In the sequence, filmed in downtown Los Angeles last summer, Justin Bieber appears in a characteristically swaggy black suit, running through a grimy warehouse. At every turn, he’s besieged by camera-wielding commandos — ninja-like paparazzi — who pop out of the woodwork to photograph the teen pop phenom’s every move.
While his song She Don’t Like the Lights (from the deluxe edition of Bieber’s smash 2012 album Believe) plays in the background, the singer is shown handing out beat-downs, dispatching the paps with acrobatic kicks to the head.
“The song itself is about someone who he’s dating who doesn’t like the lights — it just evolved from there,” explained director Jon Chu, seated in a West LA editing bay where he screened the footage from Bieber’s upcoming movie Justin Bieber: Believe. “We thought it’d be fun to have a secret service team — a special-ops unit — going after him with cameras.”
Given Bieber’s recent run-ins with real-life paparazzi and his ceaseless scrutiny in the celebrity press, one would be forgiven for reading more than a little bit of wish fulfilment into the scene. In March in London, in a case of life imitating art gone comically wrong, Bieber reportedly attempted to physically confront photographers — apparently leaping out of a van shouting, “I’ll beat the... out of you!” — only to be restrained by bodyguards.
“I don’t envy that position in any way,” Chu said of Bieber’s superstardom. “I understand where the paparazzi is coming from and where he’s coming from. It’s a hard place to be: in the middle.”
Chu has a unique perspective on Bieber’s ability to navigate the fame game. The director made headlines in March with his action-adventure hit G.I. Joe: Retaliation but earned his stripes as a feature filmmaker in part by directing the hit 3D rockumentary Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which reaped nearly $100 million (Dh367 million) in worldwide box-office revenue in 2011.
That film chronicles Bieber’s “underdog story” — his humble origins as a pint-sized musical striver from middle-of-nowhere Canada with just a dream and a set of naturally photogenic cheekbones — while following his 2010 My World Tour, leading up to the teen singer’s biggest concert appearance to date at Madison Square Garden.
While the new movie, shot in Miami in January, was initially intended as a chronicle of Bieber’s 2012-13 Believe Tour, it has evolved to include choreographed, non-documentary sequences as well as revealing behind the scenes footage. For Beliebers, however, Believe’s chief draw may be its glimpse of the artist at work in song-writing mode at a transitional time when the 19-year-old is attempting to move into a more mature career phase.
“It started as just a concert movie but we’ve got so many other things now,” Chu said. “We have footage of him writing the first song for his next album on a piece of paper with a pencil. Blank page, erasing, writing. That’s where it starts.”
“You get to see the creative process of making songs under this kind of pressure. Getting producers, writing some things, throwing some things out. Choosing the first single, going into your album. And then once you do that, you’ve got to put on a show,” he continued.
The Believe movie does not yet have a distributor, although Chu, Bieber and his manager Scooter Braun are aiming for a run in theatres. “We haven’t figured it out. We did it independently: me, Scooter and Justin, we own the footage,” Chu said. “We’re cutting it and we’re going to see who wants it — maybe it’s a pay per view or maybe direct to DVD.”
The director took a moment to differentiate between Believe and Never Say Never, adding: “It’s almost about a boy becoming an artist rather than a boy’s life. Because his artistry is his life now.”