Justin Bieber’s ‘Seasons’: How Director Michael Ratner Made ‘Real-Time’ Docuseries
Today, YouTube premiered the first episode of Justin Bieber’s 10-part documentary Seasons, which mostly charts the creation of his forthcoming fifth album. For Bieber and his team, returning to YouTube is the perfect metaphor for his career: the video platform was how manager and confidant Scooter Braun accidentally discovered a 13-year-old Bieber on YouTube in 2007.
Now, at 25, Bieber has survived some of the lowest and highest points a pop star can endure: struggles with addiction, messy public break-ups, and career uncertainty have coexisted alongside hit singles, sold-out tours and becoming a household name. Seasons aims to portray a more enlightened and stable Bieber, a man who recently married longtime friend Hailey Baldwin and has spent some much-needed time off and outside of the public eye.
When director Michael D. Ratner signed on last summer, he was working with Braun on a different project (a to-be-released music anthology series). Braun mentioned that Bieber had been exploring a potential documentary, and photographer Joe Termini, who co-directed some episodes of Seasons, had been compiling footage since the abrupt end to his Purpose World Tour.
“I just said to Scooter, ‘You gotta get me in a room with Justin,’” Ratner recalls, having felt excited about the pre-existing footage. “We had never met before. We got in a room, and when he made it clear that nothing was off limits and that he wanted to tell his story no restrictions, that’s when it was a no-brainer.”
Timing worked out perfectly for the pair: Bieber was just at the beginning of the album process, beginning to formulate ideas for the R&B-heavy LP. Ratner joined him in the studio and at home, capturing newlywed bliss as well as his creative chemistry with co-writer Poo Bear and engineer Josh Gudwin.
Ratner was shocked at how intimate the recording sessions were with the trio and how precise Bieber was in the booth and behind the board, which can be seen throughout the first few episodes. For fans or curious-minded viewers, the most revealing parts will be glimpses into his personal life as well as an inside look at his second, bigger wedding to Hailey that took place in the midst of the album-making process.
“You’ll see build-up and wedding planning, and then you’ll just see them together and in their everyday life,” he explains. “When nobody’s around and they’re at the house, the cameras just start to blend in when you’re there as frequently as we are.”
Notably, Seasons is a still-active, living project: the final episode hasn’t even been filmed yet and the cameras are still rolling around the Bieber household. Ratner and his team were most recently capturing his teary-eyed album playback event in Los Angeles just days before the Grammy Awards, and the to-be-filmed final episode will detail the days after the album is officially released.
“It was important for me that we follow all the way to real-time, so you’ll see how it’s perceived in the world and how Justin reacts to having it out there,” he explains, before getting interrupted by a call from his subject.
“There are three things I wanted to do with the doc,” he continues, “One, make sure we were telling the true story and that we weren’t going and making a Justin Bieber commercial. The second two [things] were making a different feeling music documentary. The third thing, it was really unique to go and score the docuseries with unreleased music.”
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For Ratner, telling Bieber’s story through his lens may not end with this series. He would like to return to telling a different phase of the singer’s life at a later time.
“This is a season,” he says, apologizing for how “on the nose” the quote is. “The end is so far from written.”
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