Two years ago, director-producer Michael Ratner’s OBB Pictures moved into a new office space in West Hollywood — and its previous tenant just so happened to be Scooter Braun’s company, SB Projects. “I was there with a broker, and [Scooter] was like, ‘You better treat the space well, great memories here,’ ” Ratner recalls. Ratner and Braun remained in touch after that, and in mid-2019 Braun played Ratner about two minutes of raw footage showing Justin Bieber in the studio.
“I saw a very mature-looking Justin,” recalls Ratner now. “Which you’ve seen on Instagram, but not in his process. Last time you saw Justin making music was years ago. The combination of the album-making process, and enlightening people on what has been going on — because he has not [enlightened people] at all — to me was a music doc opportunity that comes every blue moon.” The result was Justin Bieber: Seasons, a 10-part documentary series chronicling the pop star’s return to music, airing on YouTube Originals, the platform that helped him break through as a teenager.
Ratner pitched himself to Braun as a director. Soon after, he was meeting with Bieber for the first time, and looking through clips with Joe Termini, who had already collected hours of vérité-style footage. Ratner is aware that the industry is “in a cluttered space of music docs, where everyone is trying to tell their story and connect to fans,” and he was firm on his disinterest in making a puff piece or commercial. “How do you [make it] feel different from the others?” he asks. “To me, that was all access and working in sync with [making] the album.”
In order to ensure the doc captured the energy of creating and releasing Bieber’s upcoming Changes, his first album in five years, Ratner chose to split the documentary into 10 parts to keep it current — “and by current, I mean literally episode 10 isn’t filmed yet,” he says. He explains how they were with Bieber at The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Late Late Show With James Corden and filming parts of his Saturday Night Live rehearsals. “How’s this for meta: You are going to see the premiere for this documentary in the documentary,” says Ratner.
At the January premiere, YouTube staffers and insiders were buzzing about the series’ fifth episode, which aired Feb. 3 and is the longest of all, clocking in at nearly 15 minutes. “I’ve never made something before that each time gives me chills,” says Ratner of the episode, in which “nothing was off limits,” as Bieber discusses addiction, depression, his health scares — and most importantly, how he sought help. “People don’t know how serious it got,” says Bieber in the episode. “I started valuing the wrong things in this business because they were dangling in front of me. I decided to stop because I felt like I was dying.”
With the 10th and final episode set to air on Feb. 26, Ratner assures Bieber will never really be away from the cameras — he never has been. “That’s Seasons Part Two,” jokes Ratner, noting that Bieber’s stadium tour kicks off May 14. “He and I are going to do stuff for life. We’re just getting started here.”