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A STAR IS BORN

About The Production (Cont'd)
Crash through the surface / Where they can't hurt us...

It was important to Cooper that the film's cinematic style have a first-person perspective, with the hope of giving the audience the ability to experience the intoxicating energy of performing live before a crowd. To achieve this sensation, Cooper and director of photography Matthew Libatique chose to film all performance sequences from the perspective of the performers: that meant the singers' and musicians' immediate POV and onstage interactions with each other. No wide shots of concerts from the audience perspective; the lens would live inside the performance.

Gerber states, "Bradley took a very specific approach with how he told the story cinematically. There are certain angles from traditional concert movies you'll never see in this film. Instead, he and Matty put you in the middle of what it feels like to start becoming famous, what it feels like to have been famous for a long time, and what it feels like to lose that. It's very visceral."

Libatique has shot his fair share of music and concert videos as well as feature films. "He's an artist," Cooper states. "I got to meet him through Darren Aronofsky, who he has done many films with, and we hit it off right away. I told him we wouldn't have a lot of days and we'd be moving fast, here's the color palette I see, here's a little about the opening composition, and he just got it."

Libatique incorporated various shooting techniques, including handheld, Steadicam, long tracking shots following Jackson Maine from backstage to onstage, and so on, frequently keeping the focus extremely up close and personal on its subjects. "Thank God for Matty and his crew, they were incredible," Cooper emphasizes. "And our camera operator, Scott Sakamoto. I found myself watching him operate, he's like a dancer. One of the greatest of all time."

To complement the visuals, sound mixer Steve Morrow worked to architect the sound design in a manner that allowed a seamless transition from backstage to center stage, as musicians do, without any audible breaks. He elaborates, "In more traditional music movies, there's a sense that when the music starts, you're in a different world, audibly, and Bradley and Stefani wanted to avoid that. Audiences are increasingly more sophisticated, they notice certain things. From my view, the worst thing is to be pulled out of the movie because of a playback track. Bradley didn't want audiences standing outside of this world, watching it take place. He wanted them to be fully on the inside."

With that goal in mind, it was critical that the vocal performances were recorded live on the day of filming. Therefore, what is seen and heard vocally in the film was all recorded on the day. "There something about the purity of a live vocal," Cooper asserts. "And all the vocals in the film are live, nothing's pre-recorded, and I think that is how we captured the truth in each performance."

The pre-recorded musical tracks were only heard by the performers through small earwigs; the band pantomimed their playing while Cooper and Gaga sang live. In addition to the standing microphones on stage, Morrow and his team planted an extensive web of sensitive recording devices on and around the stage at each venue. "It isn't normally done like that," he acknowledges, "but we wanted to provide as much raw material as possible, so we took the added steps to achieve what Bradley was looking for."

If the camera and sound recording processes could be that authentic, so, too, could the locations. "We had explored the idea of doing certain things on soundstages, because there's certainly a lot more control in terms of noise, lighting, things like that," recounts Gerber. "But it just so happened that we started finding great locations, and the venues were incredibly cooperative and supportive of us filming there, so there was no reason not to go do it in the real places these things happen. It's a bold way to start production, but it turned out to be surprisingly less complicated than we initially thought."

The production worked closely with AEG and Golden Voice to plan and execute the logistics. Principal photography commenced in Indio, California, where the crew spent the first week filming on the extensive grounds of the Coachella Music Festival, between the two festival weekends. The potential complexities of shooting there were made exponentially easier by the fact that the festival headliner was none other than Lady Gaga.

Utilizing the multiple stages, equipment and infrastructure already in place gave the production the ability to capture large set pieces that couldn't have been easily duplicated. "The equipment, lighting rigs, and backstage areas already existed, so we were able to go into that environment and shoot it as-is," explains Howell Taylor. "Going into real venues gives the movie the kind of legitimacy that, even if you had all the money in the world, couldn't be recreated in the same way."

For the raucous Jackson Maine performance that opens the film, Cooper and a skeleton crew took over the mainstage of the Stagecoach Music Festival to film a brief performance between the sets of Jamie Johnson and Willie Nelson. Without an introduction or audible track heard through the speakers, the performance scene was already over by the time the unsuspecting crowd caught on that actor Bradley Cooper was on stage performing.

The trick was later repeated at a massive European music festival. "Oddly enough," Cooper states, "Kris Kristofferson played the summer we were there, and he was kind enough to let us take a couple of minutes of his set.

"Now, singing live in front of the crew is daunting, but 20,000, or even 80,000 people?" he continues. "I have to give a shout out to Steve Morrow because every time, right before we did it, I'd say, 'Maybe I should just lip sync,' and he would say, 'What are you talking about? You gotta sing live!' And I did. And in England I got to perform on the stage where I'd seen Robert Plant, Jack White, Thom Yorke... But the best part about it was, after it was over, I got to say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Kris Kristofferson.' Then he walked out. I'll never forget that."

Other large performance spaces used during filming included the Shrine Auditorium, the Greek Theater, the Regent Theater and The Forum. Filming in large venues that house mass audiences presented creative challenges to the production. So, rather than bringing in thousands of extras, the production team found a way to fill the seats by utilizing a priceless resource: Lady Gaga's dedicated fan base.

Affectionately referred to as her "Little Monsters," Gaga's fans had the opportunity to participate in the filmmaking process as audience members. Tickets were sold for each of the venues, with all proceeds benefiting Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, and the filmmakers benefitted from the genuine enthusiasm of her fan base. And while having a live audience for filming provided the visuals and energy needed, those lucky enough to have stayed until the end of one particular night at The Greek experienced a once-in-a-lifetime, private, impromptu piano performance of two of Lady Gaga's hit songs-her way of thanking her fans for their time.

Because of the shooting style and artist-oriented perspective, each location was utilized in various ways and played as different venues. "It was clear that Matty was going to shoot a lot of handheld, which provides viewers the ability to see everything in great detail, from the dressing rooms and bowels of a theater all the way to the stage," notes production designer Karen Murphy, who was intrigued by the idea of visually representing the journey of an artist. "As with every other aspect of the movie, from the beginning it was always about authenticity and perspective. Bradley and I spoke of how important it was to see the rise of a pop star from her own point of view, being on the inside of fame when it happens quickly and experiencing everything for the first time."

Murphy, who is not from L.A., drove around quite a bit to get the look and feel of several of the locations. "Los Angeles has so many beautiful areas and they're all very different, which, to me, as an outsider, was unique."

She discovered a house on Kensington Road in the Angelino Heights/Echo Park area, which became the house where Ally lives with her father, a limousine driver who operates his business from home. "It needed to feel like a family lived there but not be a mansion, and I liked the homes in that area. It's high, it overlooks downtown Los Angeles, which gives it an interesting outlook from the street, and we were going to utilize the outside as well so we'd see a view."

By contrast, Jackson Maine's house is secluded-even his brother Bobby has trouble finding it in the woods. "I didn't feel like an L.A.-style mansion was appropriate for Jack," Murphy notes. "He had roots in Arizona, he's a very earthy guy, his music is earthy...I just wanted to find somewhere that felt like him without thinking about scale or a fancy address, but somewhere isolated where he would write and make beautiful music. I think he's essentially lived on his own for a long time and he would need a warm, centering place, this guy whose life is somewhat amiss."

Murphy incorporated a lot of wood in the non-concert environments. "I didn't want things to pop too much. I watched a lot of music documentaries that include the places where artists are making their albums, just to get insight into their lives and to see what they've got all around them in general. It was rarely about fashion or color or any one thing in particular, just real environments, and you can't always choose a palette in a real environment. You just fill it with their stuff, the things they would have."

That's not to say his isn't a lovely house. "It's beautifully dressed, very warm, very lovingly put together. He has this rich life, but everything is from his life on the road-posters from his tours over the years, that sort of thing."

To capture the experience of following artists on the road and onto the stage, Murphy says, "I thought it was important to have an actual tour manager work with us-with the art department, the set dressing department-because we were setting up for real concerts. The producers found Eric Johnson, who has worked with Neil Young, and he became part of the team, a great advisor."

Costume designer Erin Benach faced very different challenges for her work on the film, most notably, she says, was "trying to foresee fashion that would not be out of date two years down the road, ultimately creating a timeless look; I knew all eyes would be on Stefani and it was important to let her character be the main focus."

Like her fellow designers, Benach explored at length the characters' histories leading up to the start of the film in order to determine where they would be when the story begins. "We loved the idea that Jack would have a very small closet and a silhouette he rarely ventures out of. We called it a uniform, actually. He's not trying to impress anyone anymore. You can almost imagine he doesn't think about his clothing, that he has three pairs of pants, four shirts, one jacket and an air of nonchalance about him. You'll never see him picking out his clothes."

With such a short order, it's surprising that all of Jack's clothes were created. "We built all of Jacks clothes. You might not think of his wardrobe as completely bespoke-but it was!" Benach assures. "All of his jeans had to be the right line for the boots. We built his leather belt, his shirts, which were kind of a hybrid of a '70s shirt and a modern-day shirt. All the fabrics have a heavy drape to them to make him look a little gaunt, a little messy. He feels a bit like he's in his own world, so it was important not to connect him to anything specifically recognizable."

Ally, on the other hand, goes through a transformation that is reflected very strongly in the clothes she wears. "When the movie opens, she's a waitress at a hotel, so we have that uniform, and she performs at the drag club, which is really her creating another character, so she wears a slinky slip dress that she probably wouldn't in her real life. For that, we see her in her jeans, t-shirts. Her own sense of style, on a budget."

When she begins joining Jack on stage regularly, Benach says, "We see she's somewhat adventurous. We did a lot of vintage shopping downtown and in Long Beach, finding the gems that would work for her."

Once she begins to emerge as an artist in her own right, Ally evolves," Benach observes. "Stylists start to bring her things, she starts to dress for events, she dyes her hair. She's becoming a pop star. Of course, Stefani had great ideas and was really helpful in guiding us in the right direction." Benach was then able to incorporate high designers into the mix. "We contacted a lot of brands and received a wonderful array of options."

One gown that Ally wears was designed and built by Benach and her team. "Without giving too much away, for one of our most serious moments of the film, when Ally is singing at the height of her stardom and we needed to convey an elegant seriousness, I designed a robin's egg blue dress that I think captures the beauty of her stardom and the emotion of the moment."

Benach also had to take into account the fact that Gaga would be performing-often dancing- in her wardrobe. "The best way to understand how to design clothing for a dance performance is to watch the dance moves! This was possibly my favorite part of the job, getting to watch Stefani rehearse with her choreographer. It was invaluable because you can read the attitude of the moment perfectly well in the dance moves and the music. Once I had that I was always able to hit my drawing table for ideas!" she says.

Gaga could certainly relate to the evolution of her character. Just as everything around her grows bigger when Ally's career takes off, Gaga says, "Once I said okay, no piano, I decided I was going to have dancers. Then I started designing my own costumes and building my own stage props, and it became a bigger show. But at the heart of me, when I first started, it was just me and a piano."

We're far from the shallow now.

When production wrapped, Cooper retreated to his home with his editing crew to cut the film. "I have to say, my editor, Jay Cassidy, and his first assistant, Mike Azevedo, we spent God knows how many months of 16-hour days putting this movie together. They were essential to getting this done." As Cooper was working on post-production, most of the cast and crew moved on, but the time spent together making "A Star Is Born" had left an indelible mark.

Gaga, who continued throughout post to help see the soundtrack through to completion, says, "So much of this film resonates with me still. I think a lot of people will relate to the themes, and the story will be something profound to them. And the music really tells this love story-that's something we all took very seriously and believed in. We all saw Bradley's vision and we all wanted, to the very last second, to make it just perfect."

"One thing I've learned is that when you're creating any kind of art, if you're in the moment, you trust your instincts but can be flexible, too, you can make something that might shift someone's way of looking at their world a little bit," Cooper reflects. "And when your whole crew goes there with you? That's a wonderful feeling. That everybody trusted my vision was exhilarating and, I think, gave me the confidence to keep at that daunting task every day.

"This has been a three-year journey and the experience has been amazing, and if I'm lucky enough that anybody allows me to do it again, yeah, I absolutely would," Cooper continues, adding, "There's a line in the film that Jack says to Ally, 'If there's one reason we're supposed to be here, it's to say something so people want to hear it.' I hope that's what we've done."

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