Before Baz Luhrmann could reinvent the musical with “Moulin Rouge,” he first had to rebuild the moviemaking machinery needed to produce his unique vision.
“In the old days, there used to be a system set up to make a musical,” says Luhrmann, who co-produced the pic with Fred Baron and Martin Brown. “Studios had a dance chorus on standby. You didn’t have to assemble one and keep them for weeks and weeks.”
But that’s exactly what Luhrmann set out to do in his native Australia. Even before he could hire a choreographer for his newly constructed troupe, though, he had to secure the song rights to several modern classics.
Making the process of obtaining music even more complicated was that “much of the music we used was written by people who are now dead and their songs are owned by very powerful music publishing companies.”
After months of negotiations, which included personal visits to Elton John and Dolly Parton, the soundtrack was finally confirmed.
With the infrastructure in place for filming, Luhrmann found new challenges, especially when star Nicole Kidman broke ribs and injured her knee during a dance number. The film ran slightly over its $45 million budget and missed its initial Christmas delivery date.
“All of my films are high risk, high concept and relatively low budget; in other words, all the worst aspects for a producer,” he says. “Not to exaggerate, but every aspect of this movie was more difficult than we had ever imagined. It’s an extraordinary event for this level of creativity to have survived.”