By Rob LeDonne
Trigger warning: This interview goes over sexual assault and drug addiction.
When Demi Lovato approached director Michael D. Ratner about a docuseries on her life, the vocalist was clear: The goal was to be as sincere as possible.
From the Glendale, California, set of the eponymous “Dancing with the Devil” video (timed to drop in tandem with the docuseries), Ratner spoke to MTV News over the phone about how he took on the delicate subject matter, the project’s stunning discoveries, and the importance of representing Demi’s reality, consisting of the fact she’s no longer completely sober. “We’re not connecting anything up in a cool bow, whether looking back or forward,” Ratner says. “We talk about the intricacy of mankind in people and human beings, whether you’re an artist or you and me. This is truly a human documentary told on the planet of music.”
MTV News: You’re the mastermind behind a series of celeb tasks, whether easy going ( Kevin Hart’s Cold as Balls) or deep ( Justin Bieber: Seasons). How did you and Demi Lovato begin your collaboration?
Ratner: I formerly directed her in a program called Pretty Big Offer that Ashley Graham hosts. Demi talked a bit about her story in that, and I was like, man, there’s a lot more there. There’s a deep, rich opportunity for her to elaborate. I directed the Justin Bieber docuseries Seasons, where he got candid about his own life. She saw that, and we took a seat to speak about how she wanted to inform her own story. She had actually done a documentary before [2017’s Simply Complicated] and was actually working on a follow-up to that in 2018 during the Tell Me You Love Me tour, but production stopped when she overdosed. I think the other documentaries were her attempting to inform her reality, however she didn’t go all the way there. We agreed to do the project as soon as I understood she wasn’t focused on simply making a commercial. She was lastly all set on her own terms to tell the genuine story, and I was thrilled.
MTV News: Dancing with the Devil opens discussing Demi’s late father, who battled with both mental illness and dependency. Was that always the plan, or did the development of the story emerge as you were dealing with it?
Ratner: My plans are constantly loose, but I follow a story.
There are individuals who jump to conclusions about Demi or didn’t know about that element of her. I believe it was a big piece and among numerous aspects that led her down the path that she went. Something for particular is that we’re making no conclusions when it concerns summing it up. We left no detail spared when discussing her father and the extensive effect it had on her, even a few of the adjectives she utilizes explaining death, the memories of that, and the sensations it evokes. Everything actually set the stage.
MTV News: This series is really raw, whether recounting her sexual attack or going through the moment she overdosed in extreme information, how she had three strokes and a cardiac arrest. What’s it like for you as a filmmaker and an individual to speak to Demi and the people closest to her, including her family and friends, about some of the darkest minutes of their lives?
Ratner: One of the hardest conversations was talking to her mother and stepfather about almost losing their daughter. I have actually been living in this world and you find out the information and comprehend them so deeply, and I believe that is what helps shape a narrative.
You do have these moments where it seems like you need to appreciate the boundaries of making certain somebody is OKAY. At the exact same time, when you understand their north star objective of what they’re trying to achieve with the job is reality, there are some uncomfortable conversations you require to have in an effort to see through their vision. It’s an honor that they invite me to discover, listen, and share.
MTV News: There was still a lot going on in Demi’s life while you were making the documentary. I’m believing specifically about her brief engagement. You were doing interviews that were totally obsolete by the time you ended up. What’s it like for you as a filmmaker when the subject you’re recording is continuously changing?
Ratner: When I was making this, I got a call that she had a boyfriend, I got a call that she had a fiancé, and then I got a call that they called off the engagement. The other moment is that you understand this is genuine, things alter, and you can not manage everything.
We’re likewise making a documentary about a 27-, 28- year-old, which are prime development years. The second you stop rolling, more development is going to occur. I always joke with Demi: If you register to direct a Demi Lovato task, you better keep the camera rolling. I believe one of the hardest things to do when making a documentary about someone in their prime is determining where it ends. There’s actually no real ending.
MTV News: The series serves as an education for people who do not know what it’s like to have someone they like experience dependency.
Ratner: I think the goal here is to provoke dialogue and get rid of the preconception of discussing these topics. It was also very crucial to comprehend the power and reach this docuseries can have. She has 100 million fans on Instagram alone, so a lot of individuals are going to see this. Addiction is a hazardous disease, and it’s crucial that we reveal you that no 2 journeys are alike. While we are not preaching that there’s any one-size-fits-all solution, what we wished to do is get people talking and state loud and clear that it’s OKAY not to be OKAY and you should look for aid if you can. We provide some resources at the end of every episode for you to do that. The worst thing you can do is keep it in your head and feel that isolation, seem like you can’t discuss it or think that nobody else goes through it.
MTV News: One moment I was especially shocked by was when it’s revealed Demi is no longer sober. Can you talk with me about that discovery?
Ratner: Demi isn’t the poster child for anything, and we weren’t attempting to say she is.
This is a wildly complex issue. We are not informing any person how to live their lives, and it’s important that, provided a history of being put on a pedestal for a lot of years, that there’s no aha minute for Demi. She can let herself and other people down. She’s loudly and plainly saying she understands her battles and is dealing with them daily. She’s doing whatever she can in her power to be her finest self.
MTV News: Were you reluctant to keep that in? You do have Elton combating it, but existed ever a believed that perhaps it would send the incorrect message or put her on blast?
Ratner: I think that it was more how we include it versus do we include it. We needed to be very clear that this was not informing anybody else to do the same. Ultimately, Demi’s vision for this is that she wished to have individuals know the genuine her at the end of it. I think we would have been setting her up for failure if that was omitted. If we left the impression she was completely sober, it wouldn’t have been the reality. There’s no universal service, and Demi is new to exploring this and she’s taking it day by day and dealing with herself continuously so she doesn’t wind up back in the very same location she was. She’s likewise stating that this is what’s working for her today
MTV News: Another thing I think that admission represents, particularly after how heart-wrenching everything came before it was, that as an audience you believe, “She’s done drinking and doing drugs forever.” The nature of dependency is that things are never ever so clear.
Ratner: In the documentary there’s a line by [Lovato’s recovery case manager] Charles Cook, and he states, “How could you do this, how could you do this again ?!” He talks about the hurt.
MTV News: Demi is so honest in the documentary, but I’m questioning if there’s anything at all you left on the cutting room floor that perhaps went too far or exposed excessive?
Ratner: There was not, which is quite remarkable and practically astounding. She thought that ultimately it was essential for a complete catharsis.