For Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” the extravagant new epic set in silent-era Hollywood, a staggering 120 locations were used. They included a dusty, undeveloped Wilshire Blvd.; mansions and castles with all-night parties inside; gorgeous theaters, film stages, and studio back lots; and a war-movie battlefield. Many of these can be glimpsed in the exclusive video featurette (above), which highlights the massive ambition and scope of production designer Florencia Martin (“Licorice Pizza,” “Blonde”).
She recalls the experience, as echoed by “Babylon” star Diego Cala, as being akin to building a sandbox for the film’s actors – including Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt – to play in.
“The movie was an actual living, moving, kinetic thing while we were making it,” Martin explained to TheWrap. “Truly, this experience was so epic and we had so many sets to build, then shoot on, and then move to the next one. Diego Calva sent me a lovely message after seeing the film, where he said, ‘Thank you for creating such an immersive world for us to play in.’ That’s really what it felt like we were doing.”
In the featuette, the Oscar-winning Chazelle (“La La Land”) points out, “Florencia had an insane challenge with this movie. Not just re-creating [1920s] Los Angeles, but within that, re-creating each studio experience, and within that, re-creating each of the fictional movie sets. You’re talking about sets within sets within sets.”
In one historically accurate sequence told via Chazelle’s favored long takes and 360-degree pans, the audience is fully immersed in an outdoor movie set, with a half-dozen silent-era stages all built mere feet from each other. Martin and her team re-created the entire thing from scratch in the desert town of Piru, California. “It was completely desolate,” she says in the video, “and what Hollywood and the studios looked in the silent film era.”
And that was just the first week of production back in Summer 2021. It was also only the first of the 120 locations that Martin and her team would create or modify for the film. As she says in the featurette, “‘Babylon’ is at the scale of these mythical movies you’ve heard of in the past.”
For much more, including peeks at actors Pitt, Robbie, Calva, Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo and Tobey Maguire, check out the video above.
“Babylon” opens exclusively in theaters on Dec. 23.