Director Jon M. Chu: Lessons on Success From Justin Bieber

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Lastly for “Believe,” can you tell us the most memorable experience you had with Justin during the tour?

“Yeah we were making the show and this was really fun. We were in San Jose, and it was only our fourth or fifth show, and I designed the actual show.  I never designed a live show before, not even like high school plays, so it was a big show for me. He loved it and we had a great time collaborating on it.  In San Jose he was on stage and I was back meeting with family and friends and I get a call like an emergency backstage.  I run back there and they are like, “Justin is freaking out.” I’m like, “Okay,” I get backstage, “What’s going on?” and they are all ignoring me. I’m like, “Guys, we have a backup video you can play, it will buy us two minutes for whatever the problem is, we’ll figure it out.”  And they grab me and they look at me and are like, “You are on” and they throw me on stage and I’m like, “What!?” As soon as I get on stage in front of 20,000 people, Justin is on stage and he’s like, “Jon!” I look over, he’s like, “Come out here” and Justin grabs me out of the end of the stage and says, “Guys, this is Jon Chu and he directed this show, my movie, we are doing another movie, and this is his home town.” And everyone goes wild. I’ve never been in front of everyone like that.  He’s like, “Jon, his family has a restaurant called Chef Chu’s and we are going to eat there tonight!” and the whole place rumbles and I’m literally like, “Nooo we’re not going there tonight, oh no!”  We were actually planning on all going there, but once he said that I’m like there’s no way we can go anymore. They were all cheering and he’s like, “Are you guys going to be there?” and they’re like, “Yes!” and hes like, “Okay you better eat there!” Then he said, “Jon, will you introduce the next song?” and I literally had not been paying attention to the concert and off mic hes like, “You know what the next song is right?” and I was like, “No I haven’t been paying attention!”  Hes like, “It’s ‘Never Say Never”  and I was like, “Oh I know how to introduce this.” And because we’ve worked together for years now I knew the speech of “Never Say Never” that he gives right before, so I got to do the “Never Say Never” speech which is like, “When you are down and everyone thinks you can’t do it, and everyone’s talking bad about you, there’s a motto that we say and that’s never say never!” and the whole audience screams and it starts. That was an amazing one. I’m looking at my family in the front row, I’m looking at my friends in the back. It’s things like that that you realize he’s way beyond his years. He’s so gracious in those things. He doesn’t have to do stuff like that, he enjoys stuff like that. And my dad’s business went up 20% since then.”

So after the concert, was it super packed at Chef Chu’s that night? Those fans must have mobbed the scene.

“Well we had to tweet like, we’re not going to Chef Chu’s. Of course the fans show up anyways because they think we’re lying. So my dad, first of all, calls me as soon as I get off and is like, “Why is everyone calling the restaurant about Justin Bieber?”  “Yeah he just made an announcement… just get ready.”  So then we actually went, me and the dancers and Scooter and stuff, we went to the restaurant and we just blocked the doors, like we are closed, we already shut it down.  We put the cars there and a bunch of fans came outside and were knocking on the window. Justin wasn’t there but Scooter was and people called the restaurant all night long so you just hear the phone ring.  They found the number and so Scooter would answer like, “Justin Bieber hotline,” and they’d be like, “Oh my gosh!” and all night long we were just like, “Who wants to answer next?” One of the dancers was like, ”Justin Bieber hotline?”  It’s just one of those things, you just never forget those moments.”

That seems to be one awesome quality Justin has, he gives credit to where it’s due on his projects. Thats a really good quality for a successful entrepreneur and leader.

“Yeah, he recognizes that he can’t do it alone.  He recognizes his talent. He’s obviously phenomenal. He understands that he’s one of the most charming people that you will ever film.  The light loves him.  I’ve never seen a more photogenic person in my life, but he also knows that it takes people on the ground and he recognizes that with Scooter, he recognizes that with Usher, and all his other people including his parents, his dancers, and he’ll give them props for those things and recognize that they are part of his team. I think that motivates everyone to stick around, it motivates everyone to root for him on the inside, and that’s hard.  At 19 years old, did I get that?  No, I probably thought I was the most awesome person ever. So I think that goes back to his wisdom, his old soul. He knows that and if he can retain that, if he can hold on to that and not be burned by the industry, because he has been burned, he goes through the process of realizing people use him sometimes. People want something from him all the time.  If he can continue to be that wide eyed open kid that loves music, that wants to share this with the world and has ambition beyond what anyone can imagine, he’s going to have a really, really long future.”


Let’s talk about your filmmaking career.  This is your second Justin Bieber movie and you are also coming back for “G.I. Joe 3.” You are obviously doing something right.  How do you raise the bar for each of your projects by making the next one better than the last?

“It is weird. I’ve never really processed that. After “G.I. Joe 3,” I will have done the sequel of every one of my own movies- “Step Up 2” and “Step Up 3,” “Never Say Never” and “Believe,” “Joe 2” and “Joe 3.”  Not on purpose, there’s never been a purpose to that.  I think I just like making stuff, I just love the process of making movies, I love the process of collaborating with people who are smarter than me, I learn from them that we all have different skill sets, I love the process of doing something so random that no one would ever think that you would do it.  I think it started with “Step Up,” like a dance movie sequel is usually a direct to DVD, and I love flipping people’s ideas to what that is.  My favorite thing to say yes to is when someone says that it can never be done.  When someone says, ”Why would you ever do a documentary about a pop star named Justin Bieber when you just came off of a feature film when you can do another feature film with a big movie star and be in the movie business?”  And I love saying I want to surprise those people . I want to show that a story like that can be compelling and just as important as a regular feature film.  I want to show people who thought that the G.I. Joe movie franchise was dead that we can reinvigorate it and create a whole next level version of that and bring the toys that I knew as a child to a new generation.  I love the idea that says you can’t make an in flight safety video for an airline interesting.  No one wants to watch it anyways, and by the way they are forced to watch it by law and the FAA has all these rules, you could never make that interesting. I love saying, “Oh really? And by the way we don’t have any money. I bet I can do it without your money and that I can make it interesting.”  I love that and I think that comes from the Silicon Valley ideas of just making good products and I have faith that there is always a better way to do anything you are doing. I think that when you look at a clock, you can do that better, at least different. There’s so many opportunities to do that.  The products that I choose are the ones that make me excited about life.  I hope that right when you think we are going to do another franchise movie, I go and do a small dramatic movie or that as soon as you think I’m going to do that I’m going to go do a horror film and a comedy, because to be honest, movies saved me.  Movies are the things that make me a better person, as a human being, not as a filmmaker. I may not be the best filmmaker or storyteller in the world, but the fact is that I need movies to help me grow and make me learn about the world and meet really interesting people. So, I make movies to give me the ticket to go live a really interesting life so I can become a better human being for it.”

And on meeting new people, no matter what industry you are in, networking and knowing the right people is crucial. Can you give us advice on finding mentors to help you grow?

“I think I’ve had a lot of help over the years and I never realized how much help I actually needed to get in. When I was shooting stuff in my own in high school, I had a lot of dancer friends and I learned a lot about dance and movement from my friends and I realized I was learning from that. The only people that would help me and be in my movies were dancers, so I’d shoot dancers all the time and I happened to understand them more than other people. So when I went to go make movies, that was the language I could bring to the table, that was my thing.  I think as I do other things from action to even the Justin Bieber stuff, I get to learn from all those experiences and I think that networking isn’t about someone giving you a job to upgrade you or something, to get that promotion. I think collaboration is about finding people who interest you and push what you know further so that you build something that neither of you could have built individually. So find people that you look up to. Find people that bring that challenge out of you to be better and more creative on your side.  Bring someone that intimidates you. Bring someone that you don’t really even like but does really good work because that will change how you create and make something and guess what, it’ll surprise you how far you can push. Sometimes when you are a creative person and you create things, you can create a lot of borders for yourself to feel safer. As an artist you are responsible for pushing the limits of how capable you are and what you can express and what you are trying to say because that is all of our jobs as artists as we push art forward.  When you have someone like Quentin Tarantino, who can do any movie in the world that he wants to do, if he did a little dance movie that was exactly like “Step Up 2,” that doesn’t help anybody. But the fact that he pushes the limits and takes our art like this and makes the borders this much wider every time, how refreshing and how great for the art form that he now allows other artists to now fill in that, to go into that border as well and include those people.  So like Steven Spielberg when he has to push it further, I love those kinds of movies. I think it’s really important to meet the people that can help you push your own boundaries.”

Lastly, you recently tackled “the impossible” when you directed the widely viewed Virgin America in-flight video. Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to tease for us?

“I’m really excited about “Joe 3,” I think it’s going to be really fun.  We’ve been working with Evan Daugherty, the writer of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the new one, and he also did “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a great writer.  We bring Lorenzo di Bonaventura our producer back and it’s crazier and I honestly feel like last time I learned a lot making my first action movie.  I made some mistakes and now I know how to make better action movies, I just know it. We did some really cool things where we cleared the foundation of what G.I. Joe could be, but I don’t think I fulfilled the promise of the potential of what G.I. Joe should be and that’s the only reason why I want to come back. I think I can get the job done, I think I can fulfill the promise that I told the fans and now that we cleared the slate and sort of reset the franchise I can now take those characters and build what the G.I. Joes are. So we are going for it in this one, we have some really fun new characters, we are bringing some old characters back,  and it’s going to be a really wild ride that I think people are going to enjoy.”


Follow Jon:

Believe Movie:, (Get Tickets)

 Twitter: @jonmchu


Photography by Melly Lee

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+Benny Luo has been an Internet Marketer since 2006. His expertise lies in social media marketing & strategy, search engine marketing and pay-per-click advertising. He has produced various red-carpet events in Los Angeles, and was the Social Media Strategist for the 2011 Billboard K-Pop Masters Concert. Benny is a former Yonex-sponsored Junior National Badminton Player.
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