Baz Luhrmann brought his elvis Roadshow to Poland on Monday night with a thunderous screening of the music biopic at the Camerimage film festival, followed by a raucous Q&A with his longtime DoP Mandy Walker. However, when Luhrmann spoke to Deadline the next day, he cut a more somber figure.
Dressed all in black, Luhrmann was in a self-reflective mode after spending the day with a group of young Ukrainian refugees who now call the city of Torun, the festival’s main hub, home.
“It was unexpectedly very emotional,” said Luhrmann, who wore a dazzling heart-shaped Ukrainian yellow and blue brooch pinned to his suit.
The trip was inspired by a short documentary he and Walker made at the festival by two Ukrainian filmmakers. The document, shown as part of the festival’s opening ceremony, contains the names and pictures of former Ukrainian filmmakers who have joined the country’s armed forces and are currently serving on the front lines.
“When you see people doing what we do, which is setting up cameras and putting dolly and setting up a mic and trying to pick up a story with guns, it kind of brings it all home,” the director said, before praising the effort Poland has pledged to support those fleeing the conflict.
“Poland’s generosity is on another level. We’re not talking about thousands, we’re talking about millions of people taking them up. And underneath that is this festival,” he added.
elvis is one of 12 titles in Camerimage’s main competition dedicated to the art of cinematography. The film is also Luhrmann’s latest collaboration with Walker, whom he described as his “joint at the hip DoP.”
Walker previously directed the director’s 2008 epic Australia and his Chanel no. 5 campaigns Nicole Kidman and Gisele Bundchen were famous in. As always, Walker followed suit elvis Early on, they shot audition tapes and designed a visual language for the film, a task made difficult by the couple’s desire to shoot inch-by-inch recreations of Elvis Presley’s most famous live performances.
As part of the process, Walker had special bespoke camera lenses made to fit images of Elvis from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, as well as effective but contemporary lighting fixtures. For the celebratory recreation of Elvis’ 1968 NBC “Comeback Special,” Walker had modern ARRI cameras installed in vintage TV ground cameras so that every camera angle could match the original broadcast.
“We replicated existing footage that anyone can view on the internet. And Austin was a perfect match for the real Elvis,” Walker said.
Luhrmann told Deadline that all of the film’s live performances were shot entirely, with Austin Butler doing entire on-screen concerts. The director said he would almost certainly release footage of these extended concerts at some point in the future, but he brushed off rumors that an extended theatrical version of the film was on the way.
“There is no four-hour cut. It’s a four-hour directors’ meeting and that just means we’re getting all the stuff together,” he said.
The Warner Bros. film is currently one of the highest-grossing films of the year worldwide, grossing $286 million worldwide, and during the film’s promotional campaign, Luhrmann has discussed the importance of the theatrical experience to his filmmaking practice.
Later Tuesday night, during a master class with local filmmakers in Torun, Luhrmann said he fought for the film during negotiations to keep it off streaming services and in cinemas.
“I’ve said I’ll withdraw this film if it streams direct,” Luhrmann said. “The promise was that it wouldn’t just be in one theater, but we would double the theater’s window.”
elvis was Luhrmann’s first return to feature film since 2013 The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. Next, however, he will move to the small screen with an expanded and reimagined series adaptation of his 2008 film Australia. The series will premiere on Disney streaming platforms as a six-part limited series, but Luhrmann told Deadline that he plans to return to theaters soon.
“I will return to filmmaking sooner than usual,” he said. “I don’t know why but maybe because I was shooting this film during the pandemic and it almost died. And we made it through the pandemic. It was the smoothest shoot we’ve ever had. It came on time and under budget, which is rare for me, so I feel energized.”