Today at TIFF, months before its Christmas Day theatrical opening, Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle came to show off the trailer of his Hollywood period opus, Babylon. It will drop tom’w. The pic is still in post.
The trailer is non-stop party and rollicking jazz. It starts with Margot Robbie’s up and coming movie star character doing coke. “There was more drugs,” says Chazelle about the era. “They’re building an industry from scratch.” Brad Pitt is wild mega- star, falling off balconies and driving around in cars with Robbie covering his eyes.
“A few things happens, which is movies, and the town turns into a megalopolis,” says Chazelle. “To do that, you need a crazy person.”
“You thought this town needed you, it’s bigger than you,” says Jean Smart playing a kind of Norma Desmond.
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The trailer ends with Robbie yelling “You big dick me, who wants to see me fighting snakes?” as Pitt’s character cheers her on.
“After the quietness of First Man, I wanted to do something boisterous and loud,” said Chazelle about his pivot to Babylon.
“Babylon was the biggest number of roles I have ever jungled. The casting process took a long, long time. Mostly a fictional film. All the characters are fictional but inspired by composites of real-life people,” the filmmaker continued.
“You’re looking for people to surprise you (and to) demolish pre-conceived notions of that era, and actors who would define that spirit,” Chazelle added.
Babylon was back to a lot of on-screen music as well like La La Land and Whiplash. We want to do away with pre-conceptions of the era,” he said about the 1920s set pic.
Paramount first showed off footage to Babylon back at CinemaCon in April. That clip laying out the jazz-era, party hardy Hollywood period pic. Margot Robbie is seen as a tortured star, and demaned her close-up in that first footage, intoning “You don’t become a star, you either are one or you ain’t.” The action took place on a swords and sandals epic. Pitt’s Jack Conrad contributes, “When I first moved to Hollywood, the signs on all the doors said, ‘n20s sceno actors, no dogs allowed.’ We changed that.” Cut to him addressing we are not sure who, and saying, “So, what happens up there on the screen means something.”
Chazelle spoke with TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey about his career; “the physicality of music” in his films, starting with debut pic Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. “That film didn’t exactly open doors in Hollywood,” said Chazelle. He next wrote a feature length script of Whiplash, but the producers suggested he a carve a 15-minute short of it. Chazelle thought that was a set-back in his evolution as a filmmaker. “But life finds a better path,” he said looking back. La La Land, he was developing before Whiplash, an homage to the MGM technicolor, CinemaScope musicals.
“People in Hollywood don’t like to use their imagination, they like to know what they’re getting,” says Chazelle about selling the feature length of Whiplash off its short and feature length screenplay.
The trick to making the risky original musical which turned into a multi-Oscar winning tentpole for Lionsgate, “it’s finding unity on a thing that could go a separate route.”
“You’re choreographing a ballet, recording a soundtrack and making a movie,” said the director about La La Land which he deems as his hardest prep.
:What I love about musicals, is that when they work, is that you don’t feel that work,” he said, “Hopefully you don’t smell the department meetings.”
There were a lot of up-hill battles comprised of rehearsals and no-rehearsals and adapting in situations when things didn’t work (i.e. initially the traffic dance number didn’t go smooth in its first take).
On the ambitious astronaut movie First Man: “I remember one of the bigget complaintsI got in Guy and Madeline is the same as First Man — too many close-ups. I love going in tight on the camera.”
Babylon opens on Christmas with a further expansion on Jan. 6.
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