“It’s been a rough year,” Justin Bieber says from the roof of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The pandemic has forced nontraditional venues to step in for arenas, and livestreams to take the place of in-person gatherings — even on a major holiday like New Year’s Eve. With only 280 people in attendance, and nearly as many working behind the scenes to stage the performance, challenges persist, not the least of which involve the health and safety of, well, everyone.
Re-teaming with director Michael Ratner (“Justin Bieber: Seasons” and Justin Bieber: Next Chapter”), “Justin Bieber: Our World” (streaming on Amazon Prime Video) offers an intimate view of what goes into pulling off an event of such magnitude, and how Bieber, who serves as executive producer on the doc, adapts his life to the new reality.
When Justin first called to discuss a documentary, what did he say?
He said, “I’m going to perform on the roof of the Beverly Hilton on December 31st.” I said there was no venue up there, but he explained that he was going to lead his team and he had this idea of doing a show when no one was doing shows.
It was fortuitous timing that Justin was at this place in his life — in his growth — and a time when he needed to pull off this show. I think it’s no coincidence that those lined up so well — in a macro sense, to see Justin, who grew up before all of our eyes, in this role as a leader and as a man and as an entertainer, all the while you’re seeing him pull off this unique concert.
How did you land on the opening shot, with Justin getting out of bed, vlogging and talking about his intentions for 2021?
I wanted to lean into the self-captured piece of the film. It’s so unique to go and have this big Amazon film, and it opens with some cellphone footage. It’s Justin filming himself. I think it’s that juxtaposition self-captured, super raw verité in the most authentic form. The spontaneity of traditional filmmaking was dead a bit here because you couldn’t go and just get a camera or crew at the drop of a hat. Justin and Hailey had to buy into this and give us those intimate moments.
There’s a scene where he wakes up and the humidifiers are going off, and all the while, you’ve got this incredibly beautifully-shot 30-plus camera concert footage, and it’s jumping back and forth between the two.
I wanted to set the tone in that opening and show the intimacy and the stakes. 2020 was a year unlike any other and when we open that film it brings you back to that moment in time.
What did you want to do differently with this film in terms of setting it apart from being just another concert documentary?
It was about themes. I think the theme of leadership was a big one, so was the theme of loyalty. We orient the fact he’s been working with the same people for years. I wanted to capture teamwork and the dedication that goes into pulling off a performance of that stature.
Traditionally with a big concert doc, you film the last show or the two last shows of a global world tour. You get to rehearse that movie every night in front of a live audience, right? It’s then filmed a few times and the best moments are cut together.
One-shot. One performance in the most bizarre of times on this manufactured rooftop stage, and he crushed it.
Whether you are the biggest Bieber fan in the world, or not at all, you’ve heard his music, and he’s grown up in front of our eyes. Here he is, this happy and healthy individual. He is in the best place, playing all the hits, it’s fun and you get to see a window into his life. There’s a lot of positive in this movie, and I hope people feel joy.
How did you direct Justin?
I never wanted it to become a chore, I wanted it to still feel fun because I think you get the best results with that. I applied the right amount of pressure, but this was his idea — I executed alongside him and directed this film.
The more Justin shot, the more I decided to make that a bigger piece of the project, and that’s why I think it’s so incredibly authentic. That’s why there’s this unique film here that is a true window into his life.
You’ve worked with him on a few projects, how has your relationship with Justin evolved, and what was the most surprising revelation for you?
It’s always a really good feeling when he texts me a video. Our relationship is built on trust. We have done tons of projects together, music-focused and story-focused projects. When you’re working with an artist of Justin’s caliber, you’re there to execute their vision, and I’m here to tell a story and to tell it in a way that connects to his fans. I feel we get better each time we work together.
Do you have a favorite scene?
I like the prep scene for “Where Are You Now?” and the muscle memory starts to come in. You can tell he hasn’t done it in a while, but it’s so iconic. I think it says something larger, all of these things are going to come back to everybody. Justin Bieber’s music is unavoidable, you’re going to hear it in a Starbucks and you’re going to hear it everywhere. That’s why he resonates with so many.