IFH 553: How to Build a Profitable Production Company with Michael D. Ratner



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Today on the show we have entrepreneur and filmmaker Michael D. Ratner.

Michael founded OBB Pictures in 2016 and under his leadership the company has grown into OBB Media, an award winning production company and studio with divisions in film, TV, digital, podcasts, branded content, and social good.

In addition to running OBB and expanding the business, Ratner continues to act as a multi-hyphenate leading creative on OBB’s marquee projects. Ratner recently directed and executive produced the Amazon Studios Justin Bieber: Our World film.

Justin Bieber: Our World takes viewers backstage, onstage and into the private world of the global superstar as he prepares for a record-breaking New Year’s Eve 2020 concert. After a three-year hiatus from a full concert, Bieber delivers an electrifying performance on the rooftop of the Beverly Hilton Hotel for 240 invited guests —and millions of fans across the globe watching via livestream. Produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Michael D. Ratner, the94minute documentary follows Bieber and his team for the month leading up to the show as they rehearse and construct a monumental stage set. The film also captures personal self-shot moments between Bieber and his wife Hailey through the artist’s own lens.

Earlier that year, he directed and executive produced the critically acclaimed SXSW 2021 opening night headlining film Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil.

Demi Lovato holds nothing back in this powerful four part documentary series exploring every aspect that led to their nearly fatal overdose in 2018, and her awakenings in the aftermath. Director Michael D. Ratner is granted unprecedented access to the superstar’s personal and musical journey during the most trying time of their life as they unearth prior traumas and discovers the importance of physical, emotional, and mental health. Far deeper than an inside look beyond the celebrity surface, this is an intimate portrait of addiction, and the process of healing and empowerment.

Prior to that, the Justin Bieber: Seasons docuseries, which broke the record for YouTube Originals as the most-viewed premiere ever globally. These projects focus on helping to normalize and foster dialogue around mental health, conversations around self worth, and supporting causes for social good.

Ratner is also the creator, showrunner, director and executive producer of Cold as Balls, the comedy series starring Kevin Hart, which has garnered over 1.8 billion viewers to date and just wrapped its fifth season, and is available on Peacock. Ratner executive produced and directed on &Music for Quibi, and executive produced The Harder Way for ESPN+.

He directed and produced Justin Bieber’s music video Intentions, which featured Bieber and Quavo highlighting the stories of 3 Los Angeles women’s struggles, and launched the Intentions Fund. Ratner also co-directed the music video for Dancing With The Devil, alongside Demi Lovato, which was the lead single from their last studio album. Both music videos were nominated for VMAs.

Prior to that, Ratner served as executive producer and director on OBB’s Historical Roasts for Netflix. Ratner has also produced and/or directed a number of films that have premiered at Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, including Gonzo @ the Derby for ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, which followed Hunter S. Thompson’s trip to the Kentucky Derby and is narrated by Sean Penn.

Ratner has been recognized by Variety Hollywood’s Creative New Leaders list as well as Forbes 30 Under 30 Hollywood & Entertainment. Prior to that, Ratner graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in film directing, writing, and producing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Enjoy my inspiring conversation with Michael D. Ratner.

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Michael D. Ratner. How're you doing, Michael?

Michael D. Ratner 0:14
How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:15
I'm good, man. I'm good. How's How's life treating you in this weird, wacky world we live in?

Michael D. Ratner 0:21
Making it through weird and wacky.

Alex Ferrari 0:23
Weird, weird and wacky ohh god. And you're doing productions left and right. And I'm assuming you never know what's gonna happen if someone gets positive or not. But it's just such a weird world, man we're living in.

Michael D. Ratner 0:36
Yeah, it's I don't remember shooting prior to this. Yeah, I gotta say, though, it's been it's been great. We have managed to stay shooting the entire time. We pivoted early. We did a we do the show a Kevin Hart called cold as balls. And that was the first virtual shoot. We did like the second week into COVID in 2020. And then we went right into dancing with the devil. And we've been nonstop testing is now like, in the DNA of what you do in a day for a film shoot. So it's too well,

Alex Ferrari 1:07
And masks everywhere. Like before, you know, Michael Jackson looked like a weirdo. But now not so much.

Michael D. Ratner 1:13
No, no, it's it's that that is not something it's an accessory. That's totally it's like a watch.

Alex Ferrari 1:20
I mean, is there gonna be a time we're not gonna wear it? Like, I can't even I can't even walk out the door now without wearing one. It just freaks me out. If I don't have one on. It's crazy. Yeah. So let's, so how did you get started in this insane business that we call the film industry?

Michael D. Ratner 1:34
So i Good question. You know, and sort of one of those answers that I feel like what other people said, I roll my eyes, but it's the truth. I don't remember a time when I didn't want to do this. You know, I remember being super young. And my, my father had, actually I keep it here. I could turn the camera and show you. Yeah, it's, it's in my stack of stuff. I have a VHS camera. That was my father's. And I taught myself how to use it. And, you know, I would run around the house, and I would shoot everything. And I remember my mom would be like, in a robe in the morning. She's like, Why are you shooting me, you know, and I just would like, run around. And, and I would I like I like, you know, my brother and I like the WWE at the time and matches and, you know, I would come in and create storylines, and, and then I taught myself how to edit. And I you know, it was it was really interesting. And it was a time when you could teach yourself how to do things. And, you know, when I went to high school, I remember teachers, you know, the one specific one, I remember it was Catcher in the Rye, and we're supposed to do a essay on it. And I asked the teacher Her name was, I think it was Mrs. Yeah, it was, it was Mrs. Clapper. She, she she? I said, you know, I'd like to make a film about this rather than a paper which said, you just want to mess around with your friends and shoot something. And I said, No. I said, Actually, I think I could do something that speaks even more powerfully than an essay. And she said, No. And I said, Well, what if I do that? Plus, I write the essay, will you show it in class? And she said yes to that, because it was even more work. And I remember the feeling I had when people watch that. And it worked. I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

Alex Ferrari 3:27
Yeah, I had a similar experience with a I had high a camera that my grandpa gave me. And I used to run around I used to and I did the same thing. A teacher business law, teachers, like, Hey, can I shoot a, you know, this this promo? And she's like, Sure. And the whole climate, it was standing room only because it was I was in the 90s, like, early 90s. So it's still someone shooting something was like, what? Now it's like everybody shoots. But

Michael D. Ratner 3:54
Yeah, I think it wasn't, I don't remember other kids running around doing it the way like high school at least. And you know, I was in Rauzan Hebrew school shooting stuff, and I would have my friends come over and I you know, we'd been put them in costumes and stuff, and I just loved it. I love that feeling when I knew I had something that was gonna make people laugh, and I was waiting and in the, you know, auditorium or in the classroom, and it was such a high and it was entertaining people and having something to say and getting your personality out there. And I just thought, I guess back then I didn't really realize like, oh, I want to make it a business and I want to make money doing it. It was more so just I loved it. And then, you know, you start to learn about life and realize that you can really, really make this work and you start getting inspired by people and next thing you know, here you are.

Alex Ferrari 4:45
Now is was there a film that kind of lit the fire? Was there like that one you're like oh my god, I have to do this?

Michael D. Ratner 4:53
You know, my answer is the, the answer is I I remember seeing early Adam Sandler movies. I remember seeing

Alex Ferrari 5:03
Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison.

Michael D. Ratner 5:06
Yep, I remember seeing those movies and being like, wow, like, This is so fucking cool. Can you curse?

Alex Ferrari 5:15
In the occasional F bomb is fine.

Michael D. Ratner 5:17
There'll be, that'll be the only one but it that's how I felt at the time, right. And I was like, This is amazing. And I wasn't so deep that I knew whether I wanted to be a producer, director, writer, actor, comedian, like it was just this is magic, this makes this is so cool. And then I remember the first one that really is an interesting one to note because I was a bit older at this point. But I remember the one that actually spoke to me a bit because it was this coming of age story. And I thought that such heart was super bad. I remember seeing Yeah, yeah. And I remember going man like, this is such this is I know high school like this. And I know these stories. So those are a couple films that I remember seeing. And there's some other Judd Apatow films and stuff. But yeah, those are those are sort of when I was like, Man, this is this is so incredible. You can make people laugh, and you could tell stories that have heart in a relatable. And I do I remember, I remember those moments,

Alex Ferrari 6:14
Was your first directing gigs in music videos?

Michael D. Ratner 6:18
So my first A directing like, I mean, I can tell you the countless things that I directed that were just horrible. And nobody's ever seen because there's, there's 1000s, right. And I would like and I for so long. I was ashamed of just how bad they were. I don't know what I was doing. But the first thing I directed that I felt was was solid was in films, I went to UPenn undergrad. And I majored in film and English, but I really was just learning about cinema cinema studies, you weren't learning how to be a filmmaker per se. Then I went to NYU grad film school. And that's where I really learned how to be a filmmaker. And I think that program is so phenomenal. And I made a film there called the 30 year old bris, which was about an interfaith couple. And it takes the night before the guys get circumcised. And that film got into Tribeca. It was you know, I think, a 1012 minute short film. And that was the first thing I directed that started getting a little buzz. And, you know, then I got into some music videos and stuff from there. But it was really that film at Tisch, that was the first one that I was like, Oh, I think this is, you know, this is working.

Alex Ferrari 7:26
Now, you know, we I've been directing for 20 odd years as well. And there's always that day, when you're on set, that you feel like the entire world is gonna come crashing down around you, you're losing the sun, the camera broke card isn't working, someone deleted the last 33 hours you shot, you know, something happens was, is there something that sticks out in your mind that happened on a day or in a project? And how did you overcome it as a director?

Michael D. Ratner 7:55
Wow, it's like, take your pick, right?

Alex Ferrari 7:57
It's a daily basis, right?

Michael D. Ratner 7:58
Yeah, I've had every thing that you just said, Because I mean, I started off as a scrappy filmmaker, like I remember, you know, you become, you don't take anything for granted. You know, I started OPB and I have this company now where every role is fulfilled, and I show up and I'm the director and I'm able to just like do my thing and leave. But there is a certain you don't soon forget the roles of everybody on your on your set, if you really did them all. And I'm so grateful for those brutal times that I tried to, you know, really be the best location sound person that I could be and the times that I did hold the boom, because you know, I'm you can't see my full body and physique here. I'm not exactly cut out for for that and that's brutal job. Oh, it's brutal. And, and understanding why you need to get room tone and understanding that somebody, if your call time is that 6am needs to go get the truck to get the lights and that's at 3am and you do all of that. And you know you have you you I remember peeing in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, you know, before I went to film school and I was in charge of going and driving this like broken down van from Pittsburgh to to Johnstown, I thought I was gonna like die because the wheels were gonna fall off. And those those experiences really make you a much, much better leader and director. And I'm very grateful that I had those experiences while in the moment you don't see it. So yeah, there's countless examples of not really knowing that you should be backing up your drives, and it's like a whole day's work gets knocked down. That's like, you know, what's the night? So I have had all of that. But you make it work and you keep going. And, you know, nothing's ever what it was supposed to be. Nothing's ever what was scripted. Nothing's ever what you have Your head but ends up being something special. So there's, there's so many different examples that John's done when I haven't talked about that in probably 10 years. That was, that was crazy because I was the PA, I was so excited to shadow the director, I thought I was gonna be able to do that. They're like, hey, there's a van four hours away, you need to go get it and then combat you know, that was the whole day. And I really I remember it broke down. And you know, I was like, I'm gonna get fired from this first eyelet ever, because I'm not going to get this band here. And you know, it all works out.

Alex Ferrari 10:29
Oh, dude, I was I was interning at a at a show for Fox at Universal Studios and the producers like, hey, the producer wants to talk to you. I'm like, oh, shoot, like the showrunner wants to talk to me. And I go into his office, like, I like what you've been doing here, kid, and I have a special project for you. I'm like, what, what is it he's like, I need you to help me move.

Michael D. Ratner 10:48
It that gives you a lot of time to then go and find your moment to make an impression.

Alex Ferrari 10:59
Exactly, exactly!

Michael D. Ratner 11:00
You know what I pay so much attention to that, who's who's who looks like they're just there to help and be a positive influence and voice. And you know, that that doesn't go unnoticed if you pick the pocket and you play those situations, right. And I think that, again, all the all of those experiences and doing all these different roles and for you, you know, you will be in charge and you will be making those choices. And if you really know what you're talking about versus if you don't, it becomes really clear and people want to work for people that they feel like you've done it before.

Alex Ferrari 11:34
Right! No, no quies Yeah, it man as a season a season crew can smell can smell it a five minutes in if the directors with knows what they're doing or not like, and they will roll you over, depending on where you are in the world. La crew, New York crew, they even Atlanta crew, they're gonna all season guys and gals, they will run over you because they just don't have the patience for it. I've had the pleasure of talking to a lot of you know, really amazing guests on my show. And one thing I've always wondered, I always ask is about this thing that I can't believe some of these Oscar winners and Emmy winners and imposter syndrome. And it's a thing that, you know, I feel it. I mean, but writers feel it everything. I was wondering if you've ever had to deal with that on your own meaning like, sometimes I've talked to some guys who you know, literally win Oscars. I'm like, do you haven't yet sometimes on my last movie that it was $100 million. I felt like any moment now security was gonna come in and go, This guy doesn't know what he's doing. Come on, get him out of here. Is it just an artist thing? Or do you do? Do you ever feel that I mean, like an a normal artist would? And how do you deal with it? If you do feel it?

Michael D. Ratner 12:47
I try to spin that positively. I try to and the answer is of course. Because it like another word for that is insecurity. Right? Sure. Right. And I try to think to myself in those moments, you know, hard work pays off. And, you know, nobody knows what they're doing. But we're gonna figure it out. And also just first, I'm so happy. I didn't have like early, early, early success, amen. And then the reason for that is, it's always with you. And it's not like it took me forever. I feel very lucky that I, that I'm that I am where I am right now at my age, and it's not lost on me. But it didn't happen right away for me at all. And you get told no. So frequently. It's almost like you just you need to be Teflon, because every day you have an idea. You're like, oh, yeah, cool, like call me back in a couple of weeks or like no, just know, right? And sudden, Yeah, that sucks. That's where you Was that a joke? Exactly. And and you get deflated. And then you get back up. And I think that people are making this business are like wildly resilient. Right? And I think that you, you basically go and get to a point where you remember those noes and people start all the sudden saying yes, and then eventually you're actually gonna have to turn stuff down, which is such a foreign concept when you're when you're starting your career. And I think in those moments of frustration, or you're not sure if you're, if you belong and whatnot, I try to just think back to all I must be doing something right, I'm here, right? And those noes turned into yeses, and I try my best not to get riddled with anxiety and frustration. I'd say try because I fail at this sometimes. Right? And I try to just think you dreamed of this. So let's just figure it out. Just go for it and not go and cave or fold. You know, I gotta say one of the I mentioned before that Kevin Hart show that we do is about to enter season six. Kevin and I actually had a conversation. Very early on we started working together. And I asked him I said it shouldn't you be on a beach, like just sipping like a Mai Tai, like, what are we doing here? Because he just like he this guy has worked harder than anybody. He's the consummate Pro. And he did. He said to me, he said, I remember all those nose. He said, I'm still catching it. You think I'd say yes to a lot. I'm catching up for all the nose because he didn't make it right. Oh, no took him in. And I related to it so much. So I don't know, I try to think more about that, you know, it doesn't exactly answer your question. But in those moments, like, you know, do I belong? Or am I like, here, like, have this? I just tried to go like, yes, we are. And like, we're gonna figure it out. And we don't know everything, because nobody does. And let's just, let's grind. You know, one funny story that really answers your question is I was once I really liked this film, and thought I could make a difference. In a later stage, you know, I didn't know that you could come into a film that's already in the can and edit and help and make an impact like this early on in my career. And I was on this call that I never should have been on because I was super young, and like, trying to like show that I had great ideas. So you know, but I didn't know what I was doing. I've never done it before. And I remember they asked me a simple question. And I said, I think our connections bad Hold on, and I Googled it. I didn't know how to and I didn't even know what they were talking about. Google, I was like, ah, yeah, you know, and that's just the hustle. The Hustle. You know, you There you go. Your hat says that right. And that doesn't mean be a BS artist, far from it. But like, hustle, ask questions, ask for help and just roll with it. We're all on the same situation.

Alex Ferrari 16:37
No, no question now. Yeah, I was gonna ask you about Kevin Kevin Hart's cold balls, which is I've seen by the way, I've seen many episodes, I friggin I'm a huge Kevin Hart fan, like, Who is it? I mean, who is it? What is it like working with? A I've heard the same thing from people that worked with him. Nothing but a professional, wonderful to work with. Just there on time, does his job makes people laugh? And it's just working hard. What is it like working with them? And is there something you've taken away from? You know, just working with a star of that caliber, um, he's he's a worldwide, huge star,

Michael D. Ratner 17:17
Mega bankable movie star in multi hyphenate CEO, business owner, Kevin and I had many converse. I mean, obviously, you know, I own and run OB, which is one hat I direct. That's another hat I produce. And he's a guy with a lot of dashes, if you were to put try to introduce him, right. And what I'll say is, he has it, and I might say, but just, there is something about he's special. I mean, the way his brain works, the way he reads a script, and just knows it immediately, like he inside out something about his brain is different. And he is gifted. What makes Kevin Hart Kevin Hart is there's that plus this crazy work ethic. Plus this, like, you know, charm and everything else. He's hilarious. But he has this intangible gift that I mean, it's so much study his brain, he's got this crazy mind and memory and gift. And then you pair that with all the other checkboxes of things he has. And you get Kevin Hart. But yeah, I mean, you work with a guy like that. And you're just in the presence of, you know, someone who's really, really great.

Alex Ferrari 18:26
Yeah. And, you know, I've had the pleasure of working with with those kinds of stars, and you just know it when they walk in the room. There's just that thing that's intangible. It's there. It's like, oh, yeah, that's why they're huge movie star. I get it. Now. They don't have to say a word. You just go.

Michael D. Ratner 18:40
Yeah, it goes beyond confidence, or the way they carry themselves. It's, it's something it's like this special aura. And, you know, I, I work with a lot of really talented people. And I think I have a real knack for getting great performances from people in scripted and unscripted in movies and TV and in what have you, right. And I think that that skill set, I can navigate the medium, whether it's, by the way, an audio, we have an audio division, like, I think I know how to go and communicate and get those things done. So I have a certain way of going about it. And you know, with Kevin specifically, anytime that I go to do my normal course, he just requires so much less and or none at all, you know, and it's just like, and I'm always like, man, I'll see how this goes. And he nails it nails it every time. So the prep work just and that's not to say that he's some guy that shows up and doesn't do prep, whatever he's doing is working. And it's just like, go for it and and never disappoints. He never seems like he doesn't know what he's talking about. And I'll always be ready to go with a note and he'll just do it on his own. It's amazing. It's amazing.

Alex Ferrari 19:53
Now you've obviously you've direct a lot of music videos. Is there anything that you brought from your music video experience into documentary, because you have made a handful of documentaries pretty high profile ones at that.

Michael D. Ratner 20:06
Yeah, um, I think that I like mixing the worlds like, I think that music videos are so stylistic, you know, you can stylize them so much. And in a very competitive world where there's so many dogs right now, making stylistic choices to make yours rise up and feel special and different is a great move. Like, you know, we were the opening night headliner, film at South by Southwest this year with dance with the devil and with Demi, and the opening sequence of it's a four part piece. And the opening sequence basically plays like this, like XR, music video. And it's got all these little like riddled pieces of the story that are symbolic. And if you were to play that piece straight through, it actually tells a story. It's more music video than it is Doc. But it's an opening sequence, right? I think I took that from sort of my music video brain. And I think that when making doc, specifically music docs, I like to take parts of the creative and what makes those musicians so, so special, and put that into the DNA of the filmmaking in some capacity. And sometimes then that sort of gets meld with more music, video type motifs. And it's fun to sort of weave in and add up.

Alex Ferrari 21:32
Now, you know, I've seen some of your Doc's and you you're able to get your subjects to open up to you, and be very, very vulnerable. What tips do you have for filmmakers listening to be able to do that? I mean, then you're doing it with some of the biggest, you know, stars in the world, which I'm assuming is a whole other level of comfortable that you have to get in order to do that. But what what suggestions do you have for filmmakers out there?

Michael D. Ratner 22:00
Forget about the cameras worrying about. And I what I mean by that is not forget that they're there, that's a very obvious thing. But what I mean is, whatever day you plan to shoot, you better be working on your relationship with that person, in a very, non transactional way, way earlier on, and that means, forget that you're directing them, forget that you're one day sitting down from a very genuine place, you need to care about that person, and you need to care about the story you're telling. And the vulnerability that you're referring to is earned. It's not just happenstance. And that's a comfort level of many, many off the record conversations. And, you know, you ultimately get to a point where you understand what's your Northstar? You got to be on the same page with people to What are you trying to accomplish? And, you know, why should they trust you, and you need to go and have those hard and difficult conversations, depending on what the subject matter is. But I think whether it's light, or whether it's super heavy, you need to have that relationship, and that takes time and energy and that stuff. There's no instant gratification with that, you know, you're nobody's gonna applaud you and be like, you're such a great director, this film was so great. And you're not even going to know yourself, you talk about being in security, not going to yourself, if you're if you're going to achieve what you're looking to collectively with that person, but just put in the time and, and then, you know, ask those questions in a way that are more conversational, I think, you know, I've said this before, publicly, but like, there is this moment when I can tell that the interview is turned into a conversation. And the second that's happened, that's when you really start to speak in a way that's just so special. And and it all comes down to trust in your relationship. And, you know, that just means you got to put the time in, like, with all things.

Alex Ferrari 24:00
Yeah, it's funny, I've had I've had that experience with my guests sometimes where I, I'm talking to them, and they forget that we're recording and they start asking, like, personal questions and like, hey, where do you live? And I, you know, maybe we could have like, dude, who recording stuff. And then oh, yeah, I forgot. I forgot. Did you fall into that? And that's the magic place that's really is a magic place.

Michael D. Ratner 24:19
Yeah. And, you know, there's also, you know, so one could argue, well, if you're too close, you know exactly what they want. Are you going to be too subjective in what you're saying? You know, the answer is no, you know, you can tell an objective story while understanding someone's heart and what they're after and why they're doing something. You know, one of the most interesting things with some of the really, you know, large tentpole movies and projects that I've made as of late with big stars, in the dark space, specifically is, you know, it's really unique for that vulnerability and that window into these people's lives. Sometimes the good, the bad and the ugly for people to do that while they're in there. Prime. I think that's really unique to my work, right? It's easy to see many people later on in life, I got nothing to lose, here's what happened back in the day, you know? Cool, that's really cool that is, but there's something really special about somebody who has everything to lose who's in the middle of it doesn't need to be doing that, talking about those things, because they want to connect with their fans and relate and you know, specifically to call out, you know, Demi Lovato and Justin Bieber, who both did that in our respective projects, you know, seasons dancing with the devil, I think are two prime examples of I am struggling, and I am dealing with mental health issues, and I'm dealing with Trump. And that's because I'm a human being has nothing to do with that I'm a celebrity. That is so bold, and that has nothing to do with me, those are choices that they each made, and I was there to help facilitate their vision, which was really special.

Alex Ferrari 25:53
You know, it's so funny, because I think in the era that I grew up, you know, I mean, I'm, I'm a bit older than you. But I mean, I remember when Michael Jackson and Madonna and you know, all those big stars of the 80s and 90s. They they're put on these pedestals and they don't, they're not shown as human. Yeah, they're, they're just, they're just the things almost. And they never showed vulnerability, ever, because that wasn't expected of them. But in today's generation, and today's artists, it's almost expect like the Billy Eilish is of the world and they are expected to be vulnerable, and to be authentic and not packaged. Because fans want authenticity. People want authenticity, they are not going to just Oh, you're pretty great. There's 1000 Other pretty people behind you. What makes you special. Oh, you can send great, there's 1000 other people who can see really great to what makes you special. And and your dogs really kind of opened up those doors to two of the largest stars in the world right now.

Michael D. Ratner 26:54
Yeah, totally. Yeah, I think that that is the different different, you know, differentiator, like I think that, you know, the ability to go and sure Instagram, you get like 15 second clips into people's lives. But I always say people have like their Instagram personality. It's not live course. Yeah, way on there. And it's quick, and it's that, but like, that is access, right? We didn't used to get that access with Michael Jackson, or some of the artists you named, that didn't really, you know, obviously exist, but I still think these Doc's are that makes it even harder, right? Because it's like, oh, well, you're getting a window. And so what makes the dock special, you know, we've already seen them inside their house. So we've already gotten the unfiltered version, it's like, kind of that's still a bit of not polished, it's polished, or it's raw for a specific reason. Like it's, you know, it's it's raw, but like the what we've tried to do is really tell a story, and I don't believe that you need you need an hour and a half or two hours tell a story. I don't believe that you need half an hour, I believe that story and duration and what's happening in content right now with all of the different options on district distributor and, you know, varying agnostic lengths of things is phenomenal. So think that you know just quick hitters on on social is not the way to really get deep and learn about stuff. So I think that these these music, Doc's are a way to connect. And you know what, even more so in a time when touring stops, right, the world back, we start talking about like, you could not connect with fans. So what are you doing? What are you up to? And how can you go and speak to speak to those people that normally would get to go and get maybe see you on the road or see performances or, or shows that you're on, everybody had to like, take a deep breath and settle down and stay in one place.

Alex Ferrari 28:44
When you were doing dancing with the devil of Demi Lovato that, you know, I you know, just at the beginning of the first episode, you know, it's like, six months before the overdose. So you started that process, and the overdose happened in the middle of it, right.

Michael D. Ratner 28:59
So actually, interestingly enough, they were working on a doc, it was a follow up to simply complicated that I was not involved in. And then when the overdose, unfortunately happened, they stopped entirely, of course, and when they decided that they were ready to talk about that I had recently, you know, months before put out seasons. And that's what ultimately I think, made me feel like, Ooh, you know, we could potentially tell this together, because that tone, and that level of authenticity and rawness was what I think they were looking to do, because I think that film would have been a different tone and style, obviously. So it just called for a fresh restart. And I came in then, but I was able to inherit some of that footage obviously from before. And that was one of the filmmaking challenges, how to go and take some of the older stuff and ultimately shoot new stuff and And that's how we started.

Alex Ferrari 30:01
Yeah. And it's, it's you're working with your subject as opposed to a documentarian who's recording a subject but is disconnected meaning that they go off they edit the subject has no say on how it looks, where now you're can only imagine how difficult that is, you're also now, hey, we're going to show the deepest, darkest parts that you want to show, we're going to expose all of it. And that's what this movie needs for in order to do it, and they're involved with you. So that takes another level of, of bravery on the artist standpoint.

Michael D. Ratner 30:33
And, and it is, it's, it's unique, and it's nuanced. And it's political, and you got to ultimately navigate that, and it causes some awkward viewing sessions, right where you know it. On the one hand, I've poured my soul into the edit and getting the story out there and trying to achieve this. But you know, I'm sitting in a room watching some really dark moments of somebody's life with them. That's, that's a very, you know, unique, you know, you imagine, you know, we all go through shit, every one of us, but have you watched it on film? You know, you're you, right? You're talking about it? And then oh, can you send me archival footage from home videos? And can you connect me to your mother to send me videos of you as a kid, I mean, imagine sitting there watching, that's the experience they go through. And you need to really be prepared for the reactions that will yield and understanding again, that it's for a specific purpose, and you do it and you work with the person, you know, I've never put out on the projects we're discussing here, like those get seen and discussed before they come out with the artist. And that does not mean that they're going well, you know, here's a list of things you can't say, you know, that I haven't had that experience, because there's always a conversation at the beginning of, let's make sure that I'm the right person for this. And if I'm the right person, we need to tell a real story. We can't make a propaganda puff piece like I just did not who that's not the type of storyteller I am. And I don't think that's the, what your, you know, fans deserve are ultimately what you want to do. And we've always had those difficult or just, I should even say those conversations, and let's just very straightforward conversations. And as such, I think it's resulted in these really special projects.

Alex Ferrari 32:23
Now, I mean, you've again, worked with Damien, and Justin and two of the biggest stars in the world at the moment, you know, being being in the orbit, of those kinds of stars, especially close to those orbits. I've had small moments of those as well, when you're just in the orbit, and just like, their satellites around, there's planets running around, and they are the center of the universe. What is it like, day in day out, being with some of the biggest stars in the world and seeing what they go through? Because you're, you're not just a satellite you're like next to, and you're capturing it. So that must be a very different experience, you must have a sympathy for them that most might not, because you see what they go through and things are on camera and off. So what is it like just as a as a human being next to another human going through that experience?

Michael D. Ratner 33:18
Great question. And the the answer, I've tried so hard to, in my work, explain what that experience is like. And, you know, being hard on myself, I've never effectively done that, because nothing can do it justice. Besides seeing it firsthand that I've tried, I've tried to do the chaotic cuts of paparazzi and things happening. And it's like, no, to really see the forethought that goes into just moving, just getting up and going to do something because of how famous they are. Right? It's that that is like a second to second reality. Now, I've also been very careful to be mindful of nobody wants to hear the Woe is me. I'm a celebrity in my life. You know, I can't move like, there's a lot of perks. Right. So it's tough, but that doesn't change the reality that like, it's it's hard. There are parts that are really hard. And human nature is not designed for famous celebrity. Right, we're not designed to be told how great we are 24/7 We're not designed to not be able to go outside of shop. Question question question, uncomfortable question or uncomfortable question. So yeah, it does make you sympathetic, or I should just say, really understanding of all sides of it, nothing simple. And it makes you just sort of get it all also, it made me really understand that just just because you read something does not mean it's true at all. Like you know and you know it there's there's there's People can say anything about anybody. And when you're really famous people just say stuff. And then you know, but that that words matter words have power news, you know, outlets, you would think that oh, well, you know, it's there. They're a news outlet. It's got to be real. No, it doesn't. I've just seen a lot of stuff where I've been with people, and you know that there's an article saying they were somewhere else. I'm like, wait a sec. Well, you know, and that you start like realizing just that's, that's a daily occurrence. And I think that wall stars who have been in the limelight for a long time, probably get a bit immune to it, it's still annoying, it's still frustrating. And it can cause you to act out of character at times. And it's a really interesting peek behind the curtain as to what those people go through. And, you know, many of whom really do a pretty damn good job. And sure they slip here and there. But for the most part, I've been really impressed. And I have no idea how I would handle that level of celebrity,

Alex Ferrari 35:59
That that's why it's so interesting. That's why I asked you the question, because you get the kind of roleplay that almost, you know, like cars play that if you will, because you're right next to them. It's not you doing it, you could walk away at any second, no one's really gonna stop you on the street for the most part. Maybe in LA. But, but generally speaking, it is it is. It's It's fascinating to me, and so many people want to be rich and famous. But they don't understand that there is a cost, man, there is a cost. And look like you said no, Woe is me. They looked for it. Yeah, I mean, funny, funny story. I was on the set. I was doing music videos in LA 1515 years ago, something like that. And I was invited to an usher music video. And there was like this, this young kid who's going to be in it. And I'm like, Who's this young kid? He's like, some kid named Justin Bieber. And I had no, he was nobody. Justin was nobody. He was 50. And he's tripping over cables. He's just trying to dance. And I'm just like, Oh, cool. I get to see Usher. Six months later, baby baby hits was just like, What the hell. And so I have a distinct I saw Justin, when he was a kid. Like he was literally just 15. He was just, but he was so even at that moment, when I saw him, and I was on set with him. You could just see it. You were like, there's something there. I don't know what it is. And this is not the song. Music they're like, No, this is not the one. But it was it was really interesting. And people do ask for this. But they have to be really careful what they get.

Michael D. Ratner 37:35
Yeah, I think the question is, you don't know what you're asking for. So you get right, it sounds like this is it. So yeah, I think again, it's just it's fascinating. Yeah, and, like with all things again, there's pros and cons.

Alex Ferrari 37:51
Yeah, exactly. Like you know, you know, bad day. Who knows? Who knows who it is, it is a pros and cons. Now tell me about your new film with Justin our world.

Michael D. Ratner 38:02
Yeah, came out in October. Really exciting. It was fun. It was, you know, you do a heavy dock series like seasons. And then you pivot and you make a really fun film. That's, you know, obviously COVID is like looming over this thing. And people are going through really a rough time. And unfortunately, of course, people were dying from COVID. And everybody was in a weird spot with work and figuring out how to provide and that's a character in this piece. But once we get to the stage, it's a celebration of like his music, and it's a nostalgic walk, you know, down memory lane from baby to now and there's it's really very de and gritty. I think it was really cool how Justin was like a DP and shot himself in it and Haley and you know, that was really because of safety protocols. I couldn't be there all the time. Sure. Big style. And then obviously, we juxtaposing that with 32 cameras set up with drones and all the flashiness, the night of the show on the top of the Beverly Hilton was pretty unique. And I think it captured the spirit of that moment in time. And it was really it was really awesome. I enjoyed making a concert Doc, you know, and that's really what it was. It was a concert heavy doc. And it's it was, it was a blast, and I think people really enjoyed it.

Alex Ferrari 39:27
And I mean, how was it shooting during the COVID protocol, man, like, I mean, it's on such a big is a pretty big production. I mean, 32 cameras? It's no joke. No, I'm like my my budget puckered when you said 32 cameras. I'm like, oh, geez, how I mean, I'm assuming at some point you just like hopefully I'll get some footage off of those. Those sets of cameras cuz you're not seeing everything at all times right?

Michael D. Ratner 39:50
Well, it was just we were shooting the hell out of it. Right. I mean, we had drones in the sky. We had cameras on balconies. We had long lines. from certain areas, you know, we were doubling the live stream cameras. And then we had the ability to convert it to 4k, which is obviously what ended up on the Amazon film. And we then had a bunch of, you know, running gun shooters getting cool, you know, dynamic shots in the pit and whatnot. But it was really crazy shooting in COVID, because we had our bubble, and there was daily testing. And if somebody went down, the whole show is at risk, obviously. She had to just be super, super careful. And everything was incredibly thought through and we, you know, luckily pulled it off. But that what made the gloom of COVID and everything going on and pulling off the show. Very interesting storyline also, like we had to live that making it it was not just manufacture drama. Alright, everybody's negative. Okay, good. Good, you know, and Nick demora, goes down with COVID as his creative director, and then Justin had to fully step up and lead the team, which, you know, was a good story point, because part of this was about Justin really coming into his own and really leading every part of his life for the first time. Really, I mean, he's, he's a grown man, you know, and we all think, you know, we remember you hear Justin, you're like a baby in. He's, grown up.

Alex Ferrari 41:17
He's a grown ass man with a family.

Michael D. Ratner 41:19
He's grown is a grown man with a wife and and, you know, leading many of the same people has been with these incredibly loyal, which is really cool. You know, you go. And one of the storylines that I thought was important to hit home. And he thought, as well as like, you know, he's been with the same people for all those years. It's very rare to see in any field, but in music, especially. So it's, it's a fun one. It's a really fun watch. And, you know, it's, it's just enjoyable to go and watch some good music. And, you know, you'll realize how many Justin Bieber if you're a fan, of course, you know, but even if not, you'll be like, Man, he's one talented person.

Alex Ferrari 41:55
There's a lot of songs that you don't even sometimes I don't even realize it's Justin, you're like, Oh, that is Justin Bieber song. Oh, yeah. Like it, he's, or he gets started on this or get, you know, you know, gets popped on that. And it's just, he's, it's hard to believe he's been around for 15 odd years at this point in the game. And still, it's still going and still being relative, you know, relative because relevant, excuse me, because a lot of those boy bands, as we all know, from the 90s, in the early 2000s, there, they're not relevant.

Michael D. Ratner 42:28
He just put out a number one album, he's about to go on, like a sold out arena tour. So pretty impressive.

Alex Ferrari 42:36
He's doing he's doing all right. He's doing okay. He's okay. He's okay. Now, what's next?

Michael D. Ratner 42:42
Working on another big documentary right now that I have not announced yet. But we are into it. And seven months into it. Hopefully, we'll come out end of this year, beginning of next, I'm producing another big doc that have not announced yet. That sorry, this just went off that we are in pre Prolon, which is really exciting. And then we have animated music show. That's really exciting. That's what the network that we haven't announced yet. So there's, there's there's a bunch of stuff. There's a there's there's some scripted TV shows, then there's a couple of these doc films, we're working on a whole bunch of stuff. And then really exciting for us. We're building out our first studio here in LA. So we, yeah, a big production facility where we're building out stuff. So we'll be able to bring a lot of our productions in house. But it's been great. I mean, we are going to be 48 people here it will be by the end of year, which is just this huge. Yeah, it's been it's been exciting time. But you know, we have this audio business that does podcasts and audio projects. You know, we have our film group, we have TV, there's a lot of stuff going on. And at the heart of it all is his stories. And we're very lucky that we're in a time when there are there's such a need everybody needs content right now and we're making stuff and it's a it's a fun time to play it because dollars are not just coming from financiers or distributors, it's coming from brands coming from all over all over the place. So we're working on in a number of different areas with a number of different partners and having a blast.

Alex Ferrari 44:20
Yeah, Kevin Kevin Hart's cold balls. Is is by Old Spice.

Michael D. Ratner 44:24
That's That's exactly right. And yeah, we're we've seen there's another one we got season six of that coming up that we'll be shooting, which is just i No matter what size project or what I'm doing or what's going on, I find out how to carve out time to direct that showcase to so fun. Like do these wonky schedules for like, you know, whatever big thing I'm working on because I'm like, I want to it that's such an example of the new TV modern when you know, it's a 12 to 15 minute like internet show that just blew up and gets millions of viewers with a brand sponsor. And then works right with a Moute with a plus bankable movie star. It's, that's an example of just how our landscape has changed, right? And being, you know, they shouldn't call it film school anymore. It's content school, you know, and people should want to be content makers, not filmmakers like, and again, nothing wrong. I'm a film. I love film. But I always think, you know, if, if some of these iconic filmmakers from the past are starting today, they be using all of these different technologies and distribute

Alex Ferrari 45:27
Spielberg, yeah, Spielberg always

Michael D. Ratner 45:30
Tell stories that different lenghts, tell the best one minute story tell the best five minute story. And that's what we're doing. We're doing stuff on all these different mediums and just having a lot of fun.

Alex Ferrari 45:40
Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Michael D. Ratner 45:46
Make it actually make it, don't talk about it, make it go outside and shoot it. And if it's not great, make it a little bit better next time. But don't just develop forever. Don't just put it on paper, go and make it you can actually make stuff now. Do it yourself!

Alex Ferrari 46:01
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Michael D. Ratner 46:06
90% Perfect is good enough. You know? Don't don't like because otherwise you'll be just paralyzed and you'll never put stuff out, you know, delegation, right? You know, like don't You don't need you can't do everything if you're really going to go and have influence and make a lot of stuff at once. You got to build a great team but you know, I think it's it's it's letting go and putting stuff out to the world and and not caving into that fear that start it's not there yet. It's not there yet. You know, you gotta you gotta release it eventually.

Alex Ferrari 46:39
And last question, three of your favorite films of all time.

Michael D. Ratner 46:42
I think I gave you three already, which are Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison Super bad. I can. I love we yeah, we covered that we started it. I mean, I love Charlie Chaplin movies. Chaplin films, Gold Rush. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Even films. Yeah. Even films like limelight. I know that gets like, I like I really love Chaplin. i And you know, he made short films and silent films and did talkies. So I'll add a Chaplin into them.

Alex Ferrari 47:12
Oh, can you imagine if chaplain was around today, like what he would be doing? Ohh God!

Michael D. Ratner 47:18
Having a lot of having a lot of fun.

Alex Ferrari 47:20
I always like imagine Kubrick with today's technology. I talk about Shoot, shoot, shoot forever. Before you had the limitations of film. Can you imagine he'd just shooting shoot. Michael man, it's been a pleasure talking to you, brother. Thank you again so much for being on the show man and continued success.

Michael D. Ratner 47:36
Thank you for having it's fun.



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