Magical Elves' Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz: Band on the Run
The production team behind Bravo hits like Top Chef and Work of Art answer our questions about their latest project: Justin Bieber's first film.
Dan Cutforth (l) and Jane Lipsitz with Never Say Never director Jon M. Chu
Monica Reyhani: How was the premiere?
Jane Lipsitz: It was amazing. It was a purple carpet, and it was overwhelming. You know there was so much press, and screaming fans, and I mean it was a huge, huge event. And it was incredibly exciting for us.
Dan Cutforth: It was actually the first time I’ve been back to Nokia since the Emmys.
MR: I can’t even imagine what it’s like being even in his vicinity right now, with all those kids. What is that like?
JL: It’s sort of like the thing that you see in movies. We’ve all seen Hard Day’s Night. You can’t really describe it in words until you’re actually in the midst of it. I was on the road with him for two weeks when we were shooting the film, and it’s a really unique experience, and it’s an incredible moment in time for this teen idol. And I think it’s really kind of refreshing to know that in every generation, there’s still this genuine love of a pop icon. It just felt really innocent and ‘90s, really touching in a way that this is an ongoing tradition or a right of passage for young girls, teenagers.
MR: Did the fan-demonium cause any unexpected either problems or anything during production?
JL: Actually, I think our crew had an amazing time on the road, because if they just walked out, the girls were screaming at them. Our audio guy would walk down the line and just lift his hand in the air and the girls would go nuts. So I think it was a really fun experience for everyone on the road, just because by association everyone sort of became part of that, an extension of that level of fame.
MR: That poor audio guy!
JL: He loved it.
M: So the vibe on set was just really joyous?
JL: Yeah it was. Although, I will say at one point there actually was a moment at Madison Square Garden, and we saw a couple of white-faced producers come running in the door. It reached such a level of pandemonium that I think there was a moment where they were in fear for their well-being.MR: So how did this project come to you guys?
DC:...we just got a call out of the blue from Adam Goodman over at Paramount. He was someone we had known many years ago, because he asked to meet us when he was over at Dreamworks, when we had done Bands on the Run for VH1, which is actually the first show that Jane and I collaborated on. He was a big fan of that show, and so we met with him a couple of times after that. But I think we hadn’t spoken to him in probably eight or nine years, and when this project came up he felt like the sense of the musician’s life on the road that he had seen on Bands on the Run was something that he wanted to bring to this movie.
We just went in. And we were really excited about the opportunity. And we were also very well-placed to make something happen at very short notice, because we have a production company and we have people that we know we can call and get out there who will do a great job. So they had a very tight turnaround and a couple of weeks later we were in Toronto and then Jane was on the road for two weeks with the Bieber Army.
JL: ...when we got the call I was standing in the airport and was literally doing the interview with 10 Paramount executives that at the time I did not know. And I think literally two-and-a-half, three weeks later, I was back in the airport heading to Toronto. So it was quite an amazing turnaround.
MR: I know you did Air Guitar Nation -- is this your second feature?
DC: Yes it is.
MR: Are you guys looking to do more films?
DC: I think that’s something we’re definitely interested in doing more of ... we actually had a great experience doing Air Guitar Nation a few years back. And that movie actually was distributed theatrically both in the U.S. and internationally and got us a great press. We’re still paying for it. So, it was a very different experience from this. But you know, it’s funny, we had the whole kind of indie film experience, and now we’ve had this sort of incredible studio movie experience with you know the big premiere and the whole thing. It’s pretty incredible.
MR: What was it like because this film was also unique in that it's 3D. What was that experience like and do you want to do more of that? Maybe have a Top Chef 3D episode?
JL: It is fun to think about that. Honestly, director Jon Chu was really focused on the 3D elements of it, but we learned a lot from him and the experience, and it is kind of an interesting additional creative challenge to think about what’s meaningful in 3D or what’s fun in 3D versus the 2D experience.
MR: What kind of surprised you guys most about working with Justin Bieber? I’m assuming you went in with some sort of preconceived notions about what it was going to be like.
DC: I will say it: I was surprised by how prodigiously talented he is. And I mean clearly you don’t achieve that kind of success without talent, but I just didn’t know how deep it ran, and I think one of the things that’s really cool in the movie is that you get a sense of that this is a kid who’s been a really talented musician his whole life has been sort of amazing his friends and family and neighbors for years, and now he’s doing it on a global scale.
JL: I think the other thing is just seeing the juxtaposition, going literally from one minute in the arena with hundreds of thousands of screaming fans or being on stage in those huge arenas of stardom, and then stepping off and getting on a Segway and squirting water at his friends. We tried to capture it with the film, which hopefully we did. But it is really incredible -- there aren’t a lot of people in that position.MR: I think that you know something you kind of said Dan, you were sort of surprised by the skill. I think the reason a lot of our viewers watch Top Chef is they want to see really talented people. What do you think a Bravo fan, or a Top Chef fan maybe specifically, would like to see in this film or really get out of seeing this film?
DC: I feel like a lot of the shows that we’ve done have been about people in pursuit of their dreams, people with talent in pursuit of their dreams. And that’s really what this movie is about too. I think that the movie has a lot of heart and has a story to tell as well, and I think that it’s a story probably only partly familiar to a lot of the audience. You would be hard-pressed to find a more cynical group of people than the people we work with, and they literally walked out of the premiere the other night with tears in their eyes. Not even kidding. Our head of production said he cried four times during the movie. I think that people may have the expectation that this movie is sort of a kind of puff piece, or, you know, a sort of promotional tool, but we really did set out to tell a story, and I think that that’s something that I really feel that the Bravo audience will respond to.
We know from testing the movie that a lot of the kids in the test audience obviously came with their moms, primarily, and the movie really resonated with them, with parents. It really did well with them, and people who were not expecting to like the movie, liked it a lot. So, hopefully [it will surprise people], and you kind of get that tone from the reviews, that “Wow, this was actually kind of good.”
JL: I went to the New York premiere and a lot of my friends and family that were there, they all walked out of it saying, “I’m totally converted. I would recommend this movie to my friends with kids and my friends without kids.” And it was a really good feeling because I think that our goal is the same as with Top Chef, that we try to tell good stories, and we hope that that’s what this movie will deliver. And honestly, it’s a feel-good movie, it really is. And you know you can’t help it, his music is so catchy that you love the music as well by the end of the show.
MR: Well I wanted to ask, you know you guys obviously had to listen to a lot of his music. Do you have a favorite song?
JL: I like “One Time” which is his first single, and I also love “Dance with Her?” which is his ballad, which is at the end of the movie, which brings tears to my eyes.
DC: I don’t know why I answer this question truthfully because it makes me sound so lame, but my favorite song is “One Less Lonely Girl.”
MR: There’s no shame in that. If you could give any Top cheftestant, or judge, the Bieber haircut, who would it be?
DC: I have to go Colicchio.
JL: Oh yeah definitely.
DC: Maybe Mike Isabella.MR: Speaking of Top Chef, we’re halfway through All-Stars and the fans are loving it. What do you think of the season so far?
DC:I love it. I mean it’s always sort of hard to say, but I feel like this might be my favorite season of the show ever. Obviously the cast is incredible, but I feel like we’re really proud of the creative that we put together this season, and the challenges that we had them do. And it was funny, so many of the chefs came back and said at the end of this all that this was like boot camp in a great way, that it stretched them in ways that they didn’t think, it stretched them to do things that they didn’t think they were capable of. They absolutely really loved and embraced the challenges. It was just really a fun season on every level. It’s been a really fun season.
JL: I think it’s also nice to have a season that you feel has a lot of energy around it in the public eye. You can feel a positive buzz and a big energy around a particular season.
MR: Do you have any sort of production secrets from the film that you can divulge? That maybe people might not know while they’re watching?
JL: It was pretty down and dirty. We were running. For being a huge studio picture, it was a lot of run and gun, and back to basics. The way it was shot was just as similar, ironically, to Bands on the Run, which is why we were brought in in the first place. It all came full circle.
MR: Did this change anything about the way you might produce things in the future? Anything you learned from this production because it was on a such bigger scale?
JL: Anytime you do something in a different genre, it just makes you think about the way you do storytelling, and thinking about original ways to tell stories or multiple voices. It was a really amazing experience for us. I think we learned a lot from the experience, and we hope we can bring that to our television production as well.