From the original “press pack” distributed to promote the release of the film:
FRANCO ROSSO and MARTIN STELLMAN wrote the original draft of ‘Babylon’ for the BBC ‘Play for Today’ series. It was never used. They decided to turn it into a feature film and waited five years for the cameras to turn. That they did, finally, was due to their own persistence and the perception of Mamoun Hassan of the N.F.F.C. [National Film Finance Corporation] and GAVRIK LOSEY, the film’s producer.
As Franca Rosso explains it: “This was not an easy subject to raise film finance on. It falls into none of the obvious commercial categories and producers are notoriously myopic when it comes to evaluating the unusual. Mamoun gave us tremendous support as well as the necessary finance and then Gavrik came in and turned it into a reality”. Martin Stellman adds “Even then it wasn’t easy. We were working on a shoestring budget. I live in a bedsit in North London. Until a couple of weeks before filming we were using that as our headquarters. Much of the casting was done there. I’d look around my room and all the papers scattered everywhere and think ‘this is ridiculous
‘Babylon’ was, in fact, the only film financed by the N.F.F.C. last year. When Gavrik Losey came into the project he raised further finance from the Chrysalis Group of Companies and from Lee Studios. “I went to Chrysalis, told them we were making a reggae film, and offered them a deal for the record. At that stage they didn’t want to commit themselves to the record but amazingly they offered us £30,000 towards production simply because the guy I approached believed so strongly in the film”.
‘Babylon’ was filmed entirely on locations in South London and the West End over six weeks. The production headquarters were above a rambling and draughty church in Deptford. The film set was totally closed to visitors (including journalists) because of the film’s sensitive subject matter and the fact that shooting was taking place in an area of London where there is racial tension.
The cast of actors was carefully chosen, with the help of casting director Sheila Trezise, by Franca Rosso and Martin Stellman, who already had many contacts within the black community. “This is the first time I have actually seen black actors acting”, says Gavrik. “All too often they are there on screen as a kind of symbol. In ‘Babylon’ they carry the film”.
Aside from the regular actors there were many extras. The vast majority were West Indians living around the Dectford, Lewisham, Peckham and Croydon area. “At first the extras union said we should only use their members but when they read the script they realised that was ridiculous. There just aren’t that many black members of the union”. More or less the only direction the extras needed was ‘act natural’. All of them were already familiar with sound system competitions and with reggae, the louder the better.