Bachman: A Conversation with Director John Barnard

by Hogan Short

Bachman (2018)

John Barnard spoke to us about his second film on Randy Bachman from The Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive.  John Barnard is, like Bachman, from Winnipeg so the two already share a home as well as an obsession with their craft. Josh Barnard talked about that shared passion as well as his process for making the movie and what Bachman means to him. Whether you are a fan of music, film, or Bachman, it is this impressive care John Barnard has taken for the Canadian music legend that allows us to share in that adoration.

This is your second film on Bachman, why are you so drawn to him? What has he meant to you personally?

The first film I did was a concert film. He did a show in the way he often does; he sings a song and then tells a story behind it. He weaves a tapestry of his own musical career by telling a morsel of info and how it came to be. And at the time nobody had documented it. So because I was in Winnipeg and he was coming home, we did a concert film and it went well. Everyone seemed happy and that’s what got the wheels turning. 

So what compelled you to make a second film?

It seemed to me that maybe there was a bigger story than just the story behind the songs. His whole life overall might have had an interesting arc going beyond the music to what his life was personally. Maybe an even bigger narrative that nobody had even explored. As far as I know, nobody had done a big, long movie on Randy, so there’s that. I knew in the 90’s Randy donated a whole bunch of stuff…photos, personal correspondence, even bank statements to the national archives. I’m not sure why he felt compelled to make his life a public record. So, in Ottawa, you can explore the Bachman area. That was a big allure for me. All this stuff was sitting in boxes waiting to be dug into. When this movie went into a development phase, I went to Ottawa for the weekend and stuck my nose in boxes that rarely get opened. Most of the visuals, the legacy, come from that trip where I was alone like a library mouse poking around.

Bachman has been called the “Architect of Canadian Rock and Roll”. Why do you think that is?

From what most people have said, there wasn’t a large infrastructure of music, like a national music industry in Canada, before The Guess Who came along. That whole scene of the late 60s, early 70s, was spearheaded by The Guess Who. That came about directly because of Randy. It was his business acumen that drove the band. He had enormous talent and was taken by the music, but it really was his business acumen that propelled him. So to that degree, it’s played a big part in that recognition. I guess it’s true. Then there’s his radio show. Because he’s been around and met a lot of people he’s seen as an authority based on his experiences. And the whole other part of this…I’m 41, so the year he left BTO was the year I was born. Much of this came to be before I had any sense of what music was, so there was a learning curve. I had to be a historic researcher. I had some handy helping hands, people who knew what they were doing.

Speaking of those contacts he has made over time…there are so many great featured interviews in this. Neil Young, Paul Schaffer and others…what is the process like getting these legends into your film?

It varies wildly. Neil Young took months of – what’s the term when you have to wrangle an interview through a bureaucratic process? These people are surrounded by people who have their best interests at heart. Neil took months. We interviewed Alex Lifeson from Rush. I was at a rehearsal and he was doing a sound check. I asked him and he said, “ya lets do it right now.” He didn’t have to but that was an easy one. I got lucky. So, it varies wildly. Sometimes I would get lucky and sometimes I didn’t.

What is your relationship like with Bachman? Does this feel surreal to you as a fan?

It wasn’t even something I considered as a possibility. When you live in Winnipeg, it goes beyond being a fan. You don’t have a choice. It’s part of being here – being a fan. Now it’s part of my life that I’ve been through this with him. He put his faith in me to do it. He went to the jumping off point with me. We aren’t pals or anything but I’m pretty comfortable that I found what makes him tick. In the first two minutes of the movie or first two minutes of meeting him it seems obvious what makes him tick. Finding that thing that made him tick was the same thing that makes me tick, that was the important process. He’s obsessed with music. And I am obsessed with film.

What do you see next for Randy Bachman? What is he hoping for?

I think he’s coming up with more ideas for more music. That’s what’s in store (for him). He will get other ideas and more concepts for new records as long as he’s living and breathing.

If you could have your choice of any artist or group to have the chance to make a film about, who would you choose?

I think, because I met him, it would be Peter Frampton. He’s really interesting; very warm and genuine. He has a potential illness which may prevent him from playing the guitar, so he is on a farewell tour. All those things together form the recipe for a tasty cake and one that I’d like to explore. For me it’s really personal. I try to approach these stories with how I’d like to see it; what I’d like to do; what’s my ultimate. I try to think as selfishly as possible. When you’re making a movie, in many ways, you’re alone. It’s hard to tell what people will like and not like so make for yourself first. I try to start as self-absorbed as I possibly can in the hopes it will go somewhere. 

Bachman screens at Vancity Theatre on Monday, April 15.


Bachman (2018)

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