Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, in its tale of how the talkies rocked the silent motion picture era, is no doubt, a metaphor for the streaming revolution which is impacting the film industry today.
We dive deep into the topic today on Crew Call with the Oscar winning La La Land filmmaker and his Babylon producer Matthew Plouffe, a former Focus Features exec who first heard about the director’s dream to make a 1920s-Hollywood-set feature some 13 years ago after meeting him.
“If you want your movie to play on the big screen, you have to go grab it, you have to demand it,” Plouffe tells us about the survival of original movies on the big screen.
“I think filmmakers embrace that: What is going to bring people to the bring screen? How can i grab that audience? I hope that inspires them. It’s what inspired me when we were making this movie.”
“There is a fight to be fought,” says Chazelle about survival about original pics not being relegated to streaming, “I’m an optimist, but there is work to be done.”
With Babylon, Chazelle sought to “capture what that time was really like” about the “unhinged and wild and brilliant people who started the industry.”
One sequence during the pic’s first act features Margot Robbie Clara Bow-inspired character, Nellie LaRoy, arriving on a vast silent movie set in the middle of the desert where several movies are being made from bawdy comedies to war movies. Cacophony abounds with orchestras playing amid the dust, along with broken cameras, and riotous vagrant-like extras.
A few scenes later, Nellie is learning to adjust to the strict ‘Quiet on the set’ mode of the sound era, where actors’ had to be attentive to their decibel levels on a studio set given microphone’s sensitivity.
There’s another scene in Babylon where we witness a movie theater audience, dancing in their seats in a happy uproar, as they first experience a talkie film.
“There’s a disaster movie, a darkness to this,” observed Chazelle in studying the change-over in the era with “rashes of suicides among starts and bit players.”
Chazelle, his wife producer Olivia Hamilton and Plouffe took Babylon over to Paramount where Wyck Godfrey was then serving as President of the Motion Picture Group. Godfrey was a producer on Chazelle’s First Man.
“He responded to it and became that champion. He fought hard to shepherd the movie into the studio,” Chazelle tells us, “Without him, I’m not confident it would be a Paramount movie.”
Babylon looked to start production in March 2020, but the pandemic hit with filmming not starting in Santa Clarita until July 2021. The area remains a hotbed for Hollywood shoots, going back to the silent era when Charlie Chaplin shot Modern Times in high plateau area 26 miles north of LA. The mansion of late Western star William S. Hart served as the domicile for Brad Pitt’s movie star character in the film, Jack Conrad.
Says Plouffe, “There was something essential to us about making the movie the way movies were made in the 20s, in the places where they made films and not faking that.”
Listen to our conversation below: