Just shy of 27 years old, Lady Gaga has built herself an empire. She more than broke into the business; she took the business by the wheel and began driving it herself. She became the first celebrity with 10 million twitter followers, and is now twitter’s most followed user.
Comparisons are made. Gaga is the next Madonna, we hear time and again. Something tells me if Gaga could reply to such comments she’d say, “Thank you, but I’m only the next Gaga.”
Is Quentin Tarantino the next Steven Spielberg? No, and neither should you try to be any other famous filmmaker.
Sure experience matters in both film and music, and so does whom you know. But in the end, if you don’t have it, hold your head high and make your own—that’s what Gaga did.
1. Make a Strong Debut
Sure we’ve all been making short films for years—but when you sign your first feature for distribution shouldn’t it be requested by every cinema across the country and sell out at its premiere? Why make your first feature mediocre?
Lady Gaga had been playing shows around Manhattan’s Lower East Side for years, but she made sure her first studio album Fame (2008) was a hit. Singles Poker Face and Just Dance both made it to number one slots, and the album debuted at the top of the charts.
Don’t make work that’s just decent for a first go—make work that knocks all the big greedy fish out of the water.
2. Follow Success with More Success
Does anybody remember a director for making just one good picture (or a screenwriter or producer for that matter)? A strong start may get you noticed, but once your first feature has been selected to Cannes don’t rest on your laurels. Give the people reason to keep paying attention.
Lady Gaga’s first album reached number one on all the billboards, but she didn’t stop there. Neither filmmakers nor musicians ever have time to rest. Straight away, the very next year (2009) she released another chart-topper: The Fame Monster. Her 18-month tour for that album became the highest-grossing concert tour of all time.
Nothing is impossible. Who’s to say that film you make next year won’t give Avatar a run for its money.
3. Live Your Image
For your film to sell, you need to believe in it with all your heart. You need to cross platforms and make it your life.
Few people are familiar with Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but almost anyone alive today knows Stefani by her stage name, Lady Gaga. But Gaga does not just stick with one identity; she has created an entire subculture.
Explore the possibilities for one film—create an online universe, consider marketing through other industries. Gaga took on a second identity as Mother Monster, and every fan became one of her little monsters. Gaga doesn’t just tour, she embarks on The Fame Ball Tour or The Monster Ball Tour.
Branding is essential. Don’t separate yourself from your film.
4. Create for Your Audience
When you begin to make a movie, the first thing you should consider is who will see it. Few films will appeal to everyone, but every filmmaker should have an audience in mind.
Lady Gaga’s music has broad appeal, both with critics and the general population. She is such an individual she first creates for herself, but she also considers all her little monsters. Already much of the public is calling her “the new queen.”
When playing live concerts Lady Gaga has been known to rest one stiletto-clad heel atop a piano. Is it necessary? No, but it makes a better show.
Design is in the details. A film won’t be successful unless people will come see it—and tell their friends, and write reviews…and spread your name.
5. Reinvent the Ordinary
You’ve heard—only seven stories exist in the world. How can your film say anything new? You must reinvent the mundane.
Gaga is the master of reincarnation. Any object takes on new power in her hands. Cigarettes become fashionable sunglasses, hospital caps become berets and prison stripes become haute couture. The everyday takes on new significance, because yes we’ve seen it before, but not like this.
Never box yourself in. Film knows no limits. Imagine all the ways the camera transforms.
6. Don’t Apologise for Yourself
Good filmmakers know the rules, but great filmmakers break the rules. To gain respect in the industry filmmakers must be confident in themselves. Kissing-up has no place in movie business today.
Lady Gaga is the superstar for the superstar. Everyone idolises the career and personality she has created for herself. Sure, Akon signed her—but he didn’t shape her. She made her own rules from the start. She collaborates with today’s music-business stand-bys like Beyoncé, but she makes sure they play on her turf. In her single “Born This Way,” Gaga proclaims her confidence, “I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”
Be unafraid of controversy. Go ahead: shake the standards.
7. Don’t Forget the People Behind You
Every person who works on a film—from the best boy electric to the location scout—is important and deserves proper recognition and thanks. But beyond that, the audience is your support base, and so is your family.
The audience is where social media comes in. If the audience is supporting your film, you owe it to them to deliver personal and relevant Facebook messages and tweets. Let the audience into your world and behind-the-scenes.
Gaga does more than produce regular social media content, she takes it a step further. Knowing she owes a great deal of her support to the LGBT community, she founded the humanitarian Born This Way Foundation to support gay rights. (The title track of her 2011 Born This Way has become somewhat of the gay anthem.)
Take care of your fans and they will take care of you.
When people ask Gaga where she draws her inspiration, she sites her mum’s fashion sense. She continues to pay tribute to her parents in her songs and interviews. Gratitude starts at home; don’t forget anyone who helped you along the way.
When you start forgetting, you may find all the people who held your camera and set up your lights (and everything else) will no longer be there.
Lady Gaga’s music videos are stylised shorts themselves. She excels in every convention of the genre.
But she has also taken it one step further—and it shows in how she defines herself. She is Mother Monster, she has gone beyond what is human. Her duality is present in the titles she gives herself.
What can a filmmaker learn from a pop music maven? As it turns out, much. So take a nod from the musical icon, and be whoever you want to be. Make whatever movies are calling you. And never stop.
For a bit of Gaga-spiration, see her Born This Way video.