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Whistler Film Festival Interview – “The Sheepdogs Have at It” director John Barnard

The Sheepdogs are at Whistler Film Fest!
by Jason Whyte

|In January of 2011, The Sheepdogs were an unknown rock band from Saskatoon, Canada. They were touring in a broken van, playing a brand of vintage rock music that everyone told them would never get radio play. But after winning a contest to get on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, everything changed. So, after this huge rise to fame, what happens next? The real pressure begins. How do these guys prove they’re more than a band who won a contest?” Director John Barnard on “The Sheepdogs Have at It” which screens at the Whistler Film Festival.

Is this your first film in the Whistler Film Festival? Do you plan to attend Whistler for the screenings?

Yes, and I will attend. This is the world premiere and we are the "closing night" film. Festival programmer Paul Gratton is my hero.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and what led you to wanting to make films?

I began making movies as a kid, early teens, and I'm 34 now. So we're going on 22 years of this. But there was never a point where I wanted to anything else. I gradually fell into making Canadian television, which has allowed me a chance to try a little of everything. While doing this, I started a production company in Winnipeg which was supposed to give me the resources to make the kind of weird arty movies I love. Now I have two producers, a writer, two editors, an office, all this equipment, and never get to do the stuff I set out to do. This company -the thing that was supposed to help me- is now my biggest obstacle. But that's changing. Now, I'm starting to MAKE time for those projects. I have an obnoxiously strange little short movie I just finished and I'll show it to you some time if you like. No one understands it, so it's perfect.

How did this movie come together?

Super Channel came to us with it. Spenny Rice had pitched it to them, but due to a scheduling conflict he was suddenly unable to do it. His new TV series was starting soon and he wouldn't have time. So the Sheepdogs film landed on my lap. Funny thing was, I had a TV series coming up too but I didn't tell anyone because I was afraid they'd think I couldn't do both. But I knew I could.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I've worked with the cameraman many times before. This is my first feature, but we've done lots of television together. He owns this Sony 700 XDCAM, which was our primary camera. Then I was usually shooting alongside him with a couple EX-1's that we own. Most of the slow motion performance footage in the film I shot myself, while jammed into the front of stage amongst sweaty fans.

The cameraman, Dave Gaudet, is sitting next to me on the plane as I write this on the way to Whistler Film Festival. He's even weirder than me. That's the kind of guy you need when making a rock n' roll movie. He collects guitars and juke boxes. I told him to wear all his usual alligator vests and shark teeth necklaces, which was great because everyone thought he was in the band. I've seen this guy get chased by a heard of bison, get smacked by boxers, and drive into tornadoes. The camera equipment does't matter as much as having a guy with the right attitude.

The other thing you need while following a rock band is a go-pro camera. Not to mount it on the piano or any of that nonsense. You need a small camera that fits in your pocket. That way, when you go out to bars and restaurants with your band, you can pull it out and grab candid moments. You can't go wrong with a go-pro. Even after a 20-hour work day and a night of partying, you can pull it out, press the one button, and get some sort of image. Everything is so wide that everything is in focus and the only thing to worry about is keeping oneself out of the shot.

Out of the entire production, what was the most difficult aspect of making this movie? Also, what was the most pleasurable moment?

When you're thrust into job like this, part of you hopes to find some automatic, existing conflict between the characters. Discovering its absence first leads to resentment, then to delight, because it opens a door to other narrative possibilities.

This is the overly-earnest part of the interview. I found The Sheepdogs to be thoughtful and ambitious people who care about each other as much as their work. The initial lack of superficial conflict turned out to be welcome because I think it forced me to dig deeper into the narrative and find a more interesting story. If I had stumbled into some sort of reality-TV nightmare where the subjects spend all their time yelling at each other, it wouldn't have had any resonance. So I guess what started being my least favourite thing became my most favourite thing.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

I've always been particularly keen on those ol’ Dogme 95 guys, I guess because those were the films that were cutting edge back when I was learning to do this. I can't say any of it rubbed off on this particular film though. You take a little of everything from what you like. Doug Arrowsmith made an excellent doc about Ron Sexsmith a couple years ago, which turned out to be a big touchstone for me on this film. His film has a similar setup; a nice, previously under-apreciated, hard-working artist going into the studio with a lot on the line. I know Doug. Neither of us are breaking any new ground with these movies, but Doug's film is really strong and it was helpful that someone had made a Canadian film with a similar blueprint. Go see Doug's movie.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

If they're ambitious enough to be attending a festival, they should probably stop procrastinating and get their hands dirty. I'm self-taught and basically completely useless at everything else in life. When something breaks at house, my wife needs to fix it. So if I can do this, anyone can. I'm also really good at picking restaurants, so I guess I have two skills.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or making noise at a screening of your movie?

I love texting during movies, so I guess it would be hypocritical of me to be upset.

What is the single, greatest movie that you've ever seen at a film festival?

In some basement screening room at the Lausanne Underground Film Festival about ten years ago, I saw this short film called "I Am Not Sleepy". Maybe it was from Mexico, I'm not sure. It's a very simple film, not a line of dialogue, but it has never left me. You're the first person to get that out of me. I've kept it secret till now, and that film has probably completely vaporized from existence now.

Come join the closing gala of “The Sheepdogs Have at It”, tonight, 8pm at the Whistler Conference Centre.

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Whistler Film Festival. For show information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website HERE

Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a photo or two.

Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=3473
originally posted: 12/02/12 11:47:54
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