How 'A Star Is Born' Re-created the "Man's World" of Music, Coachella Concert Scenes
As director Bradley Cooper’s high-profile remake debuts at the Venice Film Festival, producer and indie veteran Lynette Howell Taylor opens up about the one thing that star Lady Gaga insisted upon.
Bradley Cooper's A Star Is Born, in which the actor makes his directorial debut starring opposite Lady Gaga, will be unveiled Aug. 31 at the Venice Film Festival before traveling to Toronto's fest and hitting theaters Oct. 5. The $36 million Warner Bros. release is the fourth telling of the time-tested showbiz love story (the first was in 1937) about a male star whose career is in decline while that of the female star he discovers rises — and for producer Lynette Howell Taylor, it is the most high-profile project of her career.
A native of Liverpool, England, Howell Taylor, 39, first worked on stage productions for East of Doheny before segueing into independent film with such critical successes as Half Nelson, Blue Valentine and Derek Cianfrance's 2012 The Place Beyond the Pines, where she first collaborated with Cooper, who invited her to come aboard Star two years ago. Her new production company 51 Entertainment, which has three employees, has also partnered with Shivhans Pictures on the currently filming Wander Darkly, directed by Tara Miele and starring Sienna Miller and Diego Luna as a couple in the aftermath of a devastating car crash.
She and husband Graham Taylor, co-president of Endeavor Content, live in Pacific Palisades with their young children, daughter Avery and son Atticus — and a third is on the way in October. But they don't spend much time talking shop, says Howell Taylor with a laugh. "With two children and soon a third, when we get home, we talk about schedules, who's going to be where and who takes what shift."
Why is A Star Is Born such an enduring story?
Ultimately, it's a love story, and audiences love to watch stories about love. It's also a love story told with music, which is why it is timeless and why it is fresh. The music is fresh to this generation, and each previous incarnation has very much been about that time period when the movie came out. So this new one stands alone as its own contemporary retelling.
Even though you shot the film before the Time's Up movement, has the balance between the male and female characters changed?
I don't think it changed the story. The movie is about a woman in a man's world. There are not a lot of women in the film, and that's by choice, because the music industry has been very dominated, especially behind the scenes, by men. That's very much a part of the contemporary telling of this story.
You were the fifth producer to join the project. How did you each divide up roles?
Jon Peters made the '70s version. Bill Gerber came on in 2009, and he had very much been spearheading it. Todd Phillips and Bradley are producing partners and have a wonderful creative collaboration. So we all collaborated and supported Bradley's vision. Each individual producer on any project could often do what the other producers are doing, but on any given day, you naturally fall into a rhythm — OK, today I'm going to sit with the first A.D. and do the schedule and you're going to deal with how to get Coachella to let us film there.
Does working with a first-time director like Cooper change the dynamic for you as a producer?
I've been working with first-time directors since I started. My first movie Half Nelson was with Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. And I've worked with several actors turned directors, like Matt Ross and Brie Larson. What I love about actor-directors is they so fully understand what everybody needs in front of the camera. They're always so great at getting performances out of other actors because they really understand the craft.
Lady Gaga hasn't had a lot of experience as an actor. Did you make any adjustments, like extra rehearsal time, for that?
It was not about extra rehearsal time. It was about the environment that Bradley created on set that allowed everybody to bring the best that they had to give. All the music in the movie was sung live, which was something that Lady Gaga insisted on to have the most authenticity. Bradley fully embraced the idea and committed to it. And she was a real warrior. She performed both weekends at Coachella — and then we shot on their stages, and brought in our own crowds, during the week.
Live Nation also produced — what was their involvement?
It was a marketing partnership on the movie. And music is such a huge part of the movie, there was an element of that, too, in terms of support.
Did your background in indie film come into play?
Obviously, it was very much a Warner Bros. movie, and you have the support of the Warner Bros. back office and the wonderful people who work at that studio. But then there's never enough money to make movies like this, and you have to get really creative — Bradley called Kris Kristofferson, who [starred in the 1976 version and] was performing at [the] Glastonbury [Festival], and asked if he could have part of his set, and Kris gave us four minutes. Bradley went with our cinematographer and one camera and our sound guy, and they went up on the stage and he performed a song twice, and it has a very electric feel to it. That was more in the spirit of independent filmmaking — beg, borrow and steal — and sometimes it makes the film feel more alive.
With the emphasis on hiring more women and minorities, how was that reflected in your staffing?
Bradley's a very inclusive filmmaker, so there was a lot of diversity on the set. That happened naturally. Our first A.D. was a woman, our costume designer, our production designer, our music supervisors were women. The area that needs to be addressed is on the union level. It's not that there aren't amazing, competent people available; it's that the unions in certain departments haven't caught up to that. If you're shooting a movie in Los Angeles and you want to hire a diverse, female location manager but the person you want is not in the union, the union is telling you to go through its list before you can hire a non-union person, and that list is full of men. There's your conundrum.
In the wake of #MeToo, how do you establish the tone on a production since a crew is coming together for just three or four months?
You have to start with a zero-tolerance policy. We're more vocal about it now than in the past, making sure everybody feels they are in an environment they can feel safe in. We are communicating it more and getting more specific. I grew up in the theater world, which is very touchy-feely, but I'm certainly more mindful now. I used to hug people all the time on my sets because I'm a loving person. But I establish boundaries now. Not everybody wants to be hugged in a professional work environment. So everybody has to be much more cognizant.
How has the indie market changed since you first entered it?
It changes every year. It’s always evolving. It’s always been hard to find financial partners and the people who want to back the movies I want to make. I do feel that there is more distribution available now. There was a lull several years ago — before Amazon and Netflix and companies like A24 or Bleecker Street popped up. Now I feel there's definitely homes for those movies. The other thing that has changed is, I look at everything now as: Is this an independent movie, is it a TV movie, is it a limited series? It’s all kind of merging. I’ve got this book and this filmmaker and what’s the best way to tell the story?
Overall, has the influence of Netflix been good or bad?
I think it’s great. They’re making content, and they’re giving filmmakers a platform, a place to create their content. Before they existed, so much of that content wouldn’t get made. And also they are buying content that has already been created. I made several movies early on where you sort of got a two-city release. You went to Sundance, and that was great. and then your movie got released in New York and L.A. and no one saw it. Now, if Netflix buys it, it might not make a zeitgeist splash, but you have a much bigger opportunity for your movie to be targeted specifically to the audience you created it for, to reach that audience and to be successful in a different way.
With your new company, 51 Entertainment, you don’t have an overall deal anywhere. Why not?
I have no deal by choice. I like the flexibility of being able to find the right partner for each individual project. I’ve been able to get by by coming on to scripts and projects early enough, helping to put movies together, working very closely with my writers and directors, and then figuring out what is the right home for each project. For me, on the film side, not every movie I want to make is right for [one] distributor. We’re also starting to expand now into television. Again, it comes from the fact that the two worlds are not that dissimilar anymore. The filmmakers, the actors and the talent are crossing over, the content is elevated, the budgets are growing, there are a lot of new companies and new distributors who are coming into the space.
What’s next for you?
Right now, we’re shooting Wander Darkly in L.A. with writer-director Tara Miele, whom I’ve known for a long time and really wanted to champion. Sienna Miller and Diego Luna are starring in it as a couple who get into a devastating car crash, and they have to navigate the aftermath as it relates to their relationship. It’s very performance driven, but it also has an elevated visual quality to it. ShivHans Pictures is financing and producing — we did Captain Fantastic together. One of the things I’m really committed to since launching my company last spring is that balance between the larger commercial movies and the newer voices. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are smaller movies, but it’s about putting the time in to find new filmmakers. Tara is not a first-time director, but she’s stepping onto a bigger canvas with this film, and that’s one of the things I’m really trying to do.
Have you and your husband ever found yourselves on opposite sides of the negotiating table?
Not opposite sides, but he's worked with a lot of financiers who've been on my movies, so we often have to have discussions about what I think a movie needs financially as a producer, and he talks about what is a safe number from the financier's perspective. I love having somebody who knows what I do, because he was a producer before he was an agent and now an executive. So he gets it.
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.