In February, Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz were asked to direct “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” a 3-D concert movie on which they were already producers. That was the good news.
The bad news for Cutforth and Lipsitz, an Emmy-winning team known by the company name Magical Elves Inc., was that “Part of Me” had to be finished and in movie theaters by early July (it opens today in theaters). That meant they had just a few months to sift through more than 300 hours of already-shot behind-the-scenes and onstage footage of Perry; determine a narrative; film their own talking-head interviews; locate archival clips of this big-eyed chart-topping pop star; and complete the movie.
Cutforth and Lipsitz have made a name for themselves producing compulsively watchable reality television series like “Top Chef” and “Project Runway,” so they knew that with their army of editors, researchers and loggers already in place, the job would get done. But in an interview in the conference room of their headquarters on Sunset Boulevard here, Lipsitz — who joined in the discussion by speakerphone — admitted that she, Cutforth and their staff were still reeling from the experience.
“Um, don’t walk around asking the people who work for us how they’re doing, OK?” she said with a dry laugh. “I’m sure they’d have a lot to say about it.”
How did two reality television producers end up making their film directorial debut with a $10 million documentary about a global pop superstar? It makes sense once you consider that in August of 2010 the two were hired by Paramount Pictures to work on the feature-length documentary “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” directed by Jon M. Chu. Credited as producers on that project, they were also in charge of adding reality television elements — on-camera confessionals, goofy slice-of-life moments — as a way of injecting intimacy into a highly polished form of entertainment that Adam Goodman, the president of Paramount Film Group, calls a “docu-event.”
“It’s all about trying to create the thrill of a live event,” said Goodman, who added that the Elves were a good match for the film, based on qualities they bring to their television projects: “a real attention to character development, a true understanding of how stories arc, a completely bizarre capability to do amazing amounts of work in very short periods of time and incredible stamina.”
Perhaps based on the philosophy that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, “Never Say Never” served as a template of sorts for “Part of Me.” (Bieber’s 105-minute cinematic confection grossed over $98 million worldwide.)
Perry and Bieber’s rise to fame could not be more different: He’s a Canadian wunderkind discovered on YouTube; she was raised in California and performed as the gospel rocker Katy Hudson before taking the world by storm as the cartoonishly dressed warbler of catchy tunes about sex, sun and doing your own thing.
Cutforth and Lipsitz said that in some ways “Never Say Never” and “Part of Me” were destined to be similar. And not just because both acts have a loyal following of squealing preteen girls. “The life of a modern pop star on the road is pretty much the same whether you’re Justin Bieber or Metallica,” said Cutforth, who was born in rural Wiltshire, England, and got his start at the light entertainment branch of the BBC. “The visual language of being on tour is always very similar: You’ve got fans, an entourage, backstage moments, traveling moments.”
But Cutforth said he understood what riches lay in Lovelace and Hall’s mountain of footage. In it Perry, usually seen as indestructibly bouncy, is slumped in a reclining makeup chair, twisting her wedding ring and sobbing. Cutforth said: “That was the first thing we saw where it was like, ‘No matter what, we have to make this work because it’s so intimate and intense.’ You just can’t believe you’re there.”
Luckily for them Perry agreed. “Part of Me,” she wrote via email, is “a snapshot of an incredible year in my life. I like showing people what it took to get to this place — you see all the hard work it took and that I just didn’t win a fame lottery.”
The directors see the film as “a bit of a modern-day fairy tale,” Lipsitz said.
“It all ends well for her despite the fact that Prince Charming doesn’t ride in on a stallion,” Lipsitz said. “She stayed true to herself, and is considerate and respectful of the world and in the end that’s a really positive message.”