EXCLUSIVE: As Warner Bros Pictures continues to find its footing under new management, the studio on Thursday secured the services of a cornerstone filmmaker, signing a first-look deal with its Elvis director-writer-producer Baz Luhrmann.
The deal was made by Warner Bros. Pictures Group co-chairs and CEOs Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy. This comes on the heels of eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture that the film received Tuesday. Already the top-grossing original film in the Oscar crop with $151 million domestic and $287 million worldwide — the second-highest musical biopic gross worldwide — Elvis is poised to build that number further as the film returns to theaters across North America this weekend for a limited engagement.
For Luhrmann, the result is particularly satisfying in that it was the first major movie to be pulled off line at the start of the Covid pandemic; it fades in memory, but Tom Hanks was the first major movie star to come down with the virus days before shooting (Deadline’s scoop on that was our most trafficked story ever). Hanks recovered, and soon every production in Hollywood shuttered as the world self-quarantined. Luhrmann held the production together, and the down time allowed him to further hone the film, and for Best Actor nominee Austin Butler to live in the skin of the iconic Presley for a good long time.
“Baz Luhrmann is one of the most singular filmmakers in modern cinema, and we couldn’t be more excited to announce that Warner Bros. is continuing our association with him,” De Luca and Abdy said. “The massive success of Elvis, which helped drive audiences of all ages and a whole new generation back to theaters, proves Baz remains ahead of the curve and at the forefront of the pop culture zeitgeist. He not only continues to evolve the film medium, but he also creates a big screen experience that is truly like no other. He is a one-of-a-kind artist who has established his own cinematic language inherent in every project he takes on, extending to the music he infuses into his work, and we not only congratulate him on this week’s eight Oscar nominations, but also look forward to our future endeavors together on the big screen.”
Luhrmann has long been a cutting-edge filmmaker with a singularly visceral visual skill and a nose for talent, evident in everything from Strictly Ballroom to reigniting the musical with the Nicole Kidman-starrer Moulin Rouge!, to blowing the dust off a Shakespeare classic with Romeo + Juliet, which helped launched Leonardo DiCaprio to superstardom. He also directed the Kidman- and Hugh Jackman-starrer Australia and The Great Gatsby with DiCaprio. Luhrmann has always breathed the contemporary into period fare, Elvis Presley with Doja Cat, much as he did with the Jazz Age The Great Gatsby via Jay-Z and rising star Lana Del Rey. His musical collaborators have included David Bowie, Elton John and Måneskin, and his soundtracks have garnered multiple Grammy nominations. After choosing Butler over numerous contenders for the Elvis role, Butler is fast emerging as an A-list actor.
Under the new deal, Luhrmann will develop and direct original feature material, but is able to direct outside projects as well.
Aside from his screen work, Moulin Rouge! The Musical won 10 Tony Awards (the most of the 2019-2020 season), adding to the two Tonys garnered by Luhrmann’s production of Puccini’s opera La Bohème on Broadway in 2003. On the TV series front, he collaborated with Netflix on the 2016 series The Get Down, based the formation of hip-hop in 1970s South Bronx, and Faraway Downs, a six-part Hulu series reimagining 2008’s Australia.
Lurhmann is represented by Robert Newman at WME and Bob Wallerstein at Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof + Fishman LLP.
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