Spanning three continents, four interwoven stories and five languages, the “Babel” journey began in 2003 when Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga, who has scripted all of the producer-director’s films, developed the idea of a truly international picture.
Self-financing the early stages of pre-production, Inarritu waited until he had Arriaga’s polished script to ask Jon Kilik and Steve Golin on as partners. “They basically went a year without money,” Inarritu says. “We felt we should provide the example that it’s not always about the money.”
With the screenplay in hand and initial casting and scouting done, the producing trio shopped the film around in early 2005 until landing at Paramount Vantage. “Some of the studios passed, obviously,” Inarritu admits. “It’s not commercial at first sight and seems crazy, almost impossible to make.”
Kilik, a renowned indie producer who’d worked with Inarritu’s trusted cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto on “25th Hour” and Oliver Stone’s Morocco-set epic “Alexander,” was the key element in stretching a relatively low budget around the globe. “He knows how to do something big with less money,” Inarritu says. “He was like a soldier with me all the time on the set.”
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The Moroccan set even looked like a battleground, the director says, with hundreds of nonactors (some of whom had never seen a camera), harsh weather conditions, two A-list principals to keep on schedule and … 300 goats. “It was very, very stressful,” he recalls. “And then we had to start all over again in Tokyo and Tijuana. It was like producing four films.”
While Inarritu and Kilik battled the at-times arduous Moroccan shoot, Golin served as home base from his Anonymous Content offices in Los Angeles and traveled to Japan and Mexico to prepare the other legs of the production.
Inarritu says he’s thankful his collaborators shared his unique vision: “What was very beautiful about the partnership is that ‘Babel’ became a moral decision,” he says. “It was a very personal thing for us, one that was risky in terms of business but that we knew we had to make.”