Quick — make a Justin Bieber film
For decades, whenever a music or movie star popular with teenagers burst onto the scene, his or her rise to fame would be chronicled within months via what’s known in the publishing industry as an “insta-book.”
On Friday comes the “insta-movie.”
“Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” part 3-D concert film and part glossy biography of the 16-year-old pop star, was conceived, produced, edited, marketed and released in little more than six months. That’s a time frame virtually unheard of in notoriously slow-moving Hollywood, where movies typically take years to gestate.
Hatched by a division of Paramount Pictures focused on bypassing the lengthy development process and produced by the duo behind the reality show “Top Chef,” the Bieber movie mixes cutting-edge, digital 3-D photography with grainy home movies and reality-show-style documentary footage to create a flattering portrait of the singer and his rise from small-town Canada to international stardom.
The resulting concoction is not only an attempt to cash in on a potentially short-lived phenomenon, but a model for hidebound movie studios to participate in a new media world in which fans create the popular culture as much as they consume it.
“Justin Bieber is a sensation created by fans on the Internet and we have to challenge ourselves to be relevant to that,” said Paramount film group President Adam Goodman. “There’s a place for the way we have done things for years, but with digital technology, we have the opportunity to move at lightning speed.”
The Ontario native was discovered by manager Scooter Braun in 2008 from videos Bieber’s mother posted on YouTube. Aggressive promotion on radio stations and social networks soon spread “Bieber Fever” to a rabid fan base that has bought 4.6 million of his albums. Last year, he was the No. 4 bestselling musical artist according to Billboard and the No. 3 most popular in concert, according to Pollstar.
Indeed, a movie is just about the only thing that the Bieber machine hasn’t touched yet. He’s already launched a merchandising and licensing bonanza with everything from watches to T-shirts, had a guest spot on “CSI,” published his autobiography and is getting ready for a global concert tour.
“Never Say Never” opens amid a barrage of both old-school and new-wave publicity. Bieber has appeared on MTV, “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show,” and stoked up his 7 million-plus Twitter followers (sample: “kinda crazy ... next week at this time #NEVERSAYNEVER3D will be in Theatres ... and u will finally see who I really am”).
People who have seen pre-release surveys say it’s impossible to predict how the $13-million budget movie will perform at the box office because Bieber’s fan base of teen and pre-teen girls is small but fervent.
The 3D concert movie “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds” surprised many in 2008 when it opened to $31 million. But the similar “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience” debuted to just $12.5 million the next year.
“Our normal ways of measuring are not reliable when you’re dealing with a fan base that’s an inch wide and a mile deep,” said Jim Gallagher, a consultant who previously was president of marketing for Disney, who worked on both the Cyrus and Jonas Brothers films when he was at the studio.
“Never Say Never” could potentially be bigger than those movies because of the growing prevalence of 3-D (and the accompanying ticket price surcharge). About 2,500 of its 3,000 theaters this weekend will be 3-D, compared with 683 for “Best of Both Worlds” and 1,271 for “Jonas.”
The idea for a Bieber movie came from Paramount Insurge, a division of the studio formed in the wake of the 2009 low-budget blockbuster “Paranormal Activity” to search for other unlikely and inexpensive projects, particularly those that germinate online.
Insurge staffers proposed a movie about Bieber last June and by the end of that month, a group of Paramount executives including Goodman and vice chairman Rob Moore were at his Minneapolis tour stop to pitch the idea.
But save for a few words as Bieber whizzed past the Hollywood executives on his Segway, they never had the opportunity to meet the singer or his entourage.
“I was told they just wanted to see the show with their kids, so I said ‘Sure, give them tickets,’ ” Braun later recalled, explaining how the movie big shots were initially ignored.
Nonetheless, the Paramount executives were sufficiently impressed by Bieber’s performance — and his fans’ hysteria — to later meet in Los Angeles with Braun, who already was mulling a direct-to-DVD movie.
By early August, Goodman recruited “Step Up 3D” director Jon Chu, whose first task was preparing a 20-camera 3-D shoot of an Aug. 31 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Paramount spent millions to upgrade Bieber’s normal show, adding more dancers, pyrotechnics, high-definition screens, and recruiting guest artists such as Ludacris, Boyz II Men and Cyrus.
“We had 3 1/2 weeks to put it together and one chance to do it right,” Chu said. “I was scared about everything — what if a piece of confetti fell on a lens?”
As Bieber’s tour traveled from Toronto to New York, meanwhile, “Top Chef” producers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz had two camera crews behind the scenes. They shot about 200 hours of the singer, his coaches and stylists, and were given another 30 hours of home movies featuring his preternatural musical talent.
The duo, who had no experience on a studio feature, shaped that footage into storylines just as they would on a reality TV program.
While the film was being edited in the fall, Paramount began activating Bieber fans.
About 60,000 spent $30 for tickets, along with 3D glasses in the singer’s signature purple, to a sneak preview Wednesday.
The studio recently has aired ads that focus on Bieber’s inspiring rise-to-fame in hopes of appealing to parents whose wallets and chauffeur skills will be necessary for younger viewers.
Most films focused on pop artists have short box office runs after fans pack theaters on an opening Friday.
But Braun believes “Never Say Never” will finally expand Bieber’s base beyond those who squeal when he shakes his bangs.
“I want all the haters who don’t understand who Justin is to see this,” he said.
Success also will bring more money to the Bieber machine.
People familiar with the budget said that the singer and Braun, who has a producer credit, forsook a large up-front fee in exchange for a significant portion of profits.
The studio is hoping money will roll in because it has a picture successfully rushed to capture a cultural moment. And with box office receipts down 25% year to date, a must-see movie is exactly what Hollywood needs.
But just as superstars such as Bieber are difficult to create, turning “Never Say Never” into a blueprint could be tough. After all, its makers aren’t even sure what it is.
“We’ve been racking our brains to think of a name for this genre,” Lipsitz admitted, before her partner Cutforth came up with a suggestion: “I think it’s a docu-tainment event.”
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