‘Priscilla’: How the Sofia Coppola Indie Kept Its Budget Slim on a 30-Day Shoot

The film’s costume designer and cinematographer remember recycling costumes and reusing sets to get the job done

"Priscilla"
Cailee Spaeny in "Priscilla" (A24)

For a story about Priscilla Presley and her time with Elvis, simplicity and minimalism aren’t the words you’d use, especially when Sofia Coppola is at the helm. And yet Coppola’s “Priscilla” is a master in how to make a film on a budget and in just 30 days. “Every movie is a challenge, but the challenge was to shoot in six weeks a movie with so many scenes, different feelings and different textures,” cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd told TheWrap.

From the first minute everything was a blur. As Le Sourd laid out, pre-production required the script to be in perfect shape with at least 15-20 pages needed to be shot on the daily. And from the moment Le Sourd arrived on-set Coppola was already cutting and editing the movie. “She [Coppola] was struggling,” he said. “She was struggling with the budget and she tried to find solutions. And we tried to help maximize the design and ideas.”

Because of the sheer abundance of sequences and locations, told over a period of several years, for Le Sourd he had to be able to maximize the locations he had. “When we shot the Las Vegas scene we shot five different scenes in one location,” he said. “One was Las Vegas, a movie theater, [the] restaurant at the end and him [Jacob Elordi] singing, shooting from the back. That was [all] one location.”

This sense of recycling and reusing items extended to costumes as well. Stacey Battat explained there were several key challenges with the costumes and that reusing costumes happened frequently. In one scene Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) is trying on clothes in front of Elvis and his Memphis Mafia.

In the scene, Elvis tells his wife he doesn’t like her in brown or prints so, to accommodate the tight turnaround, Battat designed a dress that was brown with a printed design on it. “That brown dress with the print, an extra wore it in [the] Las Vegas [scene],” Battat said. Another dress from that shop sequence was also planned for a later sequence. “We made the blue dress — both the blue dresses but the blue dress with the beads that she comes out and he says ‘I like blue’ — for another scene so it was good to use it there.”

Battat also made a lot of clothes two separate items. “We did a lot of the clothes in the ’50s, in like the 1959 [section], in two parts. So it was a a bodice and a skirt as opposed to a dress so that we could reuse the skirt,” she said. This helped in terms of subverting audiences’ expectations of those specific periods. As Battat explained, so often people assume the entirety of the ’60s or ’70s look one way. “We do have a visual reference of who they are in 1972,” she said. “So using that as the benchmark of ‘this is where they are in the ’70s and it’s not super bell bottoms” helped.

“Priscilla” is in theaters now.

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