The Whip-Smart Whip-Pans of ‘Whiplash’ Director Damien Chazelle

By  · Published on March 21st, 2017

Say that five times fast.

Though you might not be familiar with the term “whip pan,” I promise you’re familiar with the effect, especially if you’re a fan of the films of director Damien Chazelle. A whip pan is, as the name indicates, a type of pan shot, but one that moves so quickly from one focal point to another that the imagery between them becomes blurred. Primarily it has two functions: to indicate either a brief passage of time, or to emphasize a frenetic sense of action or motion.

I mentioned the name of Chazelle because in all three of his feature films to-date – 2009’s Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, 2014’s Whiplash, and of course last year’s La La Land – he’s made copious and effective use of the whip pan to a variety of effects, as evidenced in the following montage from editor Alejandro Torriggino that collects every pan from each film in one concise place.

If there’s a problem with the whip pan, I think, it’s that it’s such obvious flash of cinema, it stands the chance of pulling people out of the narrative by revealing the visual strings orchestrating it. In the capable hands of Chazelle, however, the director uses this artifice to his advantage, heightening our enjoyment of his stories for their allegorical as well as practical implications.

To my knowledge this is the first video I’ve seen dedicated to the whip pan, and it’s the perfect encapsulation of the technique and how it can benefit a film. Storytellers and filmmakers alike need to pay special attention to this one.

Related Topics: ,

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist