Catherine Martin Talks Bringing ‘Elvis’ to Life Through Costumes and Production Design
Costume designer, production designer and producer Catherine Martin and her collaborators helped bring Baz Lurhmann’s husband ‘Elvis” visually magnificent story to life, building the iconic sets in Australia, including Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion.
He also made more than 90 costumes for Austin Butler’s Elvis, a mix of re-creations and fictional outfits, and over 9000 costumes for the film in total. Won the Costume Designers Guild Award
nomination for the project and received three Academy Award nominations for her work on the film, including outstanding costume designer, production design and producer.
Here, she talks about how “The Wizard of Oz” influenced her, as well as Luhrmann’s respect for crafts.
Where did your love for fashion and design come from?
The Wizard of Oz is a very important film for me. I remember my father explaining to me how revolutionary it was to go from black and white to color and that it was a real change. So when? [Dorothy] he opens the door, it’s black and white and when you cut to what he’s seeing, it’s in color and there are no visual effects. It’s just a publishing trick, but it always explained how these things were mapped.
When I was watching some terrible soap opera or whatever, and there was a dream sequence and
another flashback told me they just reused footage from previous episodes to keep the budget low.
I’ve always been interested in making things. I wanted to learn to sew on a sewing machine when I was 6, and my mother taught me, and I loved making things because you could have an idea and then out of nothing, you could make something. I have always been into crafts, candles, painting and art. I just loved it, and that’s what I wanted to do.
Baz Luhrmann is a visual person. What does it mean to you as a creative to be there in the room with him as it happens?
It’s an incredible privilege because he’s so invested in the visual storytelling aspect of filmmaking. He cares. I think so [cinematographer] Mandy [Walker] he would say that too.
Because he respects and values what we do, this means that the culture of respect is present throughout the process. You see sound, visual effects, and everyone as part of an interconnected ecosystem that creates something bigger.
“Strictly Ballroom”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge” are part of pop culture. What comes to mind when you think of them?
One of the funny things is that from being a minimalist in drama school, I seem to have been in a weird Swarovski crystal dance of death.
With ‘Strictly’, we needed to recycle them because we never had enough. I remember being inside
trailer and collecting the crystals from one suit to put in another.
In “Elvis”, no one disputes the number of Swarovski crystals you have, but no matter how big or small the project is, you still struggle to do, at any level to overcome the limits of resources. you have. Unless you’re saying, “Well, I don’t really have enough of it. Or I really need to do better here,” then I don’t think you’re trying hard enough. I think it’s this desire to romantically upgrade anything you do to make it a little better than what’s possible.
What I hope I kept from Strictly was this desire to not just think it’s a low-budget movie, but how can we serve the story? How can we make it as beautiful as possible? How can we improve what we do? How do we do this in a better way? How do we add value to the experience? You don’t start with that limitation, you start with the idea, and you come up with the best idea you can, and then you try to figure out how to achieve that with what you have.
How does being both a producer and costume designer help your creative process?
What I love is that all of us try to create the character, the atmosphere and support the story.
When you’ve worked with an actor, very intimately in a suit, and then he comes in and he’s on set, and it feels like he’s in Graceland — he can suspend their disbelief about where
it is, even for a moment. I hope there is synergy between the support of the uniform and her
supporting the set to find the story they want to tell. For me, they work in constant concert.
It means that stylistically, you are consistent. It also means that because you’re only dealing with yourself, it means you can be more consistent in the rules you apply.
Is there a costume or set you designed that you’re most proud of?
waver. The first big outdoor set I did was on “Romeo + Juliet”. The first big outdoor set was Verona Beach with this disused ruined cinema. Well, I have a big love for outdoor ensembles.
But those two blocks of Beale Street [for “Elvis”] it means a lot. It was a tour to build Beale Street in Australia.
Find a place with the right topographical orientation in the sun and be able to watch your team hit goal after goal. Every price was in every window, the fruitful was a vision. What Beverley Dunn did on this road was incredible. What Damien Drew did with the vehicles, overseeing as art director on this whole set, was just brilliant. This whole department did an amazing job of building something in the Australian suburbs.