Interview – ‘Elvis’ producer, Schuyler Weiss on transforming the Gold Coast into Las Vegas

From Oscar-nominated visionary filmmaker Baz Luhrmann comes Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “Elvis”, starring Austin Butler and Oscar winner Tom Hanks. The film explores the life and music of Elvis Presley (Butler), seen through the prism of his complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Hanks).  The story delves into the complex dynamic between Presley and Parker spanning over 20 years, from Presley’s rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom, against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and loss of innocence in America.  Central to that journey is one of the most significant and influential people in Elvis’s life, Priscilla Presley (Olivia DeJonge).

Thanks to the team at Warner Bros. Australia, I had the opportunity to chat via phone with one of the film’s producers, Schuyler Weiss. Schuyler spoke about starting his career as Baz Luhrmann’s assistant, before his journey producing independent films led him to work alongside Baz on Elvis!

Nick: Schuyler, thank you so much for your time today and congratulations on the film!

Schuyler: No worries.

Nick: I was at the premiere on the Gold Coast, which was an incredible event…

Schuyler: That was such a great night.

Nick: It really was, and I’m excited to talk to you about the film. Obviously, it’s always exciting to have films this big be produced and premiere here in Australia. But as a South-East Queensland boy myself, it’s even more exciting knowing that this film was made close to where I live. What was the moment you, Baz and the team realised the Gold Coast was going to be home to Elvis?

Schuyler: [laughs] Well, with the Gold Coast, in terms of Vegas, we were already halfway there! That was a no-brainer! I think it happened in two ways. We had built a lot of interior sets at Village Roadshow Studios, but we also built the entire exterior of Graceland on a large property or built 5 blocks of Beale Street on council land just outside the city. Those transformations are classic Baz [Luhrmann] and Catherine [Martin]. For me, the moment I knew this would work wasn’t with the transformations or the sets, or production design – it was much more about the people. 

I’ve worked for Baz for almost 20 years, and BazMark productions make all their films in Australia, with the exception of Romeo and Juliet being made overseas. It’s always been very Sydney oriented, so the Gold Coast was a new experience for us. There was just something that clicked about the filmmaking and creative environment of that city, and it’s not just limited to movies either! There’s something about the cultural scene that we really wanted to be in the centre of because it feels like it’s becoming the creative hub of Australia. 

That’s why we’ve decided to stick around here, you know. BazMark has its base in Mermaid Beach and I relocated my family to the Gold Coast and I know the Luhrmann’s are renting a place in Miami. It was such a great moment that we really doubled down on our commitment to have Queensland and the Gold Coast for our collective creative future.

LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 31: Schuyler Weiss and Danielle McFall attend the “Elvis” UK Special Screening at BFI Southbank on May 31, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage )

Nick: Baz mentioned in his interview that this film wasn’t just about Elvis Presley, but it’s a time capsule of American in the 50s, 60s and 70s. What was it about this era that you felt would make such an interesting cinematic story, aside from the fact that it was the life story of arguably the world’s biggest rockstar?

Schuyler: Yeah, Baz has definitely spoken about how the biographical nature of the film was a canvas in which we found a way to extrapolate and strip back that cultural story. It is the intersection of music and culture, you can look at how the evolution – the musical shift that Elvis created, how he ended up on the stage in Vegas and the scale of those shows. On that arc, you can map this massive cultural trajectory in America too. It also speaks to the moment we’re in right now, comparing the meteoric rise of Elvis with the meteoric rise of American pop-culture now in 2022. So, looking at that arc of how America changed with the rise of Elvis just seems very similar to now.

Nick: It’s so interesting how history can repeat itself in that way, and on history, I’d love to know what you past with Elvis was like before coming on board this project? Were you a fan or somewhat familiar with his personal life?

Schuyler: I would say I had an ‘average’ engagement with Elvis, and I think that’s what’s been really exciting about sharing this movie with people, is that I really identify with the feedback we’re getting from early screenings. There’s people saying that they thought they knew Elvis, or saying they feel like they’re learned about the real Elvis. I mean, I was familiar with Elvis as ‘the icon’, which is a debased currency because of his ubiquity in society that’s it’s hard to see beyond that. To go on this journey with Baz and especially with Austin, and his incredible ability to not just recreate his performances but also his craft and the way he was able to reveal the humanity of Elvis. You know, in all of his beauty and brilliance, but his imperfections too. That was such a revelation for me, to really understand Elvis in a deeper, more three-dimensional way. And I hope that’s what we can do with audiences, that they find out more below the surface of the icon.

Nick: My final question is actually inspired by the fact that I’m a fan of the movie you produced not long ago called Piercing.

Schuyler: Oh wow! [laughs]

Nick: [laughs] I’m not sure how often people bring that movie up, but I had an enjoyable disturbing time watching that at the cinema! But my question is about your journey from working as a production assistant for Baz Luhrmann, moving into producing independent films, and now working alongside Baz on a major Hollywood picture. How did this all come about for you?

Schuyler: Yeah, I spent 5 years working as Baz’s assistant while he was making Australia. My college education sort of came through by working as his assistant on the amazing journey we had making Australia. Coming out of that, I knew I wanted to make and produce movies, but you have to walk before you can run. I went to New York, which is arguably the robust centre of making independent movies in America, and I just started doing it! I made a few small to mid-budget films and had an incredible run with two or three movies going into Sundance [Film Festival], including Piercing. I really learned how to produce a movie with $200,000, or $1million or $10milllion. I always remained very close with Baz and continued to work within his world, even when I wasn’t full time with the company. And five years ago, it felt like the right time to go back into Baz’s world full-time and I jumped at the opportunity and began to work on Elvis with Baz.

Nick: Well, there’s no better movie to jump in on than this one! I know you have a crazy, world-wide tour ahead of you but I wanted to thank you so much for your time. Congratulations again on the film and I hope to talk to you again soon.

Schuyler: Thank you so much. I hope so too!

Thank you so much to the amazing team at Warner Bros. Australia for giving me the chance to chat all things Elvis with Schuyler Weiss. Check out my interview with Elvis star Olivia DeJonge here! Elvis is in Australian cinemas June 23.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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