We had the opportunity to speak to some members from Therapy Studios, the post team from the recently released docu-series, Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil. This 4-part series is an emotional look at Demi’s life and career including her near-fatal overdose in July 2018, how she began abusing drugs, her eating disorder, her bipolar misdiagnosis, her engagement and subsequent breakup, her sexual assault, and her sexuality.
The staff of Therapy Studios who we spoke with include:
Margaret Ward – Executive Producer
Shannon Albrink – Editor
Omar Inguanzo – Colorist
Brandon Kim & Dillon Cahill: Re-recording Mixers & Sound Designers
Juliana Watson: Senior Producer
Los Angeles Post Production Group: Can you tell us a little bit about Therapy Studios and at what stage was the team at Therapy Studios brought in on the project?
Margaret Ward: Therapy Studios is an Emmy award-winning production and post-production company in West Los Angeles, CA. With work ranging from long-form television and feature films to commercials and music videos, the company’s client roster includes global brands like Google, Pepsi, Audi, Activision, Kia, and Apple Beats, as well as major artists OK GO, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, A Tribe Called Quest, The 1975 and The Foo Fighters. Therapy has also produced original content from feature documentaries like Transcendent Man and Sound City to docu-series Sonic Highways on HBO.
We got involved with the Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil docu-series when OBB reached out to Therapy to come in to edit the final episode of the series and provide finishing (color, sound design/mix, & finish/delivery) on the full series. Shannon Albrink worked closely with director Michael D. Ratner and editor Paul Little, who edited the 1st three episodes.
LAPPG: What was different or particularly challenging about doing the post finish on this series?
Shannon Albrink: The answer to this is one you can probably guess: the pandemic quarantine made things particularly challenging. We were all working from home, sending bins back and forth to assistants, Alaina Stevenson and Tim Binmoeller, with zoom calls almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day with Michael and the OBB team. Through it all, we were able to stay connected and safe, while also being able to experiment with ideas editorially, which ultimately made the final cut better.
A particular challenge for me personally was dealing with the heaviness of the content of the series. Demi Lovato’s story is heartbreaking in many ways, not just as a pop star, but as a person dealing with addiction and trauma. With everything happening in the world today, Demi’s story definitely added an emotional weight throughout the editorial process. Hearing about these devastating experiences coming from Demi herself was tough, especially as a woman around the same age as Demi. However, through her bravery and honesty in her interviews, it really inspired me to be as true and honest in the edit as I could.
LAPPG: That really comes across to the viewer. It felt very honest and real and as a viewer I feel like I got to know this person way beyond the well-crafted image you are usually allowed to see. So, can you share with us some insights about the editing process?
Shannon Albrink: The first two episodes were cut one after the other by editor Paul Little, while the final two were cut simultaneously — Paul cutting episode 3 while I worked on episode 4, because we needed multiple editors working simultaneously to meet deadlines. Paul and I passed interview bites and scenes back-and-forth, and we’d check in throughout the edit to bounce ideas off one another and make sure we didn’t have any overlap between episodes. The through-line of the series was maintained by director, Michael D. Ratner. Through the edit, some topics came up that hadn’t yet been introduced, so we all worked together to figure out the best place for these ideas. Ultimately, Demi’s honesty truly inspired us all.
LAPPG: Did editing the season finale episode produce any specific challenges?
Shannon Albrink: Since I was coming on for the last episode, I wanted to make sure I matched what Michael and Paul had already crafted together for the first two episodes. However, as the wrap-up for the series, I knew that episode 4 had to be different from the others tonally as well. Michael was very clear from the beginning that this final episode wasn’t to be wrapped-up with a perfect-ending and neatly tied with a bow. It was to be a forthright portrayal of Demi’s life today and the challenges that she’s still facing, some challenges that she may be struggling with for the rest of her life. It was about finding the balance between addressing it all and getting excited for Demi’s new chapter ahead.
A particularly challenging section of the episode was the explanation of Demi’s moderation sobriety. We wanted to be very clear about what moderation means for Demi in particular, but also be respectful to all parties’ opinions involved. Not only did we want to give Demi the opportunity to explain her truth, but we also wanted to treat the topic with the utmost respect by bringing in informative voices, such as with Demi’s case manager, Charles Cook. Finding the right combination of commentary was crucial, and that meant including dissenting opinions of moderation, like with Elton John and Scooter Braun. We had to be clear we were in no way telling other people how to live their lives, and if people need help they should absolutely seek it. We were speaking to Demi’s unique journey.
LAPPG: Were there any incidents or issues that were just too painful to be included in the final edit?
Shannon Albrink: No, Demi really bared it all, which is a testament to herself and her relationship with Michael. It felt like my responsibility to honor that and put everything in the edit. As we got to the first screening with Demi, I felt particularly nervous, knowing that some of the traumas were fresh in her life. But hearing positive feedback from her and the rest of the team encouraged me to not leave any stone unturned. I was more than happy to be a part of this catharsis for her and I have only gained more respect for her throughout the process.
LAPPG: One of the things that jumped out to me was just how beautiful the color was, especially with many of the interviews. What were your directives when you started the color process and how did you land on the final look?
Omar Inguanzo: Thank you! I think color was an important character in this piece. As per Michael’s direction, we didn’t want it to be too stylized or ever take away anything from the interviews and content itself, but instead support everyone’s honesty within their interviews. At the end of the day our goal was to always be as natural and true to the environment as possible.
LAPPG: There was certainly a lot of different audio sources over the course of this documentary from concerts, iphone footage, emergency 911 calls to interviews, etc. What was the most challenging aspects for you and what tools and techniques did you rely on?
Brandon Kim & Dillon Cahill: We were given a lot of audio source material ranging from Demi’s unreleased 2018 documentary to the present day interviews with Demi and her friends and family. We had to do a lot of fine tuning using EQ and dialogue matching to make sure that the tonality of all the different sources was seamless.
Another challenge was making sure that the mix of the documentary would sound good in any setting. Although a large portion of the audience will probably watch the series on their phone through YouTube, we knew that the four episodes were going to be compiled as a longform to headline at SXSW. With that fact in mind, we wanted to make the episodes play well back to back and feel as cinematic as possible.
One other unexpected challenge was sound designing the moments that the cameras were not there to capture. There was already so much good footage from her past tours and documentaries to work with, but when it came to some of the more private matters like Demi’s overdose or her stay at the hospital, there was not much to work with. We didn’t want to completely drop the sound in those moments, so by using the audio from Jordan’s 911 call mixed with the sounds of ambulances, paramedics, radio calls, EKG monitors and blood machines, we were able to create a soundscape that made it feel like you were really there.
LAPPG: Can you share with us a little bit about the workflow, software, hardware used and how you organized your team, calendar and the approval process?
Juliana Watson: We worked closely with the director Michael D. Ratner and the team at OBB Media who we were zooming with from their post production facilities, and the other Editor Paul Little to carve out the story that the fourth episode was aiming to tell. Once we had clear direction, we edited in Avid, colored in Blackmagic Resolve, sound designed and mixed in ProTools, and did conform and clean up in Flame. Since this project was in post during quarantine, we used online meeting tools like Zoom for our calls, and frame.io for posting / reviews. As any post producer knows, calendars are constantly changing and evolving, so it was a balance of setting expectations of how long any changes would take and backing out enough time to appropriately get the work done.
LAPPG: What was the biggest takeaway from working on this project. Was there anything that really stood out to you during the creation of this documentary?
Juliana Watson: I really think that Demi and Michael, alongside Shannon and Paul did a great job on telling a very sensitive story. The trauma that Demi has endured, the eating disorder she’s dealt with, her overdose, her recovery and her current moderation sobriety are all extremely tough subjects to talk about appropriately and sensitively. A lot of attention to detail was paid to make sure that each subject matter was handled respectfully, and I think the docuseries speaks for itself on how well they did that.