“I’ve discovered the weird paradox where looking away from your purpose can actually help with your purpose.” – John Barnard

21 for 2021 – Reel Careers Profile Series: John Barnard

John Barnard’s award-winning feature debut Menorca opened in cinemas across North America, and later sold to Netflix. His music documentaries featuring Randy Bachman, The Sheepdogs, and many others have won awards and screened on television and festivals internationally. His work in television can be seen in hundreds of hours of genres ranging from comedy to travel, food, reality and children’s programming, distributed globally.

When and how did you start in the media production industry?

I started young, in my early teens so I guess it was one my first jobs. I just started filming things for people and realized I might be able to make money from it. So technically this was about three decades ago, but maybe it’s better to start counting professional years from when I finished school. My business partner and I actually graduated from the the same university on the same day in 1999, and maybe that’s when we dug our heels in and started doing this professionally.

What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?

As a filmmaker, I’m kinda the in-house director at the company I co-founded, Farpoint Films but also I get rented out to other productions. I think our company is pretty unique in the province because we do a large volume of completely in-house created and developed work.  We’ve found we work the most efficiently when our creative principals and regular associates are steering the ship. So most of the work is ours from start to finish, all in-house. In the beginning, I started this company to provide myself with the resources to make my own films and now we’re so busy that I rarely get the chance. But I’m working on changing that in recent years and I’m moving toward a new system of working, which I think will get me back into making movies more often. I also have more flexibility these days to change gears and shift myself onto the projects I’m more passionate about.

What has been a substantial change in the industry since you started?

First of all, it appears that Canadian broadcasters are buying a lot less than ever before, for a myriad of reasons. Also, movies now seem to be regarded as valueless, since there’s no longer any way to make a significant amount of money from them. These two things have caused my little gang to completely pivot our direction a few years ago. Nowadays I spend most of my time making large volumes of television for foreign markets. People here sometimes ask “Where can I see what you’re working on?” And the answer is usually “Sorry you can’t see it in this country at all.” But I still enjoy the work immensely and I haven’t given up on pursuing those movies.

If you could give yourself advice today to yourself in the past, what would it be?

I think I’d tell him to lighten up. I was so serious and driven in my 20’s and 30’s and only stopped working to have little travel adventures. Those were great but it wasn’t enough. Now I’m trying to infuse creativity and play into everything in my life. That of course includes the work I’m doing, but also my friendships, and my life outside work. I’m not as uptight as I was in the old days and I’m proud to say that so far, my 40’s is my most childish decade yet. This is helping with the creativity immensely.

How did taking FTM training affect your career?

I’ve taken post-production courses with FTM as well as instructing courses on documents and factual. FTM has also conducted successful work placement at Farpoint Films, its an important asset for Manitoba to have a dedicated training organization for our film industry to support pathways to jobs and careers.

What is advice you would give to someone starting off in the media production industry?

Nowadays if you’re starting out in this industry I can’t imagine there’s any way to do it on your own. It might have been possible 20 years ago to jump in completely independently, but those days are gone. Ideas and skills aren’t enough any more. The thing that helps is alliances, a team of co-workers, or even friends who share common goals. Regardless of your craft or discipline I’d encourage you to form alliances and relationships. In this town that’s simple because there aren’t any “important” people. You could get a meeting with anyone if you just ask. These days I enjoy the company of our team and my gang of co-conspirators as much as the craft itself.

What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?

For me, when I was starting out as a filmmaker in the late 90’s and early 2000’s my biggest influence was the general direction of Danish cinema at the time. There was that Dogme 95 stuff and the films that came after that completely turned me on. These guys were making whole new rules, then breaking them, and to me it worked really well. It really influenced my filmmaking because the rule breaking was so freeing. The style and approach has stayed with me in little pieces and was a strong influence in Menorca. I like to think we’ve broken the mold just a little with what our company is, and our projects. But mostly for me, I’m interested in doing things I haven’t seen or felt from other filmmakers, and this comes from these influences. 

Is there something about you or an interesting past experience that you’d like to share with your colleagues?

A few years ago when I was making a music film I started learning guitar as professional due diligence because I figured it would help the movie. But then I realized it was just nice to do something creative with no end purpose, so I kept learning. I’m terrible at it, but there’s no destination or delivery date, which is the exact opposite of filmmaking. There will never be a recital. It’s just a thing I do for myself and the directionless aspect of it has helped me with my filmmaking. In other words, I’ve discovered the weird paradox where looking away from your purpose can actually help with your purpose.   

Is there a film technician or filmmaker that you would really like to work with and why?

Despite the openness of this town to relationships and alliances, there are still local crew and actors I haven’t yet worked with. In many cases we know each other only through social media. These are the people I aspire to work with. All my celebrities are the people who already live here. If you’ve felt the same way about me, don’t hesitate to reach out because I’d probably enjoy meeting you.

Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?

I just hope I’m still around and doing this. But I’d put money on my 50’s being an even more immature decade than my 40’s!