Baz Luhrmann on His Process, ‘The Master and Margarita,’ What’s Next



Baz Luhrmann has discovered a surprising result of his stint as head of jury at the Red Sea Film Festival: empathy for film critics.

“I’ve never done this before. I’ve never been forced to sit and watch three to four movies a day,” Luhrmann tells Variety. “It’s given me more compassion for those journalists and people on juries. And I don’t mean in a bad way, because I’ve got unbelievable energy from it. And it’s not easy — just the amount of movies you see. But it’s really, really stimulating. I’ve been reminded that, actually, movies can be really powerful and really good.”

The movies have also provided Luhrmann with an argument for his decision, not without controversy, to participate in the festival. “When people talk about the Red Sea Festival, my answer is really simple. Go and see the movies, then come and talk to me about what’s going on here,” he says. “The level of filmmaking is pretty amazing, some truly astounding … but I cannot believe the subjects and the power and the messaging and the kind of points of view that I’m sitting with audiences watching here in Jeddah.”

Below, Luhrmann speaks with Variety about his filmmaking process, gives an update on his “The Master and Margarita” adaptation and shares what’s next for him.

So you’re in your post-“Elvis” period. Are you working on something?

I’m actually going through my process. I’m working on a variety of things that are not cinema, some theater. I’m not yet articulating it. Not because I’m trying to hide anything — it’s that the moment I say it, I’ve really got to do it. In my mind, anyway. I’ve made myself a deadline that by the end of the year, I will be committed to what I’m going to do. Because I never make [films] that often and when I do they take years, so that’s one decision that you cannot get wrong. Well, you probably shouldn’t get casting wrong. You probably need to do a good job with the script, but the one that you cannot get wrong is the decision of which project to do. Because then you’re stuck with it, asking, “Why did I go down this road?”

Has that ever happened to you?

That’s a good question. Halfway through, you always feel that in a way. Because I mean, I live them: I live my movies. I had an office in Graceland for 18 months. When I did “Gatsby,” I lived Fitzgerald’s life. There’s not a square inch of Long Island I didn’t understand. It’s not just me. It’s myself and my team: it’s a method process. And that’s part of the joy and the fun. I could live inside the world of the movies we are making forever. So, actually no. I think with “The Get Down,” it took me a long time to realize that there are no half measures. There’s no such thing, for me, as “a sprinkle of magic dust.” There is no magic and it’s not dust. There’s no sprinkling. I’m just completely in, or I’m completely out.

The adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita” has been long rumored.

That book has followed me around since “Romeo + Juliet.” It’s weaved in and out of my life. I can tell you stories, but I don’t have time. I’m not saying that “M&M” — that’s what we call it — is the one I’ll end up making after all. But I can’t tell you how many times people say, “You should do that story.” It would be disingenuous of me to say that it’s not something that I constantly or I consistently brush up against.

Would you consider it your dream project?

No, no, I just don’t think like that. I think about, “How’s it going to make the life I need to live now enriched? How am I going to actually get something out of doing this and grow from it? What’s really worth putting out there?” And maybe it could be something so unexpected, and so not me or so… whatever.

Have you been inspired by your experience at Red Sea Film Festival?

Before I agreed to this, I came in a very low key way and spent real time here. I went down to AlUa. I met with a lot of filmmakers, and there’s a huge number of female filmmakers. Mainly because one of the early heroes was Haifaa al-Mansour, the young woman who bravely went out and made a movie. And she’s become an inspiration for a lot of other young female storytellers. Awesome, just awesome. In fact, the numbers in this territory are crazy compared to what they are in Hollywood in terms of representation. And 70% of the country is under 35. They’re going to claim their future. One thing’s for sure, it’s gonna change, so get out of the way.


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