John Barnard: NSI was instrumental in helping me find my own filmmaking path

John Barnard

Storytelling is more important than ever as we all face the unique challenges this year has brought us.

Stories entertain, inspire and transform. They remind us of where we come from and where we can go. We need more stories to free our imaginations and open our hearts to create a path of understanding and healing.

To mark the season of giving during December, we’re sharing impact stories from our alumni and board members to show the power of story in action.

Current NSI students are blessed by the commitment of NSI’s Board of Directors – 100% of whom have donated to NSI’s annual fund. Please join them in supporting our students by donating today and making the power of story even more powerful.

Today’s impact story comes from John Barnard, NSI Features First grad.

John participated in NSI Features First in 2004 with his partners Kyle Bornais and Chris Charney – working on their film, The Rich Guy. The group has gone on to see immense success with their award-winning Winnipeg production company, Farpoint Films.

John’s current projects include Wintertide – a film he wrote and will direct – and the second season of Cruise Ship Killers – a series that has been picked up internationally. John previously won the award for best director for his film Menorca at Solaris Film Festival.

Instead of following the same path as others, John believes NSI helped him and his partners find their own path in the industry.

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How did your training through NSI help you get to the place you’re at in your career today?

I think the NSI Features First program first introduced me to the approach of making Canadian features in a compact, economic way, from an above-the-line perspective. The experience was great, and enough to teach me that I didn’t want to follow the standard path that seemed to be established for emerging directors.

Looking back, it was essential to see quickly what the industry was geared toward because I saw that the regular path wasn’t for us. That’s not to say the information wasn’t useful. It was instrumental in myself and my partners choosing our own filmmaking path.

I don’t think there was any particular thrust or funneling into a specific mode of storytelling and the program seemed flexible to many different genres. There was a real emphasis on developing the heart of our story, and the main devices and characters that supported it.

Our film was a comedy and there was a particular core to the concept which we were encouraged to build upon, from treatment all the way through packaging. This kind of information will always be useful because it’s intrinsic to good storytelling.

What advice or encouragement would you give a prospective applicant considering NSI programs?

I’ve certainly urged many others to explore and apply for the various NSI programs, reminding them that it’s not necessarily a ticket to getting your project made – I don’t think a film from our class was produced. Rather, consider it in the reverse way, with your project as the ticket to the program. If you’re new to above-the-line work, all of NSI’s programs would be an essential step.

Since the program, which was 15 years ago, the entire industry has changed and I know the program has evolved with it.

Gone are the days of anyone putting corporate push behind your first feature, probably anywhere. Save your breath on the elevator pitches and excitement about some big meeting because, overwhelmingly, the odds are that no-one will help you.

Equip yourself with knowledge and understanding of how this works, because you or your team will be making most choices alone. I believe any of the NSI programs would be a solid step in this direction.

There was a point, shortly after completing the program, when we realized our project might never get made, and that it was simply time to collect what we’d learned and move onto the next one. We’ve done that repeatedly, always growing our development roster and library of stuff that did get made.

Eventually you arrive at a point where you have so many things rotating through development that it’s hard to see projects tanking and rejections as failures. Rather you simply learn what you can and transpose it into the next one. In the case of that film long ago, our only takeaway might have been what we learned at NSI, and that was more than enough.

What project(s) are you currently working on?

Currently I’m prepping a genre picture which I wrote and will direct called Wintertide, which is nearing production readiness for next year. Before that happens, I’m prepping the second season of our TV series Cruise Ship Killers, which I’ll direct about 10 episodes of.

Where can people find out more about your work online?

To learn more about our team (which by the way is still intact, and has grown from three people to more than 12!) go to Farpoint Films, or reach out to me on any of the socials.

What is your favourite Canadian film or TV series, and why?

My all-time favorite Canadian television series remains, after all these years, the iconic 80’s CBC comedy series Four On The Floor. I can’t see that ever changing.

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