How Live Nation's Film/TV Head Heather Parry Tells Stories Behind The Music
Heather Parry prides herself as a multitasker, even at her own birthday party. In January 2016, two weeks after she started as Live Nation’s president of production, film and television, actor Colin Hanks mentioned to Parry, 46, that he was considering documenting the Eagles of Death Metal’s February return to Paris following the terrorist attack at the band’s November 2015 concert. “I go, ‘I’ll fund it!’” recalls Parry. “Colin’s like, ‘It’s your birthday, let me call you on Monday.’ He called me Monday and I said, ‘Let’s go,’” and they left for Paris.
Twenty months later, the resulting film, Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis, which was nominated for two Critics Choice Awards on Oct. 9, has taken on new relevance following the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, co-owned by Live Nation. Parry declined to answer questions about the latest tragedy, but the former MTV News executive and head of film production for Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions discussed her other projects, including Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story (Apple Music) and Gaga: Five Foot Two (Netflix), which debuted Sept. 22. Coming up are documentaries on Imagine Dragons and Noah Cyrus as well as a move into scripted films as producer on the Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga remake of A Star Is Born and Def Pictures’ After Party.
“For several years we’ve been streaming live shows and creating short-form digital content around artists and the live concert experience,” says Live Nation Entertainment president/CEO Michael Rapino. “Moving into film and TV was a natural extension of that strategy.”
With budgets largely under $5 million (A Star Is Born excepted), Parry’s Beverly Hills-based division is producing docs that reveal the artists behind the music, often joining them on an emotional and spiritual journey -- such as Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds’ embrace of the LGBTQ community and his attempt to change his fellow Mormons’ opposition to homosexuality. They also provide an additional platform for, though not limited to, Live Nation-affiliated acts.
With the emotional Gaga doc now streaming, Parry tells Billboard about the process of putting together these projects and why it’s all about the artist.
You are in the same building as Artist Nation, Live Nation’s management division. How do you take advantage of the proximity to so many managers?
Heather Parry: [Live Nation chairman of global music] Arthur Fogel said, “Lady Gaga’s manager, Bobby [Campbell], may be thinking of doing a documentary. You should talk to him.” Bobby sits to my right and our offices are glass, so it’s not like you can run or hide. As I was editing Bad Boy, he could see through the glass. The Gaga doc took its course from there.
What need did you and Michael Rapino see in the film and TV market?
There wasn’t really a place that was just doing high-quality music-based content that artists would be interested in.
Do the acts need to have an existing connection to Live Nation?
No, though it makes a better partnership when we do, because they’re here and the deals are so quick to get done. Eagles of Death Metal isn’t a band we manage, and they weren’t on tour at the time. It was just a really good story.
How do you pick distribution partners?
It’s different on every one. On Eagles of Death Metal, Colin picked up the phone and talked to Sheila Nevins at HBO. He knew her and it made perfect sense for us, because [HBO] covered the U2 show for us when the attacks were happening. With Apple, I’ve known Jimmy [Iovine] since I was at MTV, and he has always been really kind. I worked with a lot of his artists when he was at Interscope, and he conveniently lives down the street from [Sean Combs].
What did you learn from working with Adam Sandler that you put into practice at Live Nation?
If I can’t pitch something in 30 seconds, then it’s not going to work. And Sandler’s work ethic is incredible. That guy writes, produces, is in the office every day.
Are you expected to make a profit?
[Rapino] has never put that pressure on me, but the films are paying for themselves.
Live Nation doesn’t own masters or publishing, so you have to license any music you use. Is that a challenge?
That’s not a challenge, because everybody in the inner circle knows early on what we’re doing. At the end of the day -- and Michael taught me this -- it’s about the artist.
What does Gaga want? What does [Combs] want? How do you achieve that? Could Combs or any artist request cuts?
I would want him to feel comfortable, but I wouldn’t want it to feel like a press kit. I don’t think he has been that vulnerable on camera a lot. Then he realized it’s okay to be vulnerable, because then it shows it’s okay for other people to be vulnerable. Gaga saw her film for the first time at the Toronto Film Festival. [With] the people, filmmakers and subjects that I’m picking and the stories I’m telling, it’s not going to be [an issue]. That’s why I didn’t want to say anything when I first came here, because I was like, “[People are] going to think these pieces are going to be fluff.”
Are you making these films for the artists’ fans?
I don’t think you have to be a fan of Bad Boy or that music to love [Combs’] spirit in that doc. My mother watched that and was like, “He works really hard!” And my mom isn’t the biggest Bad Boy fan, but I think the stories stand for themselves. If you were a fan, you’re an even bigger fan. And if you weren’t a fan, you sure as hell are now.
How much does market research play a part in your decisions?
A lot, though I looked at nothing for Eagles of Death Metal, because they didn’t have that. For Bad Boy, [the New York reunion concert] sold out immediately, so I said, “Let’s make it in New York, and that’ll be the story.” I’ll watch what’s popping and hitting, but I also look more at the numbers and the data [for] marketing. [But] not when I’m shooting; I don’t want numbers to affect the creative process.
Who is your dream subject?
Why are you going into scripted films, which cost more money and carry a bigger risk?
Why not? Life would not be fun without any risk. You’d just be mediocre.