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In 2012 there were reports that Prince would contribute to the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s then-in-the-works The Great Gatsby. But when the film and its soundtrack were released in 2013, Prince’s music was nowhere to be found.
So what happened?
At a Tribeca Q&A on Saturday with author Nelson George, his collaborator on the upcoming Netflix series The Get Down, Luhrmann revealed that despite working hard on a collaboration, he and Prince were never able to get the song into the Great Gatsby film and soundtrack.
“In one of the great sadnesses that I’ve been reminded of with the passing of Prince is that on Gatsby … I was working with Prince on a song for Gatsby and it was a reimagined version of a song he did with Martika called ‘Love … Thy Will Be Done’ and it was going to be a major piece in [the film],” the filmmaker explained. “And we did work on it. He was in Australia touring and we did some work there. We did further work on it. In fact, we worked on it a lot. And there just came a moment when — it’s a co-owned piece and he couldn’t quite get it released. And at that stage I had to make another decision, so I went and worked with Lana Del Rey to do the piece we did.”
Luhrmann previously worked with Prince on a rearranged “When Doves Cry” for the wedding scene in Romeo + Juliet.
The 1996 film features a choir boy singing an a capella gospel version of Prince’s hit, something Luhrmann said he wrote into the script based on him knowing that in Shakespeare’s time it was not uncommon to put a popular song in the play and use it to advance the story.
“I never thought of getting it,” he added, explaining that he reached out to Prince and said he wanted to use the song. “At that time it was just a moment of, ‘Yeah that sounds like a good idea’ and I got a lot of good support and he said yes.”
Luhrmann also explained why he chose to rework “When Doves Cry” for that scene.
“What I wanted to signal to our audience was you could take something you knew and interpret it in a different way,” he said. “We said, ‘What if you took that iconic dance track and made it into this pure, religious wedding song?’ So it’s looking at something, turning it over, using it and interpreting it in a different way.
“Working with him, he is what he appears to be: one of a kind,” Luhrmann said of the artist who died Thursday. “There’s only one Prince, and it’s a great sadness that he’s no longer with us.”
Luhrmann and George also shared inside scoop and teased plot points from The Get Down.
The 13-episode series, the first half of which is set to begin streaming on Aug. 12, tells what Luhrmann called the “pre-history” of hip-hop as it emerged from New York in the late 1970s by following a group of South Bronx teens as they interact with actors playing real hip-hop pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. Flash and Kurtis Blow also have been involved in the production of the series.
On Saturday night at Tribeca, Luhrmann revealed that Nas is a producer on The Get Down and has been working on rhymes with them for one of the characters, who goes on to be “a successful rap star in the ‘90s,” performing at Madison Square Garden. That character narrates the series through rap, Luhrmann said.
“It’s somewhere between pure rap, narration and Greek chorus comment,” the writer-director explained. “We use it a lot throughout it. We weren’t sure about it when we began, but we can’t do without it now.”
The trailer for the series, which debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and also was played during Saturday’s Tribeca event, shows a group of teens learning about DJing from Grandmaster Flash while Herizon Guardiola’s character is an aspiring disco singer at a time when disco is dominant. When one of the audience members pointed out later that Guardiola looks like Irene Cara, Luhrmann confirmed they were influenced by the “Flashdance … What a Feeling” singer in creating Guardiola’s character. He also pointed out that among the actors playing real historical figures, someone plays late ‘70s New York City mayor Ed Koch.
The trailer features a number of dance sequences, and George revealed that while filming those scenes, Luhrmann would act as a DJ or emcee, keeping the crowd hyped up.
“So there are dancers and he’s on the mic, ‘Yo, yo, yo! Let’s go!’ giving high-energy [encouragement] all night, for hours,” said George. “It’s like he’s a DJ or an MC of a party at his own shoot. …’That girl in the red dress, let’s go!'”
Luhrmann explained that he tries to create an authentic party environment, hoping that if he’s “fearless,” others will be too. George said creating that atmosphere might have helped one of the characters, Cadillac, the guy in the white suit dancing in the trailer, magically transform into John Travolta one night.
Like other Luhrmann productions, the series weaves in music throughout, with the songs advancing the plot and the characters’ emotional state. In addition to the already reported collaborators, Luhrmann said The Get Down has a vast list of musical contributors, including many well-known names.
He explained how the music helps the story by discussing one of the scenes in the series, which he said he was working on the night before the talk.
“This is something that music can do that drama can’t quite do in the same way, in that you can have two or three characters or two or three storylines where the music is allowing them to cross-fertilize each other,” Luhrmann explained. “One character is desperately trying to find his bootleg tape and the other character has writer’s block trying to write a disco song and he’s taking copious amounts of drugs and banging his head against the piano. Musically, we bind these two things together, but what are they both sharing? Desperation. Two characters, two storylines, one emotional state. The banging of the piano, there’s the underlying rhythmic score and this kind of repetitive tune to this other musical drama of him searching for the cassette.”
George said entering the world of Baz Luhrmann on The Get Down was a new experience as the writers weren’t composing scripts as much as they were writing text, incorporating music into the plan for the show. He even got a copy of the Moulin Rouge script to understand how that worked.
Luhrmann also calls his scripts “maps,” leading them somewhere unprecedented, he explained.
“Everything on The Get Down, whatever we thought we were getting into, it’s like every corner is a surprise. There is no precedent for what we’re making,” he said. “The text is a map. It’s a very, very evolved map. The way I like to describe it is: Where I tend to want to go, it’s like Columbus and America, we kind of know it’s out there, across the ocean somewhere, we’ve got this map, someone drew it. Let’s get a crew together and some supplies and wish us luck. …Where I tend to want to go, there is no real precedent for it.”
But after venturing into uncharted territory with The Get Down, Luhrmann said he’s “temped to retire” after working on such a demanding project.
“The Get Down, not in a negative way, is the most absorbing [project],” he said. “Last night I was working on [episode] four and Sunday I’ll be talking about, ‘How’s [episode] 12 going to end?’ So you’re at any given moment in all parts of the process.”
Luhrmann’s wife and collaborator Catherine Martin, who took the stage to answer an audience question at the end of the talk, also offered a fun revelation about The Get Down: “There’s a cake in every episode.”
Luhrmann explained it’s an unfortunately literal interpretation of him saying he needs an object that provides symbolic meaning, adding, “I don’t mean this, but something like a cake.” Unfortunately, his team only hears the cake part. Martin joked that there’s now a contest, as they’re editing the episodes, as to who can first spot the cake. Ironically, Luhrmann said he doesn’t even like the dessert.
Watch the trailer for The Get Down below.
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