How did you land on the title? You use Guy Lombardo’s record, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue,” in the scene where Gaga’s goddaughter is baptized, but what was the process like of choosing it to title the movie?
It was tough. I really struggled with figuring out what the title would be, and it was really near the end when I finally landed on that. It’s a couple of things. It’s her height, obviously. Then, even after I wanted to call it that, I found out there was this song from the ’20s. We used the Guy Lombardo recording of it, but there are so many recordings of it. It just felt very serendipitous. But for me, it’s like, so much of the film and the story circles around her body. It’s about the limitations of her body and the expectations placed on her body. She’s an athlete in a lot of ways and has to perform the way an athlete does. Her physical form is really the limitation of how far she can take it, and yet, she’s able to be so much bigger than that, so much more than that. So, thinking about her persona and her achievements and her legacy, and then also imagining that this is really, like, a human being that takes up that much space.
You mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that Gaga didn’t see the movie before the premiere and, at TIFF, she told us that that screening would be her first time watching it. What reaction did she have when she’d finally seen it?
It was really sweet afterward. She looked at me in the eyes, she was crying a little. She just thanked me. She knew that it would be emotional for her. She knew what was in the film. I mean, she was there as it was being made. [Laughs] So, she knew what I captured, but I don’t think she had any idea of what the overall effect would be, and I think it really moved her. It was just a sweet moment.
You followed Gaga for eight months filming this. Do you know how many hours of footage you have in total?
I really don’t. I mean, definitely hundreds and hundreds of hours, and to distill that into 100 minutes is tough. There’s a lot that you lose, but at the same time, I don’t feel like there was any real important moment or scene that I wasn’t able to include. A lot of times, you’re cutting repeats of things. Like, you’re getting at the same thing in a lot of different ways and you realize, “OK, I can communicate this or I can capture this through a shorter, more focused scene, rather than all these others ways.”
There’s a lot of studio stuff that I wasn’t able to use. I shot a lot — I would say half of the film was shot during her time in the studio and it only makes up maybe 15-20 percent of the film, if that. So, it starts to become redundant, even though I think it’s fascinating and I think other people would find it really interesting, too, watching her work. At some point, you kind of see that side of her life and there are so many other facets of her life that you want to leave the real-estate in the movie to get to that other stuff.
There’s a great bit in the end credits where Gaga jokes about the “night she gave Beyoncé a panic attack,” which I wanted to know everything about. Seeing how you had so much footage and especially because you were working with Netflix, was there ever discussion about turning this into a docu-series?
Not for me, at least. I felt really strongly that there was a very focused film here. And, again, not going into her past or going outside of the frame, really just looking at what was going on in her life for that specific period of time. It felt like there was a story to tell. So, I really wanted to keep it within the film format.
Having spent all this time with Gaga, what is one way in which she is exactly like everybody else, just any ordinary person? And the opposite of that: what is one way she is, as an internationally beloved pop star, so completely different than the rest of us?
I’d say the one thing that makes her, to me, very familiar and very human is just her way of interacting with the people around her after she does something like perform or does an interview. She looks for approval from her family and her friends, and you’d be surprised that she still would, after everything that she’s done. But there’s something really innocent and sweet about it. Like, she’s asking, “How was that? How was I? How did I sound?” That was surprising. I thought it was charming.
And then her work ethic is like nothing I’ve ever seen. She’s obviously incredibly creative, she’s brilliant, she’s super talented in all these different ways, but where I differ from her and what cured me of any fantasy that I could ever become a pop star is when you realize how hard she’s working every second of the day and how little personal downtime she’s able to have for herself. She’s taking in and putting out so much energy all the time and has been for decades. I think that’s what kind of separates her out. It’s like being a star athlete.