YouTube Songstress Seeks Fame in 'Presenting Princess Shaw'

Mar 3, 2016

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year's True/False Film Fest. Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes. 

In "Presenting Princess Shaw," director Ido Haar follows Samantha Montgomery, an elderly care assistant and songstress, around the American South as she attempts to break into to the elusive word of music stardom. Montgomery uploads hundreds of videos of herself to YouTube under the pseudonym of Princess Shaw in hopes of getting some artistic recognition.

While Haar knew that his friend from the other side of the world, Israeli electronic music producer Kutiman, was planning on sampling vocals from one of Princess Shaw’s videos amongst a myriad other instrumentalists he found on YouTube to make his new mash-up single, Haar came up with an idea to try and locate all of the musicians sourced for Kutiman’s mash-up, and to film each of them to see what their lives beyond YouTube were like.

Once Haar began filming, he came across Montgomery, and decided that he wanted to focus all of his attention on Princess Shaw. He elected to not tell Shaw about her soon-to-be viral fame, and his fly-on-the-wall documentary details the narrative of the financial risks and sacrifices that Shaw takes to follow her dreams, despite the fact that her YouTube videos barely break double-digits on the view counter.  

KBIA's Tyler Adkisson talked with Haar about his film.

Adkison: Originally, one of these ideas came because you have a lot of friends that have this immense amount of talent, but never got the recognition that they quite rightfully deserved. Did you want to see Princess Shaw get the recognition that she thought she deserved?

Haar: Of course, and I think this is, for me too, of course this film is about Princess Shaw and Samantha, and I really believe in love and work and songs and everything. But, when I did this film I also thought a lot about all those amazing talents that they’re in so many places and there’s such a big chance that no one will hear about them because it’s very much dependent on who you are and where you’re born, and sometimes you are not born with the right cards in your hand and you don’t really know how to break into this world of music or art or culture. But I did this film and always thought about the most talented students from my film school that, almost none of them are now doing films today, and they were the most talented and bright and with the original sense of thinking.

Adkisson: And I wanted to ask if this was in the original cut of the film, but at the very end, there’s just a one or two second shot where, on the left side of the screen I believe it’s an artistic portrait of David Bowie from the LP “Heroes?” And on the right side…

Haar: You mean like the photo? Right?

Adkisson: Yeah, yeah, the photo of him like holding his hands up on the album cover.

Haar: That was, you know, totally a coincidence. When she was visiting in Israel, she went with Kutiman to perform in one club, and the place where the artists change and get ready, there was this photo! So then I had this shot, but  I saw it recently and I've admired David Bowie since ever! And when I saw it, it was really, it was really a moment for me. But it was, it was totally coincidence, and I was shooting there a lot, but it was coincidence that this photo was there.

Adkisson: It just, it felt so intentional because part of her life is that she’s playing all of these different characters, and I guess the parallel that I took away from it was that, at that period of his life where he was in Berlin, Bowie had a crippling cocaine addiction and things were just --

Haar: I didn’t go that far, but you know, the way I work, is a lot of, you know, I’m not doing “shooting” or things like that. There is a lot of intuition here -- I am filming by myself most of the time. And I always look, or, you know I come to places, see it over, and then I saw this David Bowie photo hanging on the wall and I felt that, “okay, she’s just putting her hair in and this photo is there, I want to, how do I say this in English -- to catch this in my camera!