Justin Bieber's 'Believe': Director Jon Chu on the Singer's Challenging Year
"Getting to the heart" of a trying time was the focus of the follow-up to "Never Say Never"
Jon Chu has seen Justin Bieber reach his greatest heights and lowest lows. As the director of 'Never Say Never,' the pop star’s 2011 documentary which grossed nearly $100 million, Chu filmed Bieber’s burgeoning career from obscurity to superstardom. Now helming its follow-up 'Believe' (out Christmas Day), he not only got to witness Bieber mania reach an even more massive global scale, Chu was the one asking the questions: interviewing Bieber at a vulnerable moment in his life and in the midst of trying to transition from kid to adult, pop star to artist.
The age-old saying, with great power (or in this case, fame) comes great responsibility, is very much alive in the mind and heart of Justin Bieber, even if he sometimes veers off the path -- as teenagers are wont to do. But with that reach, also comes a heap of negative attention that colors his every move.
Does Bieber dispute the tabloids, fight the paparazzi and insist on his privacy by forcing house-guests to sign confidentiality agreements? Yes to all of the above, but Bieber is also shining a light on that struggle.
With Chu behind the lens, 'Believe,' like 'Never Say Never,' combines concert footage (the production value upped significantly since 2010), interviews with Bieber’s inner circle and family members, and rarely seen video of the future superstar during his earliest days of touring. The central narrative is provided by the singer himself, which is perhaps most engrossing, but getting there took the guiding hand of Chu, who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how the film came together.
The concert-doc started out more concert than documentary, how did it end up flipping the other way around?
We shot his concert in Miami, but more footage came in from his videographers – of him traveling around, along stuff that I shot behind the scenes and it started to get a bit more interesting. It had these mini-stories because it was a very interesting year for him. At a certain point, we looked at the movie and were, like, this movie can take another step, to let people look at how we know Justin -- that he’s a kid, that he was struggling with these things. If you knew how he saw it, it would be a lot more interesting.
How revealing is the film in terms of where he's at emotionally?
It's not necessarily give any answers. I think we present a situation to people, and show that he's a kid who's figuring it all out, and that’s OK. I love Justin, he’s a really good kid. So when I see him struggle, it hurts me, too, and I just wanted to share that experience of our relationship with the audience. ... I actually always envisioned these movies as a trilogy, where check back with him and see where he was at.
You're the one interviewing Justin in the movie. How was it to have to ask those difficult questions?
We’re close so I wasn’t nervous about it. He was very open. When you’re behind closed doors, Justin is very open about where he’s at and what’s going on. Sometimes he makes excuses and you can see through it and then he’ll fess up to it right after. All those little things are what make him a kid that is like your nephew or your cousin and I think that's a compelling thing to see: to see him not as an object for us to judge, harp on and destroy, but somebody who we have responsibility for because we ultimately put him there.
A big part of the film is the footage from the tour, which you also directed. For someone who’s never seen Justin live, how would you describe the show?
It’s fun! When we first started, he was, like, "I want to take my audience on an adventure -- to a place that they can escape to, a magical place where they can believe in anything, that anything is possible." He said that from the very beginning. He was also concerned about making it too grown up. He'd say, "I don’t want to outgrow my audience. I want them to be with me as I go through it, too." He literally would say to me, "Don’t make it too sexy and edgy. I want this to be accessible -- that we all go on a fantasy together."
Is he aware that, for a lot of those girls in the crowd, it's their first concert?
Oh yes, very much so. A lot of people experience their first concert with their moms, their dads or their families that they’re going to remember it. So it was a matter of, let’s find iconic images that they’re going to hold on to. They may not remember every little detail of every song, but they’ll remember the wings, the water, the lasers. Whether it’s snow in one scene and glitter in another, it's stuff that you can actually touch and feel. In fact, early on we had air modules that would shoot air into the audience way back in the house. It got a little too hard to bring around everywhere, but for the first 30 or 40 shows we had these effects pods that were really fun. He wanted to be physical. He wanted to be able to go out into the audience.
For more of this interview, go to THR.com