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Justin Bieber’s Buddy: His Director Jon Chu!

Feb 21, 2011

Kidzworld just got off the cell with the cool young director of the Justin Bieber movie. Jon M. Chu also directed the last two Step Up dance movies and he told us behind the scenes secrets, what Justin was really like on tour and more!! The Director’s Fan cut of the film with 40 extra minutes of footage (more concerts, more fans, more Justin on the road!!) will be released this coming Friday. If you are a Belieber, be there!

Kidzworld: How did you become involved in the Never Say Never film project? Did Justin pick you because you had directed Step Up 3-D so you were familiar with shooting performances in 3-D?

Justin Bieber and Jon ChuJustin Bieber and Jon Chu
  • Jon: I think my 3-D experience was in it and my performance experience but it also something was held back. When [Justin’s manager] Scooter hired me, he said ‘I don’t want to hire you because you’re a dancer’. I’m like A. I’m not a dancer. I might dance at a party or a wedding’ but I love worlds and when I got assigned to do Step Up 2, I was thrown into an amazing world and these artists are so beautiful and I spiritually became one of them. When I go into a project, I become that.

    With Bieber, that’s what happened. I went into this world and said ‘I want to be you’ his Twitter followers allowed me in, his ‘Beliebers’ allowed me in and, half-surprisingly to me, to be honest, it was really cool and beautiful to see a celebrity interact with his audience the way he does. It’s genuine, not fake. He looks them in the eye. He makes every effort in the world to keep them involved. It’s the new way of celebrity.

Kidzworld: What does your Director’s Fan Cut of the film contain? What’s in this 40 minutes of new footage?

  • Jon: It’s a bunch of different things. When cutting the film, we had like two and a half hours of footage. There were things that I knew the fans wanted, like “Omaha Mall”. That song was created when he was there and it became a huge internet thing and we see the making of that. We see his brother and sister on his dad’s side that we didn’t get to delve into in the movie. Now we can show them and see how he interacts with his family. You get a new performance of “Favorite Girl” that we didn’t put in the other movie. Then, we see hundreds of more fans in our movie. We have “That Should Be Me” when they’re actually singing to his song. Then we shot fans with their purple glasses at the premieres across the country. We’re including that.

    We decided to get this out within two weeks of original release because we’re digital and we can add it more easily. We’d update. No movie has done that before. We went on Twitter and asked a bunch of people what they would want to see in a new version of the film and we did that.

Kidzworld: Can you describe your typical day while directing the film? Did you just travel around with Justin on his tour? Were you there directing when he and his buds visited his home town?

  • Jon: It was different depending on what he was doing. Going to Madison Square Garden we had eleven 3-D cameras there shooting the performance and we had to get all that set up. I got hired three weeks before that. I was there with him but I had to go back and forth to the venue. I was in Stratford as well.

Kidzworld: What was working with Justin like and was he interested in the technical side of film making?

  • Jon: Justin IS a filmmaker. He’s shooting stuff all the time and posting it. While I was with him he got a Canon 70 camera and was shooting. That’s how we bonded. We would talk shop. He would always take the camera from me at some point. As for our relationship, we’re buddies. I became more of a 16-year-old boy than he became a 31-year-old man. He’s a good kid and I love him to death. He was tough on me at first. I come in with cameras shooting his personal life and he was skeptical. It took a couple of weeks for us to trust each other. Once we got past that, I was just hanging out with him with my own camera, no crew and would be with him on the bus talking to him at two in the morning while he’s playing videogames while going across the country. That’s when we got the beautiful, emotional stuff.

Kidzworld: Biggest challenge for you on the whole project?

  • Jon: The biggest challenge was winning his trust. I told him that we’re not doing a reality show. We’re not doing a concert film. We’re doing a documentary. If words aren’t enough, your music is going to speak volumes. It was that take that helped us get a foundation.

Kidzworld: What was so much fun you would like to do it again?

  • Jon: Just being on tour with him. They really have a great family and extended family. They are young, like my age and we all became really close. I would go out on the road in a second with them, even without a camera.

Kidzworld: What can you tell fans about Justin that they might not know?

  • Jon: I think they know that he’s genuinely honest about how he feels about his fans but I think they don’t know how really real that is. I watched him do that. For example, we were in an interview and someone showed him a picture of a fan crying. Everyone in the audience was laughing and I was laughing but Justin’s not laughing. He said “she’s so adorable. How beautiful”. I remember feeling like a jerk (for laughing). These fans really do mean that much to him.

Kidzworld: What was the first meeting with Justin like and where was it?

  • Jon: It was very awkward. It was in Atlanta. I walked in and he’d just met like two hundred other people. They bring me in and say ‘This is Jon. He’s going to be directing your movie’ and he was like ‘Oh cool’ and goes on to the next person and I was just standing there and just left to hang out with him and I didn’t know what to say to him. Then they’re like, ‘let’s make a video to announce this to people’. So, I got my camera out and it was very odd but we shot this little awkward video that we put on YouTube and that was the beginning of our very fruitful relationship.

Kidzworld: What was the big bonding moment for you two then? Was there a special time when you just clicked as friends?

  • Jon: I was in his bus and it was like two in the morning and I was shooting him eating cereal or something and thinking ‘this is boring. What am I doing?’ He never really paid attention to me up until then. It’s silent and he looks over at me and said ‘Come check out this funny YouTube video’ and he shows me this video of a funny animal so I showed him one and then we started sharing videos. I knew, at that point, okay, we’re in.

Kidzworld: Do you recommend that teens who want to be directors go to an established film school like you did? Maybe they are shooting stuff all the time for YouTube but they want to grow up to make mainstream films?

  • Jon: Education is the most important thing. It’s not only what you’re learning but the idea of just planning and focus and how to interact with people and how to work in a group. That is the most important thing, especially for a director’s job. Directing is so managerial at a certain point. Yes, it’s very creative but, at the same time, you are managing many different departments. It’s a team effort. You can’t do it alone and I think that’s the most important thing I learned in school.

    Is it important to go to film school? No, for sure not. But I benefitted a lot from it because it helped me meet a lot of other people who love film as much as I did. Those people are the people who now help me make movies. The editor of my student short film edited the Justin Bieber movie. My composer for Step Up 3-D composed my student film. Also, no matter how the technology changes or how much easier it is to shoot something, it’s still old school ideas that count.

    It is still about story and you have to work hard. You’ll be up late at night and you need to read and learn the craft. You won’t just get by because you have a cool special effect in your application. Thousands of people have it. It may wow your friends and family but it won’t make you a creative person. You are what you do every day. Steven Spielberg told me that. If you’re a director then you direct every day, you make something every day, pay or not. If you are a writer, write every day.

Kidzworld: Are you producing Step Up 4?

  • Jon: Yes and Wade Robson is directing. I can’t wait to see what he creates.

By: Lynn Barker