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In 1984, director Jonathan Demme, who would go on to win an Academy Award for The Silence of the Lambs, made one of the most iconic concert films of all time with the Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense. More than three decades later, he’s still capturing hits, this time with Justin Timberlake, chronicling the last stop on The 20/20 Experience World Tour. Before Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids debuts on Netflix on Wednesday, the pop star and his director spoke with EW about keeping the concert movie fresh.
How did this project bring the two of you together?
JONATHAN DEMME: It started with me, in a way. When I saw Justin in The Social Network, I became deeply obsessed with the desire to work with him and reached out to Justin. When we met, we talked about a couple of things I was working on that did not come to fruition, but it gave us a meeting.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: In that meeting, I unabashedly told Jonathan how much Stop Making Sense meant to me and changed the way I view a live experience. When [the next film] came up, Jonathan was the only choice.
The film also focuses on the dancers, musicians, and singers on stage with you during the tour. Did that happen organically during filming, or was it a part of your original plan?
TIMBERLAKE: Jonathan came to seven or eight shows to storyboard how the show should be captured. I remember that after he saw one or two shows we talked, and what he said to me was “Man, all of those musicians on stage and everything that’s happening on stage…that’s it. That’s something you don’t normally get to see in a concert film.” That was really where that started.
Which concert movies are iconic to you?
TIMBERLAKE: The Elvis ’68 special was pretty good.
DEMME: Yeah. And Elvis: That’s the Way It Is.
What makes those concert films work better than others?
DEMME: It’s when you get more than the music. You’ve got to have the great music, but you want more than that. You want some insight.
TIMBERLAKE: It’s a documentary. You’re capturing a real-life event. It’s a moment in time, but also, you want to walk away feeling like you know something more about what and who you were watching than you did before you started. There are a couple of shots in this film where you see a camera sliding across a dolly. I feel like that’s another part of capturing the moment. Nothing’s perfect.
DEMME: I like seeing the cameras because it helps visualize how the music people and the movie people teamed up. There’s that rule: Don’t show any of the other cameras. Why? Do you think the viewer doesn’t think we filmed this?
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Are you aware of the cameras as a performer? Is there extra pressure?
TIMBERLAKE: The thing is, there are also 20,000 people in there with the cameras. You know the cameras are there. Everyone knows they’re there. You do 140 shows, roughly; some nights you’re going to have a little bit more magic than the others. I could probably speak for the other dancers, musicians, and singers on stage, that you hit your mark a little more crisply when there are cameras. Luckily, we filmed for two nights. [Laughs] I feel like we at least got a few takes. It was one of those things where off camera I would say to all of the dancers, singers, and musicians, “You’re here for a reason. Just go out there and be you, and you’ll be great. Also, Jonathan Demme is directing this, so it’s going to be great.”
So, Justin…how’s the new album coming?
TIMBERLAKE: Lovely. [Laughs]
You’ve previously talked a bit about the next record. When can fans expect to hear it?
TIMBERLAKE: As you probably know, I’ve literally just finished the soundtrack for Trolls. I wrote four originals for that and was able to do a cover of “True Colors” with Anna Kendrick. Anything moving forward, I’m not sure. I’ve been in and out of the studio, obviously, with some of my more frequent — and less frequent — collaborators. I guess I’m resigned to the fact that I’m a tortoise when it comes to this process. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I just feel like it’s so important to never have the cart before the horse when it comes to making a record. I’m working on it here and there, but I’m also enjoying being a dad. The answer to your question is “I don’t know.” [Laughs]
A version of this story originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly #1435.