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27/6/2003: Veteran producer Dino de Laurentiis, a small grizzly bear of a man with beard and bravado to spare, may seem an incongruous partner for the Australian cinematic wunderkind Baz Luhrmann, but he’s adamant "it was love at first meeting". And ever since they’ve met and joined forces to make the epic movie about the ancient but youthful hero Alexander The Great, they’ve been "in sync 100 per cent," he adds. Andrew L. Urban reports.

The two are sitting side by side in a small screening room at Fox Studios, cajoling and alternating with answers, just before flying down to Canberra for a meeting with Prime Minister John Howard. It’s not a social call: de Laurentiis and Luhrmann (someone like Catherine ‘Mrs Luhrmann’ Martin should design a special double LL logo, if they haven’t already) are after the Australian Army. At least 500 of them, but more if possible. And a bit of cavalry would really help.

And frankly my dear Prime Minister, that’s not a lot to ask in the circumstances. Every country with a deserted patch of sand within its boundaries is aggressively chasing this US$150 million production, which was Morocco bound until terrorists blew that option away. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if Australia’s fabulous filmmaking duo, Luhrmann and Martin, had to shoot Alexander in some other country, all for the sake of a few soldiers and horses? 

"like a giant open air studio"

The A$225 million production is itching to choose Australia; “Broken Hill is potentially very good,” says de Laurentiis, leaning forward for emphasis. “And imagine a film studio there … it would be great for the local industry.” Not a bad idea, considering how many tv commercials, tv dramas and movies are shot in and around Broken Hill. And with the abandoned mines come abandoned spaces, like the power stations. “It’s there in the middle of the city,” says Luhrmann.

It has to be remembered that de Laurentiis has a good track record with picking film studio sites in Australia; he was the one responsible to the one on the Gold Coast. “They said I was mad . . .nobody would come there to make films….Look at it now.” 

The veteran film producer is playing the general to Luhrmann’s creative captain. “When Baz came to see me, I knew he primarily came to see what kind of man I am…” And Luhrmann nods in agreement. 

“He’s worked in every style of film, from small dramas to epics,” says Luhrmann of de Laurentiis. And Alexander is going to be an epic. Thousands of extras, armies that have to change uniforms and weapons between one set up and the next, lots of horses . . .And what smarter way to solve all the logistical problems than the army, with its BYO catering, accommodation - and disciplined soldiers.

But the epic will dramatically focus on Alexander the Great, to be played by Leonardo di Caprio, who is now about the same age as Alexander was at his death: 33. 

"The Epics Trilogy"

After Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy, this is the first in a new set he calls The Epics Trilogy. “I’ve been mulling on it for about ten years,” he says. “I’m exploiting the pothos – where the character, usually after some childhood trauma, can’t stop [wanting to conquer] and keeps going until they lose everything.” (Pothos: desire, longing for, regret, want …Put another way: never satisfied.)

Alexander is also the subject of an Oliver Stone film, but when asked about that, de Laurentiis dismisses the subject: “We don’t want to talk about it . . .they do theirs, we do ours.”

And ‘ours’ won’t be ready to shoot for a year, although there is already some experimental digital work being done on CGI horses. Indeed, the frenzy of pre-pre-production is noticeable. Luhrmann and de Laurentiis have an entourage which includes their top seconds: de Laurentiis’ line producer Lucio Trentini and Luhrmann’s co-producer Catherine Knapman. The latter’s ear is glued to her mobile as she amiably juggles competing demands on their schedule, across continents, possibly with Steven Spielberg, who is passionately interested in and supportive of the production. His company, DreamWorks, has acquired the international distribution rights, while Universal will distribute the film in the US. Japan and Germany have been sold.

Australia is still up for grabs.

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Baz Luhrmann

Dino De Laurentiis

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