Matt Piedmont and The Spoils of Babylon

Posted March 8, 2016 in

Piedmont combined the smart and artful with the silliness of it all. “I enjoyed the combination of not being able to define it,” he says. It’s both an accurate throwback to the styles and stories of classic literary series, as well as the self-reflexive jab at the fact that it’s funny in its predictability and clichés. “Some of the jokes are just so long and serious that the pomposity becomes the joke-itself,” Piedmont says. “I kind of like it to be a big stew, a mix of different types of comedy.” For me, it was just the perfect comedy binge, great at 1 A.M. with a bottle of wine, which Piedmont agreed would be the most ideal way to watch it.
He and Steele wrote the initial script separately and traded it off back and forth. “A lot of the references aren’t direct— they are more the idea,” Piedmont says. He says they went off of their feelings about the source material to capture an essence, connecting and evolving as they were creating it. All the details take time to flesh out, Piedmont explained. His idea was to “see if you can capture this vibe of all of those people all together on that day,” he says. He would often go in over-prepared as far as the set, props and look went, but would leave the outcome up to the actors and how they interpreted the material. “For me, I always try to capture that energy and make the sets as light as possible,” he says. “It’s like a dinner party that everyone’s invited to, so that the fun hopefully can shine through a little bit.”

Matt Piedmont
(L–R) Devon Morehouse (Tobey Maguire) and Cynthia Morehouse (Kristen Wiig). Photo: Katrina Marcinowski, IFC

The Spoils of Babylon is a story of love, betrayal, addiction, jealousy and the possibility that a steam-punk carburetor could take down the oil industry. It’s also a testament to the acting chops of Wiig, Maguire and Robbins, who dutifully switch their accents and ramble gibberish without breaking character. The only thing I can think of that is funnier than Wiig’s dramatic acting are her scene-stealing wigs. When it comes to Wiig, “a lot of the time, you’re probably catching her just two frames before she cracked up or we all cracked up,” Piedmonts says. Piedmont had a great time with his actors and attributes their comedic timing and ability to the success of the final product. They were “budgetly challenged,” so the filming went so quickly— it was shot in only 20 days—that relied on what his actors brought to the set.

Piedmont pulled extensively from the history of cinema and wanted to make the outcome artful. Although he took some liberties outside of the original formats, they stayed impressively true to the source. “We couldn’t use film stock only because of the expense,” he says. Instead, they tried to capture the full feel of classic cinema. “We used these vintage, anamorphic lenses and filter.” Retro-fitting his equipment to fit the old lenses, he was able to stylistically replicate his source material. “To me, it’s always about pretty much every piece of technology outside the digital camera was all vintage equipment,” Piedmont says. The filming was done with dollys in a formal studio sense while using as many analog techniques and equipment as possible. “To me, those details hopefully add up to something where you don’t necessarily notice all the details, but you notice that something is different,” Piedmont says.

Absolutely every overused trope from classic cinema is exploited, which means that any armchair film buff, historian, art student or comedy lover can watch this and pick apart the layered jokes. I, for one, could not get enough of the purposefully skewed editing and jump cuts that left actors in different positions with each shot. This is absolutely the most brilliant satire I have ever seen on art, cinema and dramatic literature. The Spoils of Babylon is Woody Allen‘s Love and Death for millenials. As far as the different looks in each chapter and episode, Piedmont says that “it was all by design.” He adds, “That was conceived from the outset. It was always the idea and was always written into [the scenes] and was part of the fun.”

The Spoils of Babylon hits shelves on March 8, and you can catch the follow-up series (also including Ferrell’s Jonrosh), The Spoils Before Dying, streaming right on Netflix.