact!

Besides, doesn’t it all come down to hard work and dedication? Just look at “The Wrestler,” Aronofsky’s film about a wrestler who sacrifices his health and personal relationships for the chance at greatness and glory. Or look at “Whiplash,” Chazelle’s film about a drummer who sacrifices his health and personal relationships for the chance at greatness and glory. Or even “Black Swan,” Aronofsky’s film about a ballerina who sacrifices her health and personal relationships for the chance at greatness and glory. It doesn’t have to be as grim as all that, however: your life could just end up like “La La Land,” Chazelle’s film about an actress and a jazz musician who merely sacrifice their personal relationships for the chance at greatness and glory.


Believe me, though: that greatness and glory is worth it. Like I was saying, being Damien Chazelle is great! He’s probably rolling in cash, and he has a whole separate Wikipedia page for his list of awards and nominations! And you can be just like him. Just make some really talented friends, write about their minor struggles, and add a snazzy soundtrack. You can get away with a lot when you save jazz.

—Ethan B. Reichsman is the Incoming TV Executive and is hoping that Mr. Chazelle and Mr. Aronofsky will recognize this piece as a loving jab at two incredible alumni, and therefore not blackball him in Hollywood. Hate mail can reach him at


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