LA Times: Can a music-industry insider make real documentaries? This Live Nation exec says yes

MIKAEL WOOD | September 21, 2017

Lady Gaga in a scene from “Five Foot Two,” a new documentary produced by Live Nation. (Netflix)
To a person standing on the street, little distinguishes the pair of sleek, green-gray structures that make up Live Nation’s headquarters in Beverly Hills. But Heather Parry says that there’s definitely a difference between the two buildings — and that her office is in the good one.

As head of Live Nation Productions, the entertainment behemoth’s recently launched film and television division, Parry oversees a growing slate of music documentaries, including this summer’s “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” about Sean “Diddy” Combs and his Bad Boy label, and “Five Foot Two,” a behind-the-scenes portrait of pop superstar Lady Gaga that’s set to premiere Friday on Netflix.

When Parry comes to work, though, she doesn’t sit next to the executives in charge of Live Nation’s touring and ticketing businesses. She’s with the talent managers in the company’s so-called Artist Nation wing.

 

“I literally have Gaga’s manager to my right and Miley Cyrus’ to my left,” she said the other afternoon, pointing with pride in either direction. “I see them every day in the kitchen or the hallway.” And sometimes closer than that.

“As you can see, the offices here are glass,” Parry said. As she worked one day on the Bad Boy movie, Gaga’s manager, Bobby Campbell, passed by and caught a glimpse, then poked his head in: “Can I see some of that?” Within weeks, they’d started preproduction on “Five Foot Two.”

So: Proximity is power. Of course.

Yet for a documentary filmmaker, the type of cozy relationship Parry describes can also be a liability — especially when that relationship exists within a show-biz conglomerate dedicated to protecting (and monetizing) pop stars’ careers rather than revealing their deepest, darkest thoughts.

A Lady Gaga movie paid for by Lady Gaga’s team? The prospect should arouse suspicion; it should put you on guard against the slick persuasion of a commercial.

But “Five Foot Two” is a real-deal documentary that shows new sides of the glamazon singer as director Chris Moukarbel follows her through the recording of her 2016 album “Joanne” and her preparations for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

 

And it’s not the only such project that Parry has shepherded in the nearly two years she’s been with Live Nation. “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” which intercut archival footage with fly-on-the-wall stuff shot at rehearsals for last year’s Bad Boy Family Reunion tour, offered an unexpected vantage on Diddy’s ambition and his paranoia.

Before that, “Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis” captured the complicated emotions experienced by the members of that Palm Desert rock group as they returned to Paris following the horrific 2015 attack in which terrorists burst into their gig and killed 89 people.

Told the quality of her films keeps surprising at least one viewer, Parry shrugged. “I’m not interested in making EPKs,” she said, using the industry abbreviation for an electronic press kit.

Yet that’s precisely how many stars seem to regard music documentaries, which have exploded in popularity as new streaming outlets have created demand for ever more content. Think of Beyoncé’s self-mythologizing “Life Is but a Dream” or “Sonic Highways,” the glossy Foo Fighters miniseries that more or less served to hype the band’s album of the same name.

Those titles are essentially marketing exercises — old-fashioned music videos inflated to feature-length dimensions.

Parry’s films feel different. None is free, of course, from the tightly managed brand messaging that all pop stars practice these days. In the Gaga doc, for instance, there’s a scene in which the singer takes her top off with a kind of performed intimacy while sitting by the pool of her Malibu estate.

Another scene where she disses Madonna was almost certainly scrutinized as a strategic risk worth taking.

But “Five Foot Two” also lifts the veil on the peculiarities of Gaga’s life, as when we see Campbell coaching her on how to game a reporter from the New York Times. It’s a moment of truth that shows how her job is sometimes to be fake.

Parry argues that it’s her insider’s access that makes such moments possible; her subjects feel safe because they trust Parry and her collaborators, she says, and therefore they let down the guard they’d keep up around, say, a journalist.

Heather Parry in her office at Live Nation Productions. (Barry Peele / Live Nation)

That’s tricky terrain, but Parry — who got her start at the similarly chummy MTV News — is so far navigating it with skill.

In an email, Live Nation chief Michael Rapino called Parry’s movies “honest and powerful projects that are resonating with music fans.” How widely they’re resonating is hard to know; “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” was released through Apple Music, which doesn’t report box office data the way movie theaters do.

But Rapino is clearly happy, given that he’s still funding the film division. On a nonglass wall behind Parry’s desk, dozens of note cards describe various projects in development. She’s working on a film about the frontman of Imagine Dragons, who grew up in the Mormon church, and his struggle with that organization’s harsh doctrine regarding gay people. Last year she shot Guns N’ Roses’ show at Dodger Stadium for a concert movie.

And she wants to make a movie about Noah Cyrus, Miley’s little sister, who’s trying to make her way as a pop star but hasn’t yet had a huge amount of success.

Needless to say, this is one idea that arose as a result of where Parry sits. One might wonder if anyone outside these few offices should care about it.

Parry laughed. “I’ll make you care,” she said.

LA TIMES