As part of the Netflix Playlist series which launched on Monday, the directors behind “Miss Americana,” “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky” and “Shawn Mendes: In Wonder” sat down to discuss working with…
As part of the Netflix Playlist series which launched on Monday, the directors behind “Miss Americana,” “Blackpink: Light Up the Sky” and “Shawn Mendes: In Wonder” sat down to discuss working with the biggest names in music today.
In a panel moderated by Variety’s Artisans Editor Jazz Tangcay, Lana Wilson (dir. “Miss Americana), Caroline Suh, (“Blackpink: Light Up the Sky”), Morgan Neville (dir. “Song Exploder,” prod. “Miss Americana”) and Grant Singer (dir. “Shawn Mendes: In Wonder”) talked about trust and filming the stars behind-the-scenes and on stage.
Wilson who spent time with Taylor Swift for “Miss Americana” has previously worked on “After Tiller” which follows abortion providers and “The Departure” about a Japanese priest who works to prevent suicide in Japan.
This was her first time helming a music documentary. “This was a very different project,” says Wilson. Her approach was to make something that didn’t just speak to the built-in fanbase, but rather make something that was more universal. “It isn’t enough to just make the film for fans, they will watch a music documentary no matter what. How do you make something that speaks to more universal issues or truths or something that surprises people?”
Similarly, for Caroline Suh, who filmed Blackpink charting their success, her approach was to show Jennie, Rose, Lisa and Jisoo as individuals. As a filmmaker, she enjoyed approaching the documentary with an outsider’s lens. “When you’re an outsider it’s not so much about the specific songs or the lyrics but you’re really trying to take a look at your subjects and trying to convey what their fans love about them and also what their fans don’t know about them and what other people might find interesting.” As the biggest female K-pop group, she wanted to shine a light on their success as well as their lives and “reveal that story” through the narrative.
Singer, no stranger to directing musicians, has worked with The Weeknd, Ariana Grande and Travi$ Scott, helming their music videos. With Mendes, he wanted to strip away the illusion-making of creating facades to sell an artist. He says, “I wanted to make something that was more sincere and more of a portrait of a person that didn’t have that facade aspect to it.”
“The way to create good collaborations is when you get to know one another,” Singer says of his collaboration with Mendes who maintains a sense of privacy. That meant having conversations and slowly, Singer immersed himself into his life to a point that Mendes was comfortable having the filmmaker around filming him.
Suh made sure she had a sense of full transparency to gain trust, being open with Blackpink and explaining her process as to why she and her crew were shooting things the way they were. Suh explains, earning trust “was also about listening to them about and what they wanted to have us film.”
Wilson met Swift for the first time without a camera. The meeting was backstage in a dressing room and lasted for three hours with a conversation where Swift discussed Wilson’s documentary work. “She was so sensitive and aware of every storytelling aspect,” Wilson says of Swift.
It was a time where Swift had just been coming off a national backlash and had not given an interview in three years. The “Folklore” singer had expressed her concerns to Wilson and “whether it was possible to make everyone happy with her.” With Swift at a pivot moment in her life, the two discussed what would be discussed and captured.
Wilson worked with Neville on a short-story treatment of a possible approach of ideas of what to film – which she kept between the two of them. Neville adds, “From when we first started talking with Taylor to what it ended up being – it absolutely morphed. What the film ended up being, was not where we started.” Neville says of Swift’s political awakening that takes place in the latter half of “Miss Americana.”
Neville also talks about taking the “Song Exploder” podcast and how he successfully turned it into a series for Netflix.
Watch the full Netflix Playlist Netflix Music Documentary Director Roundtable above.