The fourth and final installment of the YouTube Originals series “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil” tasked Therapy Studios editor Shannon Albrink with tying together the work of Paul Little, who cut the first three episodes, and of providing closure to a volatile and vulnerable period in the pop star’s life.
The key, according to Albrink, was in maintaining Lovato’s truth. But with that came the additional challenge of a brief engagement — and subsequent breakup — as well as the singer’s exploration of being “California sober,” opting for moderation as opposed to abstinence.
Albrink reveals how she edited the episode, the challenges that come with sensitive topics and how Lovato’s story inspired her own work.
You came in to edit the finale. How did you work to keep it seamless?
Paul Little, the other editor, had already edited the first two episodes at that point. They were in a rough cut state, but I had that to start with, and it was an amazing blueprint. The director, Michael D. Ratner, and Paul had already spent time together working out what the story was going to entail. I started at the same time as Paul was beginning episode three.
Michael kept the through-line of the story very clear, even from the very beginning, he knew what was going to happen in each of the four parts of telling Demi’s story.
As we went along, we realized that she was so honest in her interviews that she surprised us with the topics that we didn’t think she would discuss. As we were editing, we were getting the last of the interviews, we were trying to figure out where those topics could go. Ultimately, our goal was to just make it as honest as possible, because she was as honest as possible.
What were some of those surprising things that came up?
The big thing was her whirlwind engagement. That happened during the filming of this entire process; she got a boyfriend, she got engaged, and then she got un-engaged all through the process of filming. We knew that was going to be the last episode, but it was developing as we were going.
It was serendipitous because there were three or four interviews with Demi, and they perfectly aligned with exactly that pattern. I think the second interview was a week after she had gotten engaged. She was very much in a honeymoon period and super excited. By the third interview, they had broken up. We used that to intercut that together.
There’s so much packed into the episode including her talking about her bipolar disorder, how did you weave that in?
We realized that we wanted to introduce her bipolar disorder, where she is today with that. It was such a big part of her life when she was younger, and we thought that was important to include. I felt a responsibility to put everything in because she said it.
How did being a woman inform your approach to the subject matter?
As a female and as someone who is around the same age as she is, it was heartbreaking, to say the least. I remember when I was cutting “Commander in Chief” and she’s talking about the song. She wanted to dive into the political realm with her music. I cut that on the day of the Capitol riots. As I was working through that section, I was watching the news and then I’d go back to the edit, and it hit me in a way I didn’t expect.
For me, it was really challenging just seeing a person and all that she has gone through with sexual trauma, addiction and everything.
For part four, we wanted to treat her sobriety today with respect because it’s a delicate topic. We wanted to make sure that this works for Demi Lovato right now at this moment. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work in the future; I hope it does. And it’s not for everybody.
We wanted to bring in an informative view of that. We brought in Charles Cook, her case manager. We also wanted to bring in dissenting voices with Elton John who straight up says “moderation doesn’t work.”
We didn’t want to say “everything’s fine” and tie it up in a neat bow with a happy ending. Because that’s not the case. Michael said that from the very beginning. This isn’t a happy ending — we’re just showing the next chapter of her life.
You cut this in the pandemic, but talk about showing it to Michael and then having Demi see it for the first time?
We had worked for a couple of weeks before she saw a cut to really get it right. It was nerve-wracking. But she had already had such a great reaction to the other episodes from what Paul had done. I was nervous about her engagement in particular because it was such a fresh pain. I wanted to make sure that we got it right for her.
She did love that first cut a lot, but we ended up putting in more raw emotion, traumas and stories that she had said during the interviews.