Paramount Pictures’ Babylon, the epic period film about the early days of Hollywood from director Damien Chazelle, is no small feat, with the project’s final runtime clocking in at 189 minutes – more than three hours long. However, it was recently revealed that Chazelle actually has a much shorter cut of the film – that he shot on his iPhone.
During a pre-release press conference attended by Entertainment Weekly, Chazelle told the audience that he had fully shot and rehearsed a two-hour version of Babylon prior to the start of filming in July 2021. “It’s a very tight, two-hour version of the entire movie, [filmed] on an iPhone in our backyard,” Chazelle told the audience. This version of the film, unlike the massive ensemble cast that is seen on screen, starred just two actors: Chazelle’s wife Olivia Hamilton, who plays director Ruth Adler and was also a producer on the film, and Diego Calva, the breakout star who plays up-and-coming film assistant Manny Torres. “We rehearsed the whole movie in his backyard, only Olivia, Damien, and I,” Calva said. “It was a very uncommon kind of situation.”
However, while Chazelle’s two-hour cut may be a slimmed-down version of the film, the theatrical release of Babylon is anything but, and weaves an intricate tale of the behind-the-scenes stories as Tinseltown transitioned from silent films to talkies. Beyond Hamilton and Calva, the film co-stars Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, with Robbie playing young, aspiring Hollywood actress Nellie LaRoy and Pitt taking the role of grizzled veteran movie star Jack Conrad. Babylon is rounded out by an ensemble cast of Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Tobey Maguire, Katherine Waterston, Li Jun Li, P.J. Byrne, Olivia Wilde, Samara Weaving, Chloe Fineman, Phoebe Tonkin and more. Given the massive cast and the film’s estimated $80 million budget, it seemed like a recipe for success for Paramount.
This was decisively not the case, though, as Babylon has turned into one of the biggest box office bombs of 2022. The film has brought in just $5.8 million at the domestic box office, and is seemingly on track to be one of Paramount’s biggest losses in recent memory. While holiday competition from films like Avatar: The Way of Water and a shrinking interest in prestige projects were cited as potential death sentences for Babylon, a number of industry analysts believed that film’s three-hour-plus runtime may have contributed to the reluctance among audiences to buy tickets.
The box office woes for Babylon came despite the film garnering semi-decent reviews from critics. Collider’s Ross Bonaime said in his review, “Babylon is often pure mayhem, but it’s the beauty of life and film itself underneath that makes this one of the best movies about movies this year, and one of the best films of 2022.” However, other reactions felt differently, with critic Scott Menzel calling Babylon an “ambitious mess of a film. I don’t even know where to begin with this one but the tone is all over the place … A love letter to cinema that made me hate cinema.”
Babylon is now playing in theaters. Collider’s interview with Damien Chazelle can be read here, and the trailer for the film can be seen below: