HBO representatives give MTSU students sneak peak of new documentary, ‘Elvis Presley: The Searcher’

Photo by Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines

HBO President of Miniseries Kary Antholis and film editor Thom Zimny gave MTSU students a sneak peak of their upcoming HBO documentary, “Elvis Presley: The Searcher,” in the Parliamentary Room of the Student Union Building on Monday.

The documentary is focused on the life of American rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley as a musical artist. Antholis, a senior executive at HBO, worked with Zimny, the project’s director and producer, to create the documentary. After introducing themselves, they played a short trailer for the documentary on a projector screen for students.

After the trailer, Antholis explained that around four years ago, Presley’s former wife, Priscilla Presley, and Jerry Schilling, a friend of Presley’s, went to HBO with the idea of doing a film about the musical icon.

“They had a notion about how to tell the story, and it didn’t really make sense to me and the person I worked with at HBO,” Antholis said. “But they showed us a little clip reel, and in the kind of mess that was the clip reel, there was footage in there of Elvis Presley in a studio rehearsing for his comeback tour.”

Antholis explained that, in that footage, he saw Presley as a “producer and creative leader of really talented musicians, singers and band members.”

“I was always impressed with (Presley’s) work, (but) I just always thought he was just the pretty face behind it,” Antholis said. “As I looked at that footage and saw him as a working musician and as an artist, I thought to myself, ‘That reminds me of a documentary I’ve seen that was about one of my musical heroes, Bruce Springsteen.’”

Inspired by the artistic aspects of Presley’s life, Antholis requested that Zimny be in charge of directing the documentary. Priscilla and Schilling already had a filmmaker in mind but were willing to give Zimny a chance.

“One of the key things for me was to convey that I was interested in Elvis as an artist and also (that) I was not interested in any gossip or any backstory,” Zimny said. “There’s been a lot of books (and) a lot of films that deal with Elvis’ lifestyle. Both Kary and myself love music and have a real passion for digging very deep into a story and explaining the music but also the history behind it.”

Zimny explained that he slowly built a trust with Priscilla and Schilling.

“I asked them questions, and I listened,” Zimny said. “Listening to them was an important part of it because I didn’t come to the story with all the answers. I gave them the feeling of collaboration by being open to hearing their points of view, and, more importantly, I kept conveying the idea that Elvis was an artist that was lost … There was a generation out there that thought he was a cartoon (or) a joke.”

Antholis explained that through the research for the documentary, he found out about the major influences on Presley’s career.

“One of the first surprises and revelations in the research that Thom did on the project was the significance of the church and not just white gospel music but black gospel music in Elvis’ upbringing,” Antholis said.

Antholis and Zimny played a few more clips from the documentary for students and explained their findings while creating it.

“Elvis Presley: The Searcher” will air on HBO Saturday, April 14 at 7 p.m. Central Standard Time.

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email

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