The Depth of "Shallow"

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This will not be a post concerning the results of or even commenting on the current state of the quite possibly irrelevant cinematic award show. And while I won’t tell you that I’m fully against the results of the Best Picture category, and that the fact that an actor could don fake teeth and lip-sync music from a famous musician yet still secure the award of Best Actor while a man who became an overweight vice president (and continuously changes his size and shape for various roles to the detriment of his health) and a man who learned to sing and play guitar and write songs went home with nothing (except, you know, all their money). 

But I don’t want to talk about specifics here, but rather, the revelation of stage photography that I had never even considered in the past. 

You’ve heard me gush about A Star is Born before, and you’re about to hear a Star is Born adjacent gush again. 

By the way, I’d like to be fully up front in saying I didn’t watch The Oscars. I just caught up on it the next day. I really have very little interest in watching award shows take place, especially since I abstain from the Twitter conversation and general meme-ity. 

I did, however, watch the performance of Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Other than the obvious chemistry and awkward ride home that I’m sure Bradley Cooper and his significant other enjoyed, I thought the performance was incredible. (especially as these live award show performances go)

What I was most taken aback by was the photography of the performance, namely, the camera angle from backstage.

I mean, it was filmed like the movie.

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Due to the chemistry of the two, I almost forgot I wasn’t watching a scene from A Star is Born.

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And sure, I’m sure it’s not the first live performance filmed in this way, but the fact that cinematography was important during something airing live is a very cool idea. It reminds me of Woody Harrelson’s live movie Lost in London, which me and my brother in law stayed up late to watch in theaters while it was being filmed. If you don’t know the premise of Lost in London, it is based on a true story of a night that Woody Harrelson had years ago in London. The big hook? He would film it live as a movie, not a play. They moved from location to location in London in pretty much one shot. The technology that was required to pull off such a feat was incredible, and I don’t envy the job of the camera men (especially the guys in charge of audio).

I’m not sure how watching the movie is when it’s not live (the magic probably isn’t there), but if you go watch it, just keep in mind it was shot on the spot.

We’ve been able to watch live TV for years and years, but it required much larger equipment than it does today. Obviously, you can live stream on your phone, so it stands to reason that the ability to go live for a much bigger event has gotten much easier as well. Due to this, we have the luxury of now thinking about the cinematography of live events in a way we never really have, and I think that’s a pretty recent development.

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But look. The fact of the matter is, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga have chemistry and they acted like they were in the movie again, and the performance was filmed in the same way. It could have been filmed like any live Oscar performance where you’re just seeing the same view the audience sees with maybe some close ups here and there, but they didn’t. Why?

The audience in A Star is Born is always in shadow or not in frame at all during the performances. That’s because, IT’S NOT ABOUT THEM.

The audience in A Star is Born is always in shadow or not in frame at all during the performances. That’s because, IT’S NOT ABOUT THEM.

It’s hard to fathom that Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are this good at acting, and who knows, maybe they aren’t acting. But they retained the same thing that made A Star is Born special (despite it just being a performance for a silly award show for millionaires): Their relationship is so powerful that the audience is irrelevant. You never really see or care about the audience in A Star is Born, it’s all close-ups of the people on stage, because it’s about the two main characters. The creative decision to show the same relationship live was a powerful and obviously well-thought out one.

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

― Steve Jobs

Sure, maybe I’m getting a little too intense about this. As someone who is obsessed with, and has dedicated his life to photography and videography, it’s hard not too appreciate. All of this is hard to put together. I watch a lot of big events with awe, knowing all the pieces that have to come together to make it work. They painted the inside of the cabinets for this one, by shooting it the exact same way it would have been shot in the film and they didn’t have to. They could have just got up there and sang Shallow, and everyone would have loved it just the same.

This is the stuff I love. Good photography and cinematography is once thing, but to pull off a beautiful image with the moving parts of actors and audio and everything in it is amazing and seems like an impossible undertaking, yet incredible artists do it time and time again.

I sound like a crazy person talking about these things, but that’s because, well, I am a crazy person.

So, I know what you’re thinking: “Will, ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?”