'A Star Is Born' Producer Goes Inside Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper's Festival Performances
The Oscar contender’s commercial and critical success is due to the compelling, tragic love story, but the remake also benefits greatly from the authenticity of the musical scenes.
After opening in theaters Oct. 5, A Star Is Born is fast approaching a $100 million domestic box office gross. The movie’s soundtrack — attributed to its stars, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper — has also been a runaway success. It opens at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week, with the pair’s "Shallow" leaping to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Oscar contender’s commercial and critical success is due to the compelling, tragic love story, but the remake also benefits greatly from the authenticity of the musical scenes. Both Lady Gaga and Cooper sing live throughout the film, and, in some cases, play before tens of thousands of fans at existing festivals.
The film’s producer, Bill Gerber, walked Billboard through the primary concert scenes in the order they appear in the movie, including stops at Stagecoach, Glastonbury and Coachella. Among the pic’s other musical locations were Los Angeles’ Belasco Theater for the iHeartRadio scenes and on the set of Saturday Night Live, where "Lorne Michaels welcomed us in there. We used all of his crew to shoot that scene, which was amazing," Gerber says. "Alec [Baldwin] did it as a favor for Bradley. We went in on the dark Monday after they did the show."
Seeing the overwhelmingly positive response to the movie has been "so rewarding," says Gerber, who ushered the project through years of development, including the initial foray with Clint Eastwood directing Beyoncé in the lead role. "It feels like it’s becoming a phenomenon," he says. "It was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had professionally."
Gerber is quick to praise several live music executives — including Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett, AEG COO/AEG Presents chairman/CEO Jay Marciano and Gerber’s junior high school buddy, AEG Presents president of global touring and talent Gary Gersh — for easing the way for the performance shoots at Coachella and Stagecoach.
(The movie’s opening scene featuring Cooper’s character, Jackson Maine, singing "Black Eyes" was shot in eight minutes between Jamey Johnson’s and Willie Nelson’s sets at Stagecoach on April 29, 2017.)
"I spoke to [Nelson’s manager], Mark Rothbaum, who’s a dear friend," says Gerber. "And he literally emailed me back in five minutes with the following words, 'Our stage is your stage.' Bradley was like, 'Great!' and we started planning our assault on the stage for eight minutes. Mark also hooked us up with Jamey Johnson's people, who also agreed. It was a major logistics opportunity for eight minutes of shooting.
"Bradley went [onstage] and introduced himself, and the crowd went crazy. He explained briefly what he was going to do and you would've thought the crowd had been directed, they were so into it and cooperative. And you see the proof of that in the film, where it looks like an amazing rock show. You [watch that scene] and go, 'OK, Bradley Cooper's a rock star. We can get on with the story now.'"
(The downtown bar was turned into drag bar Bleu Bleu, where Jackson and Ally first meet.)
"The drag bar is a little club in downtown L.A. that Karen Murphy transformed into an amazing performance venue. We brought the drag," Gerber says. "It was a very small, very tight space. It was stunning to watch Lady Gaga do 'La Vie en Rose.' That was quite an experience, right up close and personal, to see her do that song several times.
"It was really fun to work with the drag queens. Gaga's manager had helped us in terms of casting that and making sure that that audience also felt that it was credible and realistic. There's nothing in this movie that Bradley didn't make sure was 100 percent legit.
"[Bradley performs] 'Maybe It's Time,' of course, in the drag bar after 'La Vie en Rose,' which is also another great, amazing music moment in the film. His singing in that scene was particularly great that day. You just start seeing how great he is as a musician, as well as everything else, you know?"
(The first time Ally and Jackson sing “Shallow” together. Filmed in May 2017.)
"It was the Greek Theater, but it's meant to be Northern California," Gerber says. "It's funny, because I was in Albuquerque shooting a movie, and I met a gentleman and we were just talking outside his hotel, and he was telling me what he was doing. It was [SMG Worldwide’s] Michael Krouse, whose company runs the Greek Theater, which was, unbeknownst to us, no longer a Nederlander venue.
"I say, 'Well, wait a second, we wanna shoot there. So can I have your card?' So I ended up having direct access to the people who ran the Greek, who didn't go as far as to give it to us for free, which would've been nice, but they were very helpful and flexible. And we had several days there that were really amazing, productive days.
"Most of the extras were Little Monsters. Gaga put out the call for that. There's a wrangler who works with Gaga Camp and works with the Little Monsters. And they're just delightful people. Bradley and Gaga and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real went out there and they played, like, five songs. And I tell you, nobody was jaded that night in terms of seeing a performance live. And it was beautiful, it was beautiful."
(Cooper had four minutes to shoot before Kris Kristofferson’s set on June 23, 2017. Kristofferson starred in the 1976 version of A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand.)
"We looked up the Glastonbury lineup because Bradley wanted to [possibly shoot there] and I was like, 'This is weird, man, but Kris Kristofferson is playing exactly when we would like to do the filming.' Bradley had been talking to Glastonbury about getting permission and it was just another crazy, serendipitous event.
"Through Mark Rothbaum, we were introduced to Kris and his wife, Lisa. When I called her, they happened to be in Los Angeles, where they really don't spend a lot of time. They’re usually in Maui or he's on the road. I said, 'Why don't you come down and visit?' So she and Kris showed up from Malibu at the set, and, of course, we freaked. Bradley and Gaga freaked. I mean, Kris looked phenomenal. Lisa is wonderful.
"Basically they were like, 'Look, Bradley, again, our stage is your stage.' Bradley flew over with a very small group, with [cinematographer] Matt Labatique and a friend of his and Ravi Mehta from Warner Bros., who had done a Herculean job of getting the clearance organized for Glastonbury, among other things, working as the executive producer on the whole movie. And then Bradley went out and crushed it."
(Lady Gaga, who headlined both weekends of Coachella, used the days in between, with AEG and Goldenvoice’s blessing and assistance, to film as Ally on the Coachella grounds with Cooper. Fans applied to be extras for the April 18-19, 2017, shoot via an app, which requested they come "decked out in your most comfortable denim & boots." These were the first concert scenes filmed for the movie.)
"I've been going to Coachella for years, as has Bradley," Gerber says. "And we would kid around, like, 'Wow, if we get shooting at the right time, we could really take advantage of all this fantastic production value they have out here.'
"It looked like the stars were aligning, and we were gonna be shooting in the same period as Coachella and Stagecoach. I literally just cold-called [Gary Gersh] one day to say, 'Hey, we got this idea…' Gary said, 'Look, we've never done this for anybody. We probably would never do it for anybody. But it's you guys, so let me talk to Jay and the gang.' He came back with, 'You know what, we'd like to try to make this work for you guys,' which was amazing.
"We filmed a lot of different songs so Bradley would have choices editorially. [As a producer] at that point you're kinda like, 'Well, I'm pretty sure this is gonna work.’ And then you see [Gaga and Cooper onstage together] and you're like, ‘Oh, this is gonna work big.'"
(Ally’s closing number, "I’ll Never Love Again," taped here, the site where Judy Garland taped "The Man That Got Away" for the 1954 version of the film.)
"I know that Bradley liked very much to channel a little bit that Judy Garland had performed there, and it was something that we really liked, but it wasn't like, 'Oh, we're going to the Shrine because Judy Garland filmed there.' It was just a very nice part of the whole gestalt of ending up in that venue. You look at a lot of venues for every opportunity, so it was nice that it worked out that way. There's a bit of poetic resonance.
"We did have to schedule between a lot of events because it's very busy there, another thing that Ravi really led the charge on. They were very helpful. They are also an AEG property. We were treated very, very well by them.
"When we walked in, in the morning, Bradley decided he wanted to change the set and so he literally sat down with Karen Murphy and completely revamped how he was gonna shoot that scene. In a couple of hours they completely changed the set, which is just the way we rolled. Bradley had an amazing relationship with all his crewmembers, and when we needed to do something or go faster or go slower, do whatever, people miraculously came through for us every time.
"That was a distinctly emotional day. Gaga had some things going on personally that were very emotional. And the fact that she made it through that day and kind of brought this raw heart to the performance was amazing, and it shows in the film. I've heard Bradley say that he thinks some of the most amazing acting in the movie is her performance of ‘I’ll Never Love Again.’ I was getting chills watching it."
This article was originally published by Billboard.