Keeping it Real in 'A Star Is Born'

These days, audiences want movies that are real and authentic. It’s a good thing stars want to make movies that are authentic as well. Here, we take a look behind the scenes and backstage at the fourth reiteration of A Star is Born, this time starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, who also directed. A timeless tale of an aging star in decline (in this case, Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine isn’t just an alcoholic, he’s also losing his hearing) crossing paths with Ally, a rising star, played believably by a stripped-down, fresh-faced Lady Gaga.

Sound mixer Steve Morrow hinted at the complexities in an interview a few years ago after he was nominated for his work on La-La Land, which featured live on-set performances from its singers. In a podcast on Next Big Picture, he said Lady Gaga wanted all the vocals and the music in A Star Is Born to be live. She didn't want her performances to feel like she was singing to a playback track.

Bradley Cooper, who didn’t consider himself a musician before this movie, felt the same way — no lipsyncing from anyone. He had to learn to sing and play guitar and piano for the role. He worked with vocal coach Tim Monich for months, lowering his vocal range about an octave to get into the voice they pictured for the character. They also worked on getting his speaking voice as close to co-star Sam Elliot as possible — so much so that Elliot swears they used his voice to dub one of Cooper’s lines in the film. Elliot plays his older brother and band manager.

Cooper’s guitar was inspired by Neil Young — specifically, the way he attacks the neck during solos. However, he worked for months on end with Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Wilson, and lead man in his own right. His band, Promise of the Real is Cooper’s backup band throughout the film. Cooper stated there was no Jackson Maine without Lukas Nelson. To create the sound for Jackson Maine, Nelson used a Magnatone amp and 1956 Gibson Les Paul Jr.

Every song has a function in conveying the story — every lyric is an integral part of the story. Songs were written by Cooper, Gaga, and Nelson along with Jason Isbell, Mark Ronson, and Hillary Lindsey.

Throughout filming, they took the opportunity to hop onto stages at an assortment of concert venues, taking advantage of packed concert halls and ampitheaters instead of creating them artificially. Luckily, the crew had a few friends in high places. The scenes were shot quickly with two handheld cameras — two takes and out. They literally had 4 minutes to shoot between Willie Nelson’s set at Stagecoach and 8 minutes at Kris Kristofferson’s Glastonbury Festival concert.

In the spirit of keeping it authentic, even the extras are “real.” Lady Gaga’s real life hair and makeup person is cast as the makeup artist in the film, as are her choreographer and her dancers.

And if the final performance in the film isn’t a real enough tear-jerker, the real emotions behind it are even sadder. The day that scene was scheduled to shoot, Lady Gaga rushed to the hospital just minutes too late as her dear friend Sonja Durham passed away. She came back to the set and performed just two takes of the song, “I’ll Never Love Again.”

Lukas Nelson summed up the feel of the film best. “What it comes down to is that it’s real. What Bradley is doing is real, what Gaga is doing is real. Every performance in this movie comes from a deep place, a real place. And when it’s real, it resonates with people. When it’s real, it touches people. If you’re talking about things that matter, like suicide and loss, and inner turmoil — real things. But also to soothe people with song at the same time and touch people, then that’s what art truly is.”

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