Filmmaker Baz Luhrmann is famous for music mélanges that don’t pay undue heed to being period-specific, all the way back to “Romeo + Juliet,” which mixed Radiohead with Mozart, on up through “Moulin Rouge” and, now, “Elvis.” So when a new Doja Cat track, “Vegas,” shows up on the soundtrack in the middle of a late 1950s scene, veteran moviegoers no longer blink … and younger ones may just receive it intuitively.

“Whether it’s the right choice or the wrong, that music is such a big part of these films whose subjects are not guaranteed winners at the box office,” said Luhrmann, who participated in a keynote conversation as part of Variety’s Music for Screens Summit. Referring to past films such as “The Great Gatsby,” “Strictly Dancing” and “Romeo + Juliet,” Luhrmann said, “Audiences aren’t going, ‘I must see a 100-year-old book,’ or ballroom dancing, or Shakespeare. ‘Can’t wait to put a new wing on the studio because we’ve got a Shakespeare coming!’ And with ‘Elvis,’ there was so much fear that older audiences wouldn’t come out, but pretty much 100% guarantee that younger audiences wouldn’t. And our biggest constituency has been older audiences and 15- and 16 year-olds! That’s a lot to do with music.”

Added Luhrmann, “A lot of the contemporary tracks, and obviously the Doja cut, helped us greatly. But what’s really amazing is that all of the first half of the movie is sung by Austin Butler, and that is what (the teenaged fans) really go for. I mean, for this year’s Halloween, instead of the (usual) Elvis costume, which is always the white one that you buy in the plastic bag with the gold glasses, so many young girls dressed up as as (young) Elvis in the pink suit. Now, if you’re asking me did I plan that and did I know that was gonna happen, I can categorically tell you: absolutely not.”

Anton Monsted, who has worked as a music supervisor with Luhrmann for nearly 30 years (and is affectionately called “Monty” or “Mont” by the filmmaker), was also part of the keynote talk, and speaks to some of the practical matters of licensing music, old and new. “When we were working on ‘Moulin Rouge,’ the idea of the mashup wasn’t an established thing. It wasn’t like you could call up a music publisher and say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do a mashup with seven tracks. What do you think?'”

For the Music for Screens conversation, Luhrmann sings his way through the “Moulin Rouge” “Elephant Love Medley” to illustrate it for the viewing audience — and Monsted remembers how this was a regular thing at the time, when they were first trying to license the music for “Moulin.”

“That was such a new concept, that when we approached the music publishers,” says Monsted, “we met with everybody, and Baz acted out not just the ‘Elephant Love Medley’ but the whole film. And we got a real helping hand from Elton John very early on, on ‘Your Song.” He said, ‘I’ll help you with getting a good rate on “Your Song,” and you can shame everybody else into into matching that rate.’ And I think without that, it would’ve been a difficult mountain to climb on ‘Moulin Rouge.’”

Nowadays, on a film like “Elvis,” everyone knows what to expect, but still, says Monsted: “Even now, you want creativity to be your guiding light, but you’re constantly thinking, ‘I’m gonna have to come clean with the music publishers about how complex this whole menu is.’”

That’s evident literally from the opening moments of “Elvis.” Says Luhrmann, “We look upon it as opera. I was just reviewing one opening cue in ‘Elvis,’ and in that opening cue, we quote no less than four or five key Elvis tracks. In the beginning of the movie, we have this really obscure Elvis song called ‘Sandman’s Coming’ [actually, a song called “Cotton Candy Land” that includes that line as a lyric]. That was from one of his not-very-well-known movies. But we also have ‘American Trilogy,’ ‘Suspicious Minds,’ ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ all in the opening. So they’re treated like opera (motifs).

“And the thing I’m getting at is, it is never done to have a groovy soundtrack,” the director continues. “Of course, you know, when Jay-Z and I and did ‘Gatsby,’ it’s great to have a very successful soundtrack. But you see, (when F. Scott) Fitzgerald wrote in his novel (about) jazz, it was an edgy Black street music.'” When it came to replacing it with hip-hop and other 21st century music for the film, “people will say, ‘Why are you doing that? It’s a fad, it’ll be over.’ Now, as much as I like trad-jazz from that period, it’s nostalgic. So working with Jay-Z, we said, ‘Well, how do we make a young audience understand what it felt like? Not just what it was, but what it felt like emotionally. And that’s why we do it.”

Interpolating Lieber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog” — first recorded by Big Mama Thornton — with Doja Cat’s “Vegas” during a ’50s scene has plenty of method to the madness. “We used Doja to rap, to translate the language of ‘Hound Dog’ at the time, which was very confronting, sexualized language, but the younger audiences just don’t get that. It’s charming. So we use that as a translation over the track, right? … Younger audiences really use that as an in to understand what it meant when Big Mama Thornton was singing, ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog.’ Because that song is really, ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog. You are exploiting all the time. You exploit me, and then you go out and exploit a whole lot of other people and come back scratching at my door and expect some (more) exploiting.’ And until Doja translates, you don’t get it.”

Other Elvis songs proved useful in other parts of the film, used by Luhrmann not just to establish period but to echo character issues. “Each character and each emotion has an identifiable Elvis song and theme,” the director pointed out. “So while we use ‘Suspicious Minds’ as a needle drop and while we see it being performed as you would expect, it’s used all the way through the movie as tension between the Colonel and Elvis, just like in an opera. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is about the severing of the relationship between Elvis’s mom, Gladys, and Elvis. And we do that using gospel choirs that we recorded in the South. So it really does come from operatic use. … It’s difficult for ‘Elvis,’ because we know going in it’ll never be nominated for score, even though there’s a lot of original score music in it. It’s just that we go out of our way to use these emotional cues and we wanted to use as much of Elvis’ music as possible.”

For as many months as “Elvis” has been out, Luhrmann is not done working on the music. He has a scoop: more is on the way for 2023. Or maybe it’s not a surprise, if you’ve followed his soundtracking history.

“I don’t think we’ve ever done a movie where we haven’t had a sequel soundtrack,” the director says. “You need to get the touchdown music out there that is the souvenir, the music that you immediately remember in those key scenes, but then there’s all this other music. … For the film to be the No. 1 original movie this year means that we have the backing from the label and the studio to spend more time, and next year I hope we can deliver the fans something really special.”

Watch the full conversation above.