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Baz Luhrmann at Camerimage: “We’re Making Theatrical Movies for the Theater”



Baz Luhrmann and cinematographer Mandy Walker received a standing ovation following a screening of Elvis and conversation about the making of the film, Monday night at the EnergaCamerimage international cinematography film festival in Torun, Poland.

Earlier, Luhrmann was presented the Festival’s Special Award for Outstanding Director and invited Walker (their prior collaborations include Australia) to join him on stage, noting “we are joined at the hip in the making of stories.” Accepting the award, the director took the moment to comment on a short that had been screened during the Festival, which features filmmakers who joined the Ukraine military since the Russian invasion and states that Camerimage stands with Ukraine. The helmer said he and Walker watched the “three-minute film about our brothers in Ukraine who make films. And then we saw them holding guns and fighting for their lives. We were both crying. … It’s not possible to be here and not feel the emotion. I think the whole world needs to keep an eye on what’s happening.”

Following the Elvis screening, Luhrmann and Walker returned to the stage for a conversation about the movie. The director received enthusiastic applause as he stated his commitment to the theatrical experience. “I said, ‘I’m not going to make the movie if it goes straight to streaming,'” he said. “We’re making theatrical movies for the theater.”

Walker described their meticulous planning process. “Working with Baz, nothing is uncertain in terms of how we shoot each scene. It’s always about storytelling,” she said, noting that this involves all departments including production design, hair styling and make-up. “There, we formulate the idea for every sequence. We talk about it in terms of emotion and how we want the audience to experience this moment. Baz spends a lot of time involving us all. Some of our tests are in the movie… and once we’ve spoken about the visual language, we don’t think about it, we just feel it. Because we already have that language together.”

The cinematographer — whose previous collaborations with Luhrmann include Australia — also talked about the delicate work involved in creating well-known performances such as Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special. “For those who have seen those performances, we reproduced exactly the camera angles and lighting and we even added grain.” Some actual archival shots are also in the final film, she noted.

“Baz has created a movie that my parents love, and there’s also a new audience [for Elvis’ story],” Walker continued. “It’s that combination — trying to replicate that archival part of it but also make it something that appeals to all audiences. To make that visual language work—it’s introducing Elvis in a modern way to a new audience.”

Luhrmann elaborated, “We had to say what it was back then, but young people had to know what it felt like back then. So everything we did was what Elvis did. Bringing in older audiences, young audiences, all audiences, into the theater.” Noting that Elvis is currently the highest grossing non-franchise domestic film of the year with $151 million (and $286 worldwide), he added, “I think we have done something that Elvis would have tried to do too.”

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