How many of you cried at Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never? You ain’t gotta be ashamed. So did we. If you did, it’s all thanks to the talented director Jon Chu who directed the teen mega-star’s documentary and infused it with an extra dose of heart as opposed to cheese. The director has Bieber Fever and a veritable man crush on Glee‘s Harry Shum Jr. (don’t we all?). After this interview, we think we may have a crush on Jon. Featured in Audrey’s Spring 2011 issue, and we’ve got the extras here.
Audrey Magazine: Tell us about a day in the life of Jon M. Chu.
Jon M. Chu: It’s The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers or Never Say Never or Step Up 3D DVD release — it’s all coming in at the same time. So yesterday we wake up at 6 in the morning and work on sound, music and sound effects. And at the same time we’re doing color timing. So I had my editors work on the pictures with color timing and the mix. In the afternoon we switched, and then I came back to the office because I had to do a Twitter conversation online to help promote the Step Up 3D DVD release, which came out yesterday. So we did that or a couple hours. Checked out visual effects. And then we’re meeting about a secret project, and then we had to do a Christmas party, with our white elephant craziness. And I had to recheck the movie last week to see if it’s good to preview. It depends on the day.
AM: Many know you as the dance film director, but how would you trademark yourself?
JC: I don’t know if I know who I am yet. I think I am discovering it as I go. I do know that I love to tell modern fairy tales, whether it’s through LXD with our dancers, superhero fairytales or through the Step Up movie fairytale about a boy-meets-girl sort of romance. We make a lot of references to Cinderella, Snow White and Peter Pan in Step Up 3D actually. The Justin Bieber movie is a modern-day fairy tale about a kid from a small town who follows his dream, has Usher as a mentor, finds his way and is anointed by the king. In every single one, it comes back to the original Walt Disney storytelling with the classic hero and the villain. Even though we live in a different world, and we communicate in different way with social media such as Twitter, I try to incorporate all that stuff. I guess modern fairytale storyteller.
AM: After watching both seasons of The LXD, I’ve noticed that you like to mix it up in terms of genres as well.
JC: We love to have fun with all the genres. That’s the point of LXD, to experiment. We want to not stay with one way to tell a story, change it up the point to experiment that’s a different way of doing it. Sometimes we fail but we would be allowed to do a pendulum swing.
AM: How do you think you’ve done your part in shining a light upon Asian Americans such as Harry Shum Jr.?
JC: I think that Harry is extremely talented. If we didn’t see him in Step Up 2, he would have gotten big anyways. Our mentality is that it’s not a conscious thing, it’s just that when people are talented, there won’t be anything in the way to stop that. Of course it’s been the idea that when I was a kid, we didn’t have an Asian male hero, but it’s definitely always been in my mind. When I see someone like a Harry, I get excited. I think about me as a kid, like oh my god I want to be cool like that. Maybe one day he’ll teach me how to have that swagger. It’s just not a conscious thing. Even now, I want to be as cool as Harry.
AM: Did you have any Asian influences or idols growing up?
JC: I would say my father for sure … my mom and dad. They came to America when my mom was 19 and my dad was around 23. They met here in Northern California. My dad was a chef, and they opened a restaurant in a little town called Palo Alto at the time. Forty-one years later … they worked so hard, and they’ve always taught us kids that America is the greatest place in the world. You can be anything, but you have to work hard, and you have to love what you do everyday. They never let us work at the restaurant, they put us in dance, drum, saxophone, violin, guitar and piano classes and sports camps. They gave us everything they didn’t have. That idea really … I didn’t understand it as a kid, but as I get older I understood how important it is they allowed us to do and their work ethic is really past ours. My mom always said, you’re always going to get people who say things to you because you’re Chinese or things that may seem unfair, but don’t let it bother you. You show you have class. Show us.
AM: Do you have a favorite dance move?
JC: Well I definitely love when Madd Chadd, our robot guy from LXD, does his thing. He’s taught me some tricks of the trade that I pull out at weddings and bar mitzahs, but I would say now I’d say the dougie or cat daddy because of Justin. They do go together.
AM: Regarding the Bieber film, how do you think fans are going to react?
JC: He just saw it for the first time this week, but he wasn’t involved in the making of the movie. I came onto the project not knowing too much about Justin Bieber, but I knew about the fan craze surrounding him. I was on YouTube, he was on YouTube at the time. We were part of a weird community. The story wasn’t possible five years ago for the artist to be chosen by people and not labeled truly from in front of their computers is pretty crazy. And the stardom he is at now is insane. I thought it would be an interesting story to see. And it was just a fun experience. People are just going to be surprised at the storytelling. It’s not a concert film, but with some of the music. It’s a musical documentary and I’m really proud of it.
AM: I watched a few of the film’s trailers, like the one where Justin shoots out silly string.
JC: Hahaha, yeah. He’d never seen a 3D camera before, so we brought one in the studio to show him.
AM: Fill in the blank. Never Say ____.
JC: Never, of course.
AM: What can we expect in the near future. Any crossovers to add to your resume?
JC: We have a lot of cool things coming up that would be very interesting. There are definitely crossovers whether it’s with the LXD world, B-boying or other projects, but I’m not allowed to say at this point, but just keep on a lookout!
– Katrina Guevara