Cast your mind back to the summer of 2022. Baz Luhrmann returns to the big screen with a stunning, colorful and lavish Elvis biopic with a budget of around $85 million (£67 million) .
Eighteen months later, Sofia Coppola told a similar story from a different perspective in her film Priscilla. It’s a quieter but no less stylish interpretation of life under the lens from the perspective of the wife of the king of rock’n’roll.
Coppola’s starting point was Priscilla Presley’s best-selling 1985 memoir, Elvis and Me, which provided deep insight into the couple’s turbulent relationship and the pressures of fame.
The filmmaker first read the book 10 years ago before returning to it recently, having previously felt that the story might be too similar to his 2006 film Marie Antoinette, about Louis XVI’s controversial wife. The young Austrian princess was 14 years old – the same age Priscilla met Elvis – when she married the king of France.
But during a recent reread of Priscilla, Coppola changed his mind. “I was really surprised by how much I connected with it and how clear the story was,” he explains.
“So I called Priscilla and she was open to it. I loved that [the book] was so focused on her and their relationship and how intimate the story was.”
Coppola is known for putting women first in his films, including The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. In 2022, a study found that 33% of films featured only female protagonists and another study concluded that women accounted for only 18% of directors working on the top 250 films in the same year.
“It was very important for me to be able to show the female perspective. “I’m happy that there are more and more female directors, but the percentage is still very small,” she told me.
As for the Luhrmann comparison, Coppola said he didn’t make his film as a reaction to his Elvis extravaganza.
“When I started working on this, they were talking about how Baz was making his movie: ‘Are you sure you want to do this because there’s already an Elvis movie?’ And I was like: ‘Even better, it’s so interesting that the culture will focus on it and a year later see the same story, but from his perspective… to get this balance.'”
But Coppola had to get creative to produce his lavish-looking period piece on a relatively low budget by Hollywood standards (less than $20 million / £16 million).
“I just watched these guys make hundreds of millions of dollars and then I struggled to get a fraction of that,” he said.
“I think it’s just a remnant of the existing business culture. It’s frustrating but I’m always fighting for it and I’m happy to be able to make my films independently and find people who believe in them.”
Despite his frustration, he said there was a positive side to having fewer funds.