Decades ago, you were my paperboy!
Yes. For years and years I delivered the Brandon Sun. I started at eight years old.
I think the thing that impressed me the most was that you would sit and READ the newspaper.
Yup. I’d stop and I’d take a break and read the paper, especially the sports section.
At that age! I can’t get some people who are 19 to take an interest in the daily paper. What motivated you at that point?
I was really into sports and I used to follow the Wheat Kings when I was a kid, and the NHL and stuff like that. And every now and again, I’d read some of the different articles. As a kid, you try to pick up as much as you can and try to keep informed as much as you can, but for the most part, I think I was just trying to keep up with sports.
Well that’s all right! And there would be lots of local sports, because the Brandon Sun sports department has ALWAYS been wonderful.
They were and still are. I was more into hockey because I was starting to play hockey. And as I got older, I started to play high school sports, and that was being covered, so of course you’re reading the paper because of that stuff as well.
So what was it that got you into camerawork in the first place?
I actually fell into the job I’m doing because of my brother Dean. He started going out on the road and working in the music industry in the early ’80s, when I would have been about seven or eight.
So he got you into this?
Well, it’s kind of an interesting story. Because back in 2003, I was working for a local company here, and I’d gotten laid off for a couple of months. And I’d called my brother up and say, ‘Hey — what are you doing? Do you mind if I come down and visit?’ He was living in New York at the time, and I found a cheap flight, and as soon as I got off the plane, the first thing he said to me was, ‘OK — we’ve gotta hurry. We’ve gotta catch a train into New York City — we’re going to see Conan O’Brien, we’ve got tickets for the Rangers/Senators tonight, and oh, yeah, by the way, I got you a job.’
Yes. So basically my first job was touring with Avril Lavigne on her first tour in 2003. It was a learning experience all around, but I had a little bit of experience in the TV world — I’d worked with Westman Communications for a while in the installation department, I’d also worked for SkyCable, and I was working for INETlink as a wireless technician — an installer, essentially. So it’s not the same, but it’s similar.
So basically, when I went out for my first job, I’d gone out there just for one specific task, and by the end of pre-production before the tour started, I was doing that plus plus plus. I picked things up fairly quickly, because technically, I’m into computers, I’m into electronics. So for me, it was fairly easy.
But I didn’t start shooting a camera until about two or three years into working in the video world — I was working behind the scenes in video where we set up the production in an area backstage. Basically, that’s the brains of the show — the video part of it anyway. My second tour was I was the assistant director for the KISS and Aerosmith tour. This was still in 2003.
Talk about starting in the A-circuit, then! Wow! But now you do a lot of camera work onstage, getting the shots for the big screens that people see.
Yes. That’s one of the things I do currently with the Michael Bublé tour. In the video industry with concerts, there’s image magnification — IMAG — where you’re magnifying the artist — making the person look bigger so that the people in the back of the room can see the artist. Because when you’re paying all that money for a ticket and the person looks like six inches high, it’s not the full experience.
It’s so fascinating to me, because here you are, back home in Brandon, Manitoba. And this is where you live when you’re not doing these big road gigs, rubbing elbows with some of the most famous artists around!
Basically, in the industry that I work in, as long as you’re relatively close to an airport, you can fly anywhere. Because all these tours are not in one set spot. So I work for two different companies, one out of Montreal called Solotech and then I also work for PRG Nocturne, which is based out of Chicago.
And these are all connections that, as usual, you do your thing, somebody notices that you do a good job — you’re reliable, you’re there…
Yeah. I started with PRG Nocturne because my brother knew one of the sales reps there. And I was with the company for many years. Then Dean moved to Solotech a couple of years ago and I started working with them as well doing some part-time stuff.
Now you mentioned working with Avril Lavigne and Michael Bublé. You’ve worked with a bunch of other acts, though, too, right?
Yes — like last year, I worked with The Who, and Bublé as well. And then the year before that, I worked with James Taylor, Prince — it’s all over the place, over the map, from contemporary to heavy metal kind of thing. Also last year, on a break between Bublé (shows), I did some shows with Josh Grobin.
But essentially you do onstage camera for projection on the screens, yes?
During the show, if that’s what’s called on me to do. Like most of the time, I’ll shoot a hand-held camera in front of the stage, down in what we call the pit area. But for example, with The Who, I was actually up on stage with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry. That was kind of a really cool experience because I don’t see — like, when I’m up on stage, I’m just doing a job. And my brother came out to see a show in Vegas, where he lives, and he said it was really cool — because he grew up listening to The Who — seeing me up on stage right beside Pete Townshend.
Actually, one of the funnier stories, at the start, in pre-production, I was on stage looking at different places to be where I could shoot — camera angles and stuff — and Pete comes up to me and goes, ‘Hi, I’m Pete.’ And I was thinking, ‘Yeah, no kidding! I know who you are.’ But anyway, he introduced himself and I said, ‘I’m Barrie.’ So a couple of days later, I’m sitting by the video system with all the other video guys, and Pete walks by and he says, ‘Hey Barrie, how’s it going?’ And I went, ‘Hey Pete, how’s it going?’ and all the other video guys are looking at me going. ‘He knows your name!’ And I was like, ‘Of course he does!’
But it was kind of funny because a lot of times, we don’t get a chance to interact with the artists. For example, a couple of the best bands I’ve worked with over the last 10 years have been The Barenaked Ladies and Bublé, just for the simple fact that these guys are regular guys and they interact — they know my name, they know everybody else’s name. We were in Sydney, Australia three years ago, and Bublé found out that it was my birthday, so halfway through the show, he sang Happy Birthday in front of 14,000 people. It’s things like that that make you feel appreciated, and there’s a lot of times you get into a lot of bands where they don’t even know who you are — they go through crew all the time so they don’t even try to get to know people. Every situation is different, every tour is different, and things that I do on tour are always different, depending on what is asked of me.
Is it still cool for you? Or have you been doing it so many years, that it’s just old hat now?
You know, honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been star-struck. My brother grew up in the industry and I used to go out and see him now and again. But growing up, I wasn’t much into music. So I’d be more star-struck if I ran into a famous hockey player. But for me, when I’m out there, it’s all business. I just think about work. They’re the artists — they go out there, they do their thing, I do my thing, I get my paycheque, and I go home or go back to a hotel.
I suppose, in most cases, you don’t get to rub elbows with the stars?
No. For example, I did a couple of weeks on a Britney Spears tour, and she just came into the gig right before the show, and then as soon as she’s done the show, she’s out the door. Nobody from the crew, nobody from the staff, even saw her on a day-to-day basis. But on a lot of other tours, the artist is there from start to finish. But it’s hit and miss — it’s all personalities. And I think it’s amplified a little bit, too — if a person is a certain Type-A person and all of a sudden they’re waited on hand and foot, it sometimes goes to some people’s heads
In a sense, yours is kind of a really intriguing double life — you travel around the world, and then on your off time, you come back to Brandon. Do you ever give your head a shake and go, ‘Oh my god,’ or does coming back home bring you back to reality?
I think being in Brandon kind of grounds me. Before I started in the industry, I’d never really travelled to many places. So when I went to visit my brother in New York, it was New York, and now in the last 10 or 12 years, I’ve been their 20 or 30 times. And now I’ve been all over Europe the Nordic countries and some of the eastern European countries, I’ve been to China, I’ve been to South Korea, I’ve been to Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, South America, South Africa. But when you’re gone, you’re gone anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. So you’re not seeing any of your friends or your family, and it can be tough.
I’m sure it’s not all glitz and glam. So what’s the best part for you?
I’ll be honest. The best thing about the job is, I never really got to see to see my brother a lot when I was growing up. He’d be home maybe twice a year, once at Christmas and sometimes in the summer. And that was since I was eight years old. So we never really got to know each other. And then it wasn’t until a couple of years into touring that I got to tour with my brother for the first time and we spent a lot of time together we got to know each other, and it changed our relationship a little bit, I think, and made it a little bit different, very much for the better. So for me, the best part of the job has been being able to work with my brother.
After all this time, though, are you still jazzed about what you do?
It’s one of those things where I think to myself, ‘It’s a job,’ and then I talk to some people who are really interested in what I do. And that makes me realizes that I could be flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant and hating life — I’m not saying that flipping burgers is a bad thing — and not that what I’m doing is perfect. But I realize I’m lucky to be in the position that I am today.