Baz Luhrmann: 'The Get Down' Isn't TV's Most Expensive Series Ever

The Get Down Casting Shot - H 2015
Courtesy of Netflix

The Get Down Casting Shot - H 2015

Baz Luhrmann wants everyone to know that his upcoming Netflix hip-hop drama The Get Down is an expensive show — but it isn't TV's highest.

Talking with The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday following the drama's panel at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour stop, Luhrmann addressed both the multiple production delays that have forced the streaming giant to unspool only the first half of the show's 12-episode season in August as well as the series' overall budget, which has been reported to be around $120 million.

"I heard The Crown was the most expensive show ever made, that's what someone told me," Luhrmann told THR. "Yes, it took longer and it's been more difficult than I imagined. As for the number, it wasn't cheap. But I don't think it's the most expensive show. I think it's on the high end of storytelling."

The Get Down focuses on 1970s New York — broken down and beaten up, violent, cash-strapped, dying. Consigned to rubble, a rag-tag crew of South Bronx teenagers are nothings and nobodies with no one to shelter them — except each other, armed only with verbal games, improvised dance steps, some magic markers and spray cans. From Bronx tenements to the SoHo art scene, from CBGBs to Studio 54 and even the glass towers of the just-built World Trade Center, The Get Down is a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, punk and disco — told through the lives and music of the South Bronx kids who changed the city and the world … forever.

Making his television series debut, Moulin Rouge! writer-director-producer Luhrmann helmed the premiere and executive produces the Sony Pictures TV drama. Academy Award winner Catherine Martin (Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge!) will serve as costume and production designer. She joins fellow executive producers Paul Watters (Australia), Thomas Kelly (Copper), playwright Stephen Adley Guirgis (Motherf***er With the Hat) and Nas. It is Luhrmann's first musical endeavor since Moulin Rouge!

Luhrmann noted that Shawn Ryan — who had been set to serve as showrunner on the series — ultimately exited the project because of its large scope as well as the scheduling delays, which he attributed to efforts to ensure accuracy and the filming limitations of his young cast.

"I thought that I would work with some terrific people — Shawn Ryan is a terrific guy — and he tried very hard, but the truth is that at a certain point, there was no precedent for how you make such a music-driven show," said Luhrmann. "Ultimately, right now, I ultimately was asked to take the position of being responsible for everything and yes, I am responsible for everything, including saying we have to stop and get it right. … We would start doing it [shooting] and I was being asked to get more involved because it was either not working or it had to be re-engineered. Getting the music to be part of the script as opposed to wallpaper, you think that's maybe a normal process but it's actually a complicated thing. We had to get a certain amount done and we'd have to stop because we had to get it right."

He singled out one scene in particular that hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash — an associate producer on The Get Down — flagged for its lack of accuracy.

"One scene where they're doing the DJing, Flash came and said that it wasn't right. I wasn't on the set at the time and I said, well, how can that be? They hadn't actually used the music — they didn't put the music on — and that was odd," said Luhrmann. "Flash said, 'We'll get destroyed out there in the hip-hop community,' and I said we'd reshoot it. I went back and I lobbied to say that we have to get it right. Because it's not my story. Because this is a living history. I owe it to this community that has let me in to make sure we do everything we can to make sure that we are honorable and do the very best we can to tell their story and curate their stories."

As for the multiple production delays, Luhrmann noted that other music-themed shows like Glee and Empire can stay on track because the scope of those broadcast shows doesn't really compare with the world building and incredible detail of The Get Down. "One of the differences is that probably the scope and scale of The Get Down — it expands even more than the first six episodes," he said. "All my leads were minors — the lead characters — were young kids. The complexity of that [with the limitations of child labor laws on set] and they had to learn how to rap, dance … you'd be on the set for five minutes, then off you go with teaching and schooling."

While it's too soon to tell if The Get Down will make it to a second season — early buzz has been very mixed — Luhrmann hopes the series continues.  

"A second season would be the '80s," he said. "On a creative level, it would be wildly exciting. … I'm getting old, isn't it time for me to retire? I'm never going to abandon the show. I want this show to do what we set out to do — to honor those kids. … I want everyone who gave so much to this to be rewarded, and a second season would be a good thing, but it has to be done in a way in which there's no dropping quality."

The first half of The Get Down premieres Aug. 12. Watch the trailer, below.