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 nosedives 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 financial 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.