YouTube star turned transgender celebrity Gigi Gorgeous has millions rocking to the beat of their own authentic rhythm.
Love is the template of the groundbreaking documentary titled This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous.
The doc centers on a middle child born in 1992 Toronto, Gigi Gorgeous, who began life as Gregory Lazzarato — an extrovert and competitive high-diver, which might have led to the Olympics had he not aspired for other creative endeavors.
Lazzarato went on YouTube at the age of 14 and began regularly posting beauty and fashion videos — garnering millions of followers and becoming one of the biggest influencers and among the earliest (and the few) to come out publicly as transgender on the video sharing website.
Now at the age of 25, the YouTube star-turned-transgender-celebrity is the subject of two-time Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple’s (American Dream and Harlan County, USA) latest project.
The esteemed documentarian teamed with executive producers Adam Wescott and Scott Fisher of SelectNext to capture Gigi’s inspirational transition, which did not officially begin until late 2013.
This is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous made history as the first YouTube Red Original to premiere as an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and is now aiming for an Emmy nomination.
TelevisionAcademy.com contributor Ny MaGee recently spoke with Kopple and Wescott about the film’s distribution journey and the creative process behind sharing Gigi’s unique story beyond her millions of YouTube followers.
Describe the creative process behind capturing Gigi’s inspirational transition.
Adam: We started with about 15 hours of existing footage. That was everything from her childhood to present and she proactively, as an independent creator on YouTube, had turned on her blog camera to film about four and a half hours of the transition process, including some of the surgery footage, before and after, that made it to the final cut.
Then we were lucky enough to bring on Barbara and once she came on she combined that existing footage with current day story based on Gigi’s family life and her work and everything’s she got going on.
Barbara: We got stuff from her GoPro and I was able to film her in L.A. and I was able to film her family in Toronto. Her father and her two brothers are so remarkable, particularly her father who was a guy who just didn’t really ever think that anything like this would ever happen in his life. He’s a conservative businessman, and it’s also a film about his transition as well.
He never thought that he would be affected by anything like this and you really see how he accepts her and how he loves her and how he’s there for every operation that she goes through. In one of the scenes, he’s giving her a sponge bath. It’s just so incredibly beautiful. One of the things that he says in the film, he just said, “I realize that Gigi being happy is so much more important than me having old Greg.” And that’s what did it for him.
How does she represent the aspects of the human condition that you enjoy exploring in your work?
Barbara: I look at people for who they are. It’s telling a story. I never really thought about the film like, “Okay, this is a story about somebody who’s a transgender person.” I just thought of it as a story of somebody who’s a person, who I find extremely courageous and really went after what she wanted. And she just had such an openness that I just find so inspiring.
She’s just a person who shared all of her life for so many years with other people and has really built a community, cause sometimes you feel very isolated and very alone when you’re a minority, which a lot of transgender people are.
And I think she’s probably saved a lot of people from committing suicide and feeling alone. And she feels also that they have helped her when she was in her dark periods that we all get into. She had this community on YouTube which is really remarkable.
In what ways do you find Gigi’s story resonating?
Adam: I think growing up, there really wasn’t LBGTQ mentors and personalities that you could look to. I mean, they just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Ellen DeGeneres coming out episode of her sitcom, and I remember that. I remember that being monumental. But to know now that people can find someone like Gigi or Tyler Oakley or Connor Franta and they’re just one click away, it’s a whole new world.
It’s aways amazing to go to schools with Gigi and just see the reaction and the response she gets, and there’s actually a little bit of that at the end of the film when she went back to her hometown high school. You see it firsthand of the power and the influence that she has and how by telling her personal story it has an effect on encouraging others to do the same and to live their life as their authentic self.
Was going on this journey with Gigi transformative for you, personally or professionally?
Barbara: To really understand who she is as a person, to really understand her ups and her downs and what she went through and the kind of courage of what she went through to be comfortable in her own skin, is what was transformative to me. And also to her father.
Everybody here at Cabin Creek, where I work, we all said, “If I only had a father like that who really understood and who really could talk to us.” My father was like that. What changed me is like, family and how important family is. They mean the world to everything.
Were there times when you sensed apprehension from Gigi about reconnecting with her past?
Adam: Gigi is the only person I’ve ever met that really doesn’t fear anything. She’s fearless. She didn’t care. She wasn’t part of the post-production process so she didn’t get to have creative control like she does on her own channel. So would she have preferred a little less nudity during her breast augmentation? Sure.
But as far as what we filmed and what footage we had access to and who we were talking to and what we were digging into — No. There was no point when she said, “No, that’s off limits.” Including with her ex-boyfriend. I mean, who wants to look back at their first love relationship and have their ex on camera?
Describe your distribution journey going from YouTube Red and premiering as an official Sundance selection to potential Emmy consideration.
Barbara: I think this is the first project for YouTube Red and I think that going to Sundance for them was a lot of fun. They do have a presence at Sundance but having their own movie there was pretty extraordinary. It was also wonderful for Gigi and her family because they had never seen any of it until they saw it with 650 people in the audience.
So they were watching their whole life unfold in front of them with all these strangers. They’re watching people cry and laugh and applaud and it was really quite amazing. I think YouTube Red has done an incredible job of getting the film out there and understanding that they want it to be an Emmy contender is just wonderful.
Adam: YouTube Red ended up being the perfect partner for this because they understood Gigi and her existing audience and they empowered us to go create something. Once they saw a glimpse of what we had, with Barbara onboard, they gave us more time to then take it and submit it to festivals. So they were extremely accommodating and great partners in it.
And even after its release on YouTube Red, it continues to go to festivals around the world. We’re just happy that people are getting to see the film wherever it is and we’re lucky that we had a good partner in YouTube who just got it and was willing to come on early.
In what ways do you hope Gigi’s journey will enhance the conversation around the social acceptance movement?
Barbara: There are so many families that throw their children out because they don’t understand that the way to really touch people and reach people is talking to each other and being close to each other, and that’s the biggest theme of this film for me. In a time when we don’t communicate too well with each other because of what’s happening in our country. This turns that corner to say, “That’s what’s going to change things.”
Adam: We’ve been to many schools since the release of the documentary. We screened the film at universities across the country during Transgender Day of Visibility back in March. You have kids come out of the audience who end up coming out of the closet, whether it’s as gay or as trans. They’re opening up and telling their personal stories because they’re so deeply affected by Gigi sharing hers.
We had one girl, when Gigi did a visit to Malibu High School, that had not even told her parents or her friends yet, and she felt comfortable enough with Gigi being present to come out to her in front of the entire school assembly of 700 kids. So there’s something to be said for the influence of Gigi sharing her personal story.
To what do you attribute this shift in our society where we seem to be moving toward a more pro-social acceptance climate?
Adam: I think it’s an ongoing process so I wouldn’t say its acceptance across the board but it’s definitely part of the conversation now more than ever. I think you can attribute a lot of that to entertainment shows like Transparent. Having Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black.
You had Caitlyn Jenner come out as trans and I think that, for good or bad, she gets a lot of backlash on her points of view, it made the idea of being transgender a household conversation and I think that was a big benchmark in the movement and it’s ongoing.
There’s not equality for all, especially at the international level. We actually end the documentary with an update on a trip that Gigi took to Dubai where she wasn’t allowed into the country because she is trans and it is illegal there. She was detained at the airport and turned away, for which they later apologized and said it was due to a computing error but that was not the case.
It was extremely fearful and we had to work with her over those 8 hours to make sure she could get out okay. Sarah Kate, who is the president of GLADD, helped make calls and get her out.
Barbara: I think that’s also part of Gigi’s story, making it so many other people’s stories. I think it’s going to make it more difficult for people to dismiss transgender people or to write off their needs as less important than their own.
If a family is politically divided over the transgender issue and they watch this documentary, what would you like them to take away from it?
Adam: I like that you said family because this is ultimately a family film. I always joke that Gigi’s father David ends up being the star of the show. You see his personal transition from being hesitant as a conservative, masculine, parent, to going to every surgery with Gigi and really coming to terms that he would prefer to accept the transition and keep Gigi in his life, in whatever form that takes.
So I think if families can watch together and parents identify an inkling of inspiration from David Lazzarato then we’re on the right path because he set the precedent for how parents accept and love their kids no matter what.