This past January, UW-Madison senior and Comm Arts major Colton James Boettcher made public a music video promoting the pro-gay, anti-discrimination message of the It Gets Better Project. An elaborate dance production set to the Lady Gaga song “Hair,” the video was posted online through YouTube and quickly went viral. Within a matter of hours, Lady Gaga herself linked to the video on her Facebook account and Tweeted about it, proclaiming: “This is so AMAZING. You guys did such an amazing job for It Gets Better. The Choreo! I died!” To date, the video has received over 560,000 views on YouTube and has been re-posted on multiple websites, including The Huffington Post. Colton and his video have also been featured on local media outlets like madison.com.
The seven-and-a-half minute video follows a gay teen’s path from being bullied to being accepted by his peers. By the end, he attends his high school prom with a male love interest and the bully is ostracized. Colton (pictured right) concludes the video with an impassioned speech reaching out to young gay viewers, declaring: “I am gay, and a number of other people in this music video are also gay. And we’re okay. We love our lives. We love our lives so much that we want to let you know that it does get better.” In an interview, Colton further explained, “I always wanted to make an It Gets Better video. However, I wanted mine to reach out to a larger audience and have an impact on a larger scale,” referring to his decision to craft a music video with elaborate choreography and high production values. “I love the message the It Gets Better project is sending, it really does get better. Not only in the aspect that you won’t get bullied on a daily basis after high school, but in all aspects of your life. You’ll be able to be proud of who you are. You’ll be able to have friends who don’t judge you for things you say, do, or feel. You’ll be able to openly and honestly have a relationship with someone and not let anyone tell you that it is wrong.”
The entire production of the It Gets Better video took Colton and his cast and crew nearly six months to complete. A number of UW-Madison students starred in and assisted with the production, which Colton funded entirely himself. Fellow Comm Arts student Bryce Mahlstedt designed the choreography. Most of the dancers were UW-Madison students, including a number of Wisconsin Singers members. Boettcher explained that he began conceptualizing the video last July, following the production of another music video for the Lady Gaga song “Dance in the Dark.” (“If you haven’t realized by now, I’m a huge fan,” he admitted.) Rehearsals began in October, the video was shot in mid-November, and editing took place from November through January – all the production efforts being fit in between school and work obligations. Plan B, a local gay bar in Madison, graciously provided Colton and his cast and crew with free rehearsal space for eight weeks. The video was filmed at Bonduel High School in Colton’s hometown of Bonduel, Wisconsin, near Green Bay. Most of the extras were students at the high school, while others were Colton’s family and friends from Bonduel. Colton and his colleagues premiered the video at a release party at Plan B in mid-January, and then uploaded it to YouTube a few days later.
In all, the video is an impressive example of young men and women using their considerable talent, passion, and ingenuity along with new media technologies to support a worthy cause. “The success of the video has been astonishing,” Colton said recently. “Almost every time we – the dancers, assistant, et cetera – met on Monday night [for rehearsal], we would talk about how amazing it would be to have Lady Gaga see the video. We always said that she would see the video within a couple of weeks, and our lives would be made. It took her 18 hours to see the video; it was a shock. The comments, messages, and overall support has been immeasurable. Not a day goes by that I don’t have 50+ email messages and YouTube comments thanking us for our hard work. It was all well worth it.” He added, “I have given some presentations on bullying over the last few weeks at high schools in Madison. I’m beyond grateful if I can make a difference in at least one teen’s life.”
Colton plans to move to Los Angeles and find work in the film and television industry following his graduation in December. In the meantime, he has begun production on a new video project for Marriage Equality, which he expects to finish in late May.