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How ‘Elvis’ DP Mandy Walker Re-created Iconic Performances

Reteaming with Baz Luhrmann to make his audacious musical biopic Elvis, cinematographer Mandy Walker started with meticulous planning and testing to deliver the enduring singer’s most memorable performances to the large display screen.

The Warner Bros. image is at present one of many prime 10 highest-grossing motion pictures of the 12 months, with $286 million worldwide. And extra lately, Walker’s work on the film was chosen for the principle competitors of the Camerimage worldwide cinematography competition — a prestigious bellwether for the cinematography Oscar race — whose thirtieth version begins Nov. 12 in Torun, Poland.

Luhrmann and Walker (who beforehand lensed the director’s 2008 epic Australia and the Chanel No. 5 campaigns that featured Nicole Kidman and Gisele Bündchen) did meticulous analysis and testing earlier than manufacturing started. This concerned amassing and finding out historic references, from footage of Elvis’ reside Las Vegas performances to his 1968 “comeback particular” that aired on NBC. Luhrmann discovered archival materials from Elvis’ performances on the Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana, and 1956 present at Russwood Park in Memphis, Tennessee. “Russwood was documented by [noted Elvis photographer] Alfred Wertheimer, [and] he additionally took some 16 millimeter footage,” explains Walker.

With this reference materials in addition to well-known video clips as guides, Walker says that “Baz wished to breed these as intently as we presumably might. So, we spent loads of time finding out them and likewise understanding the precise digicam angles and lensing, after they’d zoom in and after they’d crane out, even the lighting cues and the lighting design of the Las Vegas Showroom.” Walker reveals that there’s some precise footage of the Showroom in that sequence. The film itself was shot on location and on phases in Australia.

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As a part of the set for the TV studio used within the scene with the ’68 particular, they went to extremes for authenticity. “We truly put considered one of our cameras within the housing of an previous TV digicam in order that we might have precisely the fitting angle on the proper time. And we arrange just a little monitor that we constructed into it to appear like one of many previous black-and-white displays,” she says. “So we might have it in-shot, but it surely was additionally capturing one of many angles that we have been replicating.”

Other than musical performances, Walker was additionally making a drama, ranging from Elvis’ early years in Mississippi and Memphis within the late ’50s to his loss of life in 1977. The cinematography “additionally needed to do with the American tradition that he grew up in and handed by way of and that influenced him. Additionally as a result of he’s such an iconic character and a part of American historical past himself, it’s how he affected American tradition, too,” says Walker. To that finish, she moreover examined visible references, from pictures to Elvis’ residence motion pictures, in addition to pictures of Memphis’ Beale Avenue and the work of photographers Gordon Parks and Saul Leiter for colour and tone.

The film was lensed with ARRI’s large-format Alexa 65 digicam. Says Walker, “It is a movie for the large display screen and we wished it to be epic. What higher format to shoot than 65 mil? It’s epic and his life was epic.”

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Prep additionally concerned a visit to Panavision, the place she and Luhrmann visited lens guru Dan Sasaki. “We ended up making two fairly bespoke lens units for the 2 time durations,” says Walker. Spherical lenses have been used for Elvis’ adolescence and anamorphic lenses have been used from the purpose when he arrives in Las Vegas.

Walker describes how Luhrmann works, involving all departments — together with artwork, costume, hair and make-up, cinematography — to get everybody on the identical web page. He was additionally diligent about lens testing forward of principal images and rehearsing, notably with Butler to rework the actor into Elvis within the performances.

For Walker, that began as early as Butler’s audition for the title position. She remembers, “When he did considered one of his first auditions, I used to be there and took the chance to take a look at the angles on his face to see the place he regarded most like Elvis and the way the lenses regarded.”

You’ll be able to take heed to the whole dialog in an episode of THR‘s Behind the Display screen.

This story first appeared within the Nov. 9 difficulty of The truestarz journal. Click on right here to subscribe.

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