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Diego Calva, Justin Hurwitz, Mary Zophries & Florencia Martin Interview — Contenders Los Angeles

Drug-induced decadence is nothing new in Los Angeles, but director Damien Chazelle sought to capture it in its extreme in Babylon, his exploration of 1920s Hollywood during the advent of the “talkies era.”

The film’s score was created by Chazelle’s frequent calibrator Justin Hurwitz, who during the Paramount Pictures film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles awards-season event discussed his struggle to create era-appropriate music.

RELATED: The Contenders Film: Los Angeles ’s Full Coverage

“One of the big challenges right from the top was figuring out how to draw enough from the era without sounding anything like the era because the last thing we wanted to do was write 1920s jazz,” Hurwitz said on the panel that included star Diego Calva, costume designer Mary Zophres and production designer Florencia Martin. “We’ve heard it. It’s a little quaint, especially for this movie. This is a wild, wild movie, so we wanted a score that would kind of take us on this crazy manic trip. So, we used mostly instruments from the era … but we tried to use them in a lot more contemporary ways.” 

The film features a glittering cast including Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Olivia Wilde and Samara Weaving, but one new face is Calva, who plays rising film producer Manny Torres. Calva is an established actor in Mexico, but Babylon represents his first American film.

He recalled his unique introduction to one of his co-stars when Chazelle asked him to come to California and pretend to be a PA on a commercial he was filming with Pitt.

RELATED: Deadline Contenders Film Los Angeles Arrivals & Panels Gallery

“So, I came to California and then Damian told me ‘Actually, you’re gonna pretend you’re a PA on this commercial. I want you to work in this commercial as my assistant.’ So I was at work for two days in the commercial. I have like my backpack full of Coca-Cola … and I met Brad that way, as a PA, and he was great. And then Mary [Zophres] said the secret like, ‘Brad, have you met Diego? He’s acting in Babylon.’ And Brad turned to me and Damon and said, ‘I think somebody has something to explain to me.’ “

The film represents a staggering achievement in costuming and production design as well, and Zophres shared the sheer scale of how many unique costumes had to be created for the film.

“The challenge of Babylon was that the scope was so huge and the story was so rich and this is an awesome, really fun story to tell, but I’m sure that Flo [production designer Florencia Martin] can attest to this, it was just a monumental task and it was 250 speaking parts. And the first 1 through 20 had 20 some-odd changes … and then there were 8,000 background [actors]. Damien did not want to use any CGI at all. And so, we were dressing them.”

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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