Growing up, Grammy Award–winning music video producer Nicole Ehrlich ’98 says she would opt to do a film for school projects whenever possible. “I found my niche putting great teams together and making visions come to life,” she says.

nicole and gaga

Lady Gaga and Nicole Ehrlich ’98 on the set of the “Poker Face” video. Credit: Meeno Peluce

Today, Ehrlich makes visions come to life as a music video producer for superstars like Usher and Lady Gaga, contributing her ideas from conception to production to editing. “I love the process,” she says, “and I love how the end product can make a difference in someone’s life.”

In 2010, she took home a Grammy for best short form music video for Lady Gaga’s monster hit “Bad Romance,” and when “Bad Romance” swept the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, Gaga thanked Ehrlich in her acceptance speech for best pop video.

Ehrlich arrived at Smith in 1996 as a transfer student from California’s Santa Monica College, which has a collaborative admission agreement with Smith. She majored in government and played rugby and basketball.

After graduation, she jumped headlong into filmmaking, working in a variety of roles on commercials and music videos and breaking barriers in the process. “I believe I was the first female Technocrane operator at Panavision,” she says. “A Technocrane is basically a massive crane with a camera on the end. None of the operators would give me a chance except for one, who made me organize his garage to get the internship. I did it happily.”

Ehrlich built a reputation as a commercial and music video producer, and then became creative director at a small record label. Before long, she was named vice president of creative services and broadcast/new media at Universal Music Group, commissioning and producing videos. She hit a turning point in her career when an executive from another label asked her to work with a then-unknown artist, Lady Gaga. They first spoke by telephone, and have been collaborating ever since.

“My relationship with Gaga is a special one,” Ehrlich says. “It is rooted in trust and respect. We both know that we have each other’s interests at heart.”

Ehrlich is currently pitching two television shows and recently finished directing a promotional video for Code.org, featuring such notables as Shakira, Ashton Kutcher, Angela Bassett, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and President Barack Obama. She is also developing a television network that solely features films by women. Last year, Ehrlich ran the New York City Marathon to raise money for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, chronicling her training and tips for success in an article for The Huffington Post.

“In the future, I want to make movies,” says Ehrlich, “and I want to continue to build projects that inspire creativity, productivity and innovation. Smith instilled in me the art and power that I thrive off of even now.”

Abe Loomis is a freelance writer based in Western Massachusetts.