Damien Chazelle Meet: Babylon
Damien Chazelle, the filmmaker behind Whiplash, La La Arrive, and To begin with Man, talks about the motivation and handle for his modern film Babylon.
Damien Chazelle's Babylon tells a sprawling, epic story that takes put over the span of decades. It's fitting, at that point, that the filmmaker went through over a decade creating the film, with Babylon within the back of his head indeed amid the creation of Whiplash, La La Arrive, and To begin with Man. The ambition behind Babylon is evident from the film's opening minutes, with exhibition, music, story, and exhibitions alike that certainly make it worth a seeing (particularly on a enormous screen).
Babylon highlights a huge cast but is driven by Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, and Diego Calva, each of whom gives a solid and discussion-worthy execution. Calva's work on the film is indeed more noteworthy given that he had to enormously move forward his authority of English for the part, and eventually was able to ad lib within the non-native dialect. Another off-screen star of the film is Justin Hurwitz, Chazelle's longtime composer and collaborator, and a key figure within the improvement of the filmmaker's ventures.
Damien Chazelle talked with Screen Tirade almost the motivation behind Babylon, utilizing music to pace the film's greatest setpieces, and inclining into scaring thoughts.
Damien Chazelle on Babylon
Screen Tirade: You had this film kicking around in your head for over a decade. Were you fair continuously working on Babylon in between your other ventures, and why did you choose presently was the time to form it?
Damien Chazelle: I'd say it was definitely one of those, 'bubbling in the background', or 'on the back burner' projects for years. It felt like a mountain that I kept trying to psych myself up to climb, and then would just decide not to. A lot of days of facing the blank page and feeling unable to surmount that initial wall. I think, in retrospect, what I was missing at that time was just the confidence of feeling like I knew the material in my gut. I wound up reading a lot, researching, watching films, looking at things, and sort of piecing together what kind of became the DNA of the movie over the course of all those years. Finally, almost ten years or so after I initially pitched it, I felt, "Okay. I'm ready to actually write this now, and actually make it real."
There are so numerous incredible characters in Babylon. Were there specific individuals or stories that you simply found through research that you just particularly drew on to make them?
Damien Chazelle: It was and organic thing in the years of research, where certain people would just keep jumping out. I'd keep finding myself gravitating back to Clara Bow, for instance, or John Gilbert, or Anna May Wong, or Elinor Glyn. Those people became some of the linchpins, [but] even in the case of those characters... especially Margot's character, there's a lot more than Clara Bow in there. Clara was probably the initial way in, and then you sort of wind up combining things that you like or find interesting from other people's biographies, and it becomes a composite. Then, there were certain characters who were always very much a composite. Someone like Manny was really built from a series of people at that time in Hollywood; Recent immigrants, or Hispanics in Hollywood, who got their foot in the door. Sidney was very much built out of a group of jazz musicians on the periphery of the movie industry at that time who, because of sound coming in, found for a fleeting moment a kind of stardom on screen, that then went away pretty quickly as well. What began as a kind of forest of possible characters, or people, or incidents got winnowed down to my favorites; the people and the events that I would find myself returning to over and over again. That's how I ultimately wound up with these six or so anchor characters that wind up being the heart of the story.
Indeed in a nonmusical sense, your scenes tend to have such a beat and stream to them. How difficult was it to urge that sort of perplexing choreography right when managing with the greater set pieces on this film, just like the party scene or the noiseless film set?
Damien Chazelle: It's tough, but I don't think I could do it without the music. I have to sort of be able to envision it with music. I don't know if I'd be able to do it without Justin [Hurwitz], the composer I work with. It's not just helpful but indispensable for me to be able to give him a script as soon as a draft is done, and have him begin to workshop themes and melodies, even just as piano demos, to get a sense of what the musical language is going to be. Then [I get] to have him actually working up more fully-fleshed demos of various pieces that I can then storyboard to, or cut storyboards to. Any big sequences like that are very much conceived in conjunction with the music - usually, at least. That becomes the guideline for the camera work and the choreography, which in many ways are two sides of the same coin, and for how our eyes are going to navigate through the scene.
Wow. Is that how you and Justin have always worked?
Damien Chazelle: Yeah. We first met in college— playing in a band, ironically— and since then, we've done all these movies together where it's always in some ways beginning with the music. Or, at least, the music comes very early in the process. Of course, the music changes shape as we get into post, and there's the whole back half of the process that becomes more about scoring and underscoring to picture, but even there, we've learned a sort of shorthand rhythm. I'll be in one room with my editor, and Justin will be right next door, and we can run scenes back and forth. He can run me pieces of music, I can run him pieces of cut footage, [then] put them together, see what's working, see what's not, and adapt them [and] edit them in real-time together.
This film goes to so many places, and there's so much wild stuff happening. Was there any grouping or a scene where you thought "I can be pushing it with this one?"
Damien Chazelle: Definitely. There was definitely a lot of stuff way outside my comfort zone in this movie, such that I was even a little trepidatious before even showing the script to anyone once had been written. I tried to learn early on that I needed to kind of embrace the fear. [That] anytime I felt that, it was not necessarily a sign that I should be running away from the thing that was scaring me, but actually that I should be running towards it. That's, of course, very counter to human nature. You don't want to run towards a speeding car or something, but in the case of this movie we had to be approaching it in a little bit of that way. The nature of the movie, the point of it in a way, had to be about that insanity, and the sort of things that would shock people, that would rattle people, that would buck expectations - especially of what a period movie is. [We were] trying to change it up in a way that hopefully would feel like a ride for the audience, and experiential in the way that I wanted the movie to be.
You have got Babylon, and Whiplash, and La La Arrive that all bargain in their possess way with the fetched of inventive interests. Clearly, you're an fantastically inventive individual, but is there something particular that has kept drawing you back to that subject?
Damien Chazelle: Certainly, it is a little bit of the 'write what you know' kind of thing; that makes it more directly, immediately personal. I just know that I can be writing about things that I myself have felt or tasted. That said, I'm going to try to do the same thing even if the movie is about something very different from my experience, like going to the moon or living in the '20s. Obviously, there are many aspects of that that I can't really fathom. I think I also just naturally find myself drawn for whatever reason towards stories of people living in their dreams, for better or worse. This idea of always reaching towards something that obviously can inspire achievements and progress and whatnot, but can also come with so much collateral damage. A lot of times, especially in America, we're taught that the American success story and the American dream in such a way that we forget sometimes what the cost can be. I guess I like to tell stories that maybe shine a little more of a light on the cost, and on the sacrifices that may have to be made, and then you wind up with that implicit question of whether it's worth it.
From Damien Chazelle, BABYLON is an unique epic set in 1920s Los Angeles driven by Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva, with an gathering cast counting Jovan Adepo, Li Jun Li and Jean Keen. A story of outsized desire and over the top abundance, it follows the rise and drop of numerous characters amid an period of unbridled wantonness and debasement in early Hollywood.
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