Emmy award-winning director reflects on experiences in FoCo

Maddie Steele

Emmy award-winning cinematographer John Barnhardt has always been passionate about filmmaking. From studying at Colorado State University to traveling the world for documentary films and winning an Emmy for Outstanding Single-Camera Photography, Barnhardt has traveled far in pursuit of his filmmaking career. But throughout his film career, he has still maintained a deep connection to Fort Collins. 

Barnhardt first began his journey as a filmmaker 28 years ago when he began his studies at CSU. During his time at CSU, he worked at Lucky Joe’s in Old Town and later graduated with a degree in English and poetry.

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Barnhardt traveled as a documentary cinematographer, helping film and direct “The Man Who Shot God” and “Born to Explore,” which he later won the Emmy for in 2013. From his achievements and experiences in film, Barnhardt became a professor at Charleston South Carolina University, teaching cinematography, editing and pre-production. 

Barnhardt moved back to Fort Collins to produce passion projects in the town that he felt most connected to. This led to him writing and directing the upcoming short film “Chords.” The short film is based on the City of Fort Collins and highlights the local music scene. More importantly, the film brings the passion of music within an individual to life and focuses on the importance of home. 

“I immediately realized the music scene in Fort Collins is a big deal,” Barnhardt said. “I write what I know or write what I have access to, so I thought of a movie idea that included film and music.”

Barnhardt’s experiences working at Lucky Joe’s created a strong bond that inspired the script of “Chords.” At the time, Barnhardt had no idea what connections this job would create for him in the future or the inspiration it would ignite. While addressing the members of the crew and extras, he put emphasis on his dream of bringing together his friends of the community and fellow alumni of CSU.

“When I was working at Lucky Joe’s in the kitchen with my friend Kevin, I always (said) ‘Whenever I get out of this kitchen, I’ll be able to make movies,’ … but I never thought I could,” Barnhardt said. 

Barnhardt’s main production team featured past students and close friends of his; Trent Walker is the director of cinematography, Alex Boyd is the producer, Ben Kaufman is the assistant director and Kevin Lee Kirchner is the audio supervisor. 

This doesn’t happen without a huge amount of help, and for me, there’s a warm, fuzzy feeling around everybody taking our wacky idea seriously. “-Kevin Lee Kirchner, audio supervisor for “Chords.”

Boyd and Barnhardt became friends when Barnhardt taught in South Carolina. Boyd was personally invited to work as the producer for the film to help support Barnhardt’s dream of filming in Fort Collins. 

“As an artist, you observe and report,” Boyd said. “When we started talking about the film, John (Barnhardt) said that’s exactly what he did. I observed Fort Collins, and I reported on it.” 

When shooting “Chords,” it was Boyd’s first time visiting Fort Collins from Atlanta. Boyd described the Fort Collins community as a tight-knit circle, which was a huge contrast to her city roots. 

“It’s the same as here (in Atlanta), but in Fort Collins it’s ‘help thy neighbor,’” Boyd said. “Where I’m from, I haven’t even met one of my neighbors.”   

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The film features Colorado actors and local Fort Collins businesses such as Cloverlick Banjo Shop, Biodiesel for Bands, Lucky Joe’s, Music City Hot Chicken, Mobb Mountain Distillers and Wear It Again, Sam. Some notable scenes include actors riding in a bus, playing guitar in a banjo shop and performing on stage. 

Kirchner, the audio supervisor and long-time friend of Barnhardt, described the large amount of support from the Fort Collins community.

“This doesn’t happen without a huge amount of help, and for me, there’s a warm, fuzzy feeling around everybody taking our wacky idea seriously,” Kirchner said. “Whether it was donating (or) helping, … that’s truly inspiring in a creative element, and I’m so thankful for everyone’s involvement. It gives me this creative energy that is immediate pay-off for the things I needed to change my life professionally.”

Ann Gill, a College of Liberal Arts dean who recently retired, influenced Barnhardt throughout his college career at CSU.  

John (Barnhardt) was a bright and very interesting fellow when he was on campus,” Gill said. “I remember him as a wonderful writer and a very creative young man.”

It was very meaningful to me shooting on a college campus that I went to then. … I dreamt it, but I never imagined I would shoot a movie in Fort Collins. I never had the confidence at that age.”-John Barnhardt, director of “Chords.”

Barnhardt’s film not only brought his vision to life but brought the Fort Collins community together working on this project. Throughout the five production days, local businesses gave their time to help Barnhardt finish this passion project. The owner of Lucky Joe’s, Joe Vader, is a supporting actor in the film. 

Barnhardt wanted to highlight Fort Collins culture through film but also express an element of CSU in it as well. One particular scene became an emotional moment for Barnhardt when the location was filmed outside of the Lory Student Center parking lot. 

“It was very meaningful to me shooting on a college campus that I went to then,” Barnhardt said. “I dreamt it, but I never imagined I would shoot a movie in Fort Collins. I never had the confidence at that age.”

While making “Chords,” Barnhardt insisted on focusing on the artistry and emotions of filmmaking rather than the potential profit. 

“You don’t always have to do stuff for money,” Barnhardt said. “Do stuff that inspires you. You have to do that stuff.” 

Barnhardt is currently living in Fort Collins and will continue to create short films and help local businesses through video marketing. More updates will be posted on Chords’ Instagram. The premiere for “Chords” is at the Aggie Theater on April 29. 

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  • John Barnhardt (middle) speaks to Ben Kaufman (left), the first assistant director, and Alex Boyd (right). (Skyler Pradhan | The Collegian)

  • John Barnhardt (Director – left) and Trent Walker (Director of Photogrpahy – middle) set up the camera for the next scene during filming for the short film “Chords”. Filming on Wednesday, January 8th took place at Lucky Joe’s Sidewalk Saloon in Old Town, Fort Collins. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • Danny Jones, actor and previous student of John Barnhardt, prepares for filming on set for the short film “Chords” Jan. 10, 2020. Filming for the short film took place over multiple days and locations around Fort Collins. (Skyler Pradhan | The Collegian)

  • John Barnhardt and Trent Walker set up the camera angle

  • Director John Barnhardt prepares cast and crew for a scene change during filming for the movie “Chords” Jan. 9. (Skyler Pradhan | The Collegian)

  • The slate for the short film “Chords” getting ready to be used on Thursday, January 9th.

  • Actor Danny Jones (middle) prepares for the next scene while Trent Walker, director of cinematography, adjusts the lighting and camera angle Jan. 9, 2020. Filming for the short film took place over multiple days and locations around Fort Collins, including Lucky Joe’s and the campus of Colorado State University. (Skyler Pradhan | The Collegian)

  • Director John Barnhardt observes the scene from the monitor as crew memebers work on setting up and perfecting elements of the composition on Thursday, January 9th. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • John Barnhardt (left) and Ben Kaufman (right) talk in between filming on set for the short film “Chords” on Thursday, January 9th. Travel boxes for the RED camera and other gear can be seen as well. Filming for the short film took place over multiple days and locations around Fort Collins including Lucky Joe’s and the campus of Colorado State University. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • First Assistant Director Ben Kaufman, takes point on a scene of “Chords” durinf filming on Wednesday, January 8th. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • Danny Jones, Actor and previous student of John Barnhardt, prepares for filming on set for the short film “Chords” on Thursday, January 10th. Filming for the short film took place over multiple days and locations around Fort Collins including Lucky Joe’s and the campus of Colorado State University. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • Stephanie Fitzgerald ajdusts actor Danny Jones’ makeup before filming for the next scene takes place on Thursday January 9th. Filming for the short film took place over multiple days and locations around Fort Collins including Lucky Joe’s and the campus of Colorado State University. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • A Rode listening and microphone set up being used during filming for the short film “Chords” on Thursday, January 9th. Filming for the short film took place over multiple days and locations around Fort Collins including Lucky Joe’s and the campus of Colorado State University. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • John Barnhardt, director of his short film “Chords,” on set at Lucky Joe’s Sidewalk Saloon Jan. 8, 2020. (Skyler Pradhan | The Collegian)

  • Joe Vader (left), the owner of Lucky Joe’s Sidewalk Saloon, and Danny Jones (right) talk in between scenes on set for the short film “Chords” on Wednesday, January 8th at Lucky Joe’s. (SKyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • John Barnhardt (left) speaks to Joe Vader on set for his short film “Chords” on Wednesday January 8th. (Skyler Pradhan | Collegian)

  • John Barnhardt (middle) speaks to Ben Kaufman (left), the First Assistant Director, and Alexandra Boyd (right), the Producer and also previous student of Barnhardt’s during filming for the short film “Chords” on Wednesday, January 8th. (Skyler Pradhan |Collegian)

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Maddy Steele can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @msteele3279. OP