Where to start with Baz Luhrmann?
Australia’s most successful director is a polarising character. His most recent blockbuster, Elvis, has captured the hearts of boomers everywhere, and grossed a frankly frightening $286 million USD at the box office.
Hot off the back of the release, still on awards tours, Luhrmann is on a mission to “give back” to the young and uninspired, through a campaign with Bombay Sapphire, called “Saw This, Made This”. The basic idea is to get creative, find inspiration, take a picture, and use the power of the internet to get it out there. And just like that, your shitty iPhone photos could be featured on public display at the Design Museum in London.
But adrift a sea of banality, how does one find inspiration? Where, between the glittering peaks and abysmal troughs of everyday life, can we actualise creativity? How do you know if you have what it takes?
Nobody knows. But the enigmatic director is probably the best person to ask. So we did.
VICE: So, Baz, tell me about your partnership with Bombay Sapphire and the ‘Saw This, Made This’ campaign.
Baz Luhrmann: What did you say?
Tell me about yo-
You look great by the way. Love your look and your picture, it’s great.
Oh, thank you so much.
You’ve got a nice shot going on.
Yeah, love the hair, love the little clips, it’s very cool. What was your question?
Can you tell me a bit about the campaign you’re doing?
It's easy. I'm still in the middle of Elvis, we’ve still got the award season. We're gonna go to the American Music Awards and all that kind of stuff. So I wouldn’t say mop up, there's still a phase to go. I'm running around for months doing that. And I thought, well, I've just got to a certain age, I'm not sure what I'll do.
But can I give something back? And I've had a relationship with Bombay Sapphire. I do like a good Martini. So, what about if there's a sort of call to arms to say to people who literally go ‘I'm not creative’. Or a young person in an oppressed country. I grew up in a very small country town, where I think I had to be creative just to move through time and space in my own mind, you know?
And say, if you see something around you that you like the look of, even if it seems ordinary, or every day, be inspired by it, make something, send it. We live in a world where people can now just get to you – they can be in a country in the Middle East or, well, I shouldn't pick on the Middle East, they can be here in the Goldie, right?
But send it. It doesn't have to be a film just because I'm a filmmaker. But that would be good. It can be this sweater, it can be this coffee cup, or rearrange the furniture in your room or change something. Act! Have agency upon the life around you, and show us it. And then I've got the firepower to put light on it. And next year, we'll be doing exhibitions at metropolises around the world. We're working with the London School of Design and some institutions. It's just really a platform. I was very lucky, young, to be given support and had doors opened for creativity. So this is kind of a commercial way of opening a door.
If the money’s there, why not?
Why not? You could do an elaborate ad that says ‘gin’ or you can actually say, well, it's a great gin, right? It really is. But also, we're going to use that to allow someone to make something and it be seen.
Very cool. I was wondering what creativity means to you?
I think we create because only we know the inside of us. And we are lonely if it gets stuck there. So one of the worst things – maybe the worst thing is loneliness, and loss. So, creating, no matter how small that is, whether that's just rearranging your bedroom or the way you're doing your eyes or the way you've composed your shot – the choices you make, they’re creative choices. They might be influenced by style and all that, but by doing that, having that agency upon the world around you, it makes you feel not alone.
And we're living in a world now where, after the pandemic and the war in Europe, nobody knows anything. We feel extra alone or extra discombobulated. So it's very good giving yourself permission just to make things.
To express things through making is a very good way of owning one of the very few things we can own. And that is our sense of self.
That’s beautiful. What’s the most crucial step of your creative process? How do you go?
That's easy. The first one. And the first one for me is, I only have one selfish gesture in all the things I make, and that is, I go ‘what does my life need to be like now?’. ‘What does my life need to feel like?’.
And then I don't go ‘wouldn't it be a great career move to make a film about Elvis?’. I don't go ‘ballroom dancing, what a fantastic career move’. Because they're not, you know, nobody begged me to make a Shakespeare. But I went, ‘wouldn't it be amazing to live in the world of Shakespeare and wonder what that was like, and loving him?’ or, ‘gee, the south and Elvis is a canvas for America, I could get lost in America in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and maybe understand where we are more by doing it, and that would be an adventure’.
So I'm always looking for some kind of life adventure. I probably am a restless soul in that regard.
Sounds like you’ll have an idea and be like, ‘let’s fuck about and find out’.
Yeah, and I think that's what the initiative is about. Someone says, ‘I'm a designer’, or ‘I'm a singer’, and that's good. And others go, ‘well, I'm not because somebody didn't tell me I was, I'm not a potter or I can't arrange my room because I'm not an interior designer’.
But actually do it. And then be even more fearless. Be prepared to confront embarrassment, even. Say, ‘that's mine, I did it, it's me’. And then you're not going to be that lonely. It empowers. You might still be lonely, but it'll empower you.
Gorgeous. I want to ask you about your TikTok. That's definitely a place where people are putting themselves out there. And you're quite prolific. How do you approach your TikTok content?
Well, I'm glad you say it because one: I think I'm not really prolific and two: I recognised when I was doing Elvis that one of the most important things was we had to really introduce Austin [Butler]. He was unknown pretty much before the movie, but we had to introduce him to the audience and, in a way, make him. I knew what we had in Austin. But we had a giant challenge. And that was older audiences. Older audiences weren't coming to the movies and younger audiences didn't really care about Elvis, and why should they, he’s just a guy in a white suit as far as they’re concerned. But in Austin, we had the true spirit of the journey of Elvis, and I wanted to make sure we got that out there.
What blew my mind about TikTok is that it's so democratic. Like, you put stuff out there, and anybody can take it and make stuff. And the things that were coming back were more interesting than even the stuff we were making.
I was like, ‘wow, that is so fascinating. I would never have thought of it that way’. And it's so freeform. So I've started to use it. One of the things I like about it is, I don't really need the personal recognition, because, you know, I've been around a long time. But a lot of things are said and I do really respect the fans and the audience. Because we make the shows for them and their passion.
I was a fan. When I was young, I was the audience. So I like being able to speak to them directly and say, ‘hey, this is going to happen’, or ‘this is going to come out’ – just to clarify things.
When you were an audience member, who were your inspirations? What inspired you?
I grew up in a very isolated place. Elvis was in there. David Bowie was a huge influence of mine, huge. What I loved about Bowie, who later in life I worked with and much later in life became a great friend, was that he had the wisdom to recognise that as a musical icon he should change character. So he didn't get caught in the one mask of the music iconography that he was. And Elvis sort of had the opposite problem. He was so tired of playing the character of Elvis Presley.
That's what I think I've been imbued with somewhat on my own road, to keep changing character, to keep going for different worlds and go to different places. I’m not just doing happy go lucky comedies. I think that's a road less travelled. That's who I am. I'm not judging anyone who goes to the road most travelled. But the road less travelled, you're gonna find something, not just about what’s down the road. But more importantly, something about yourself.