A movie about the Sheepdogs was in the works before the Canadian rockers won Rolling Stone‘s first-ever Choose the Cover contest in 2011 – now The Sheepdogs Have at It will premiere December 2nd at the closing gala of the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia.
Filming for the 85-minute documentary began a month after the Saskatchewan band appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in August 2011. Filmmakers followed the Sheepdogs as they rode a once-in-a-lifetime career jackpot, playing to boisterous crowds and getting recognized in the street, but also buckling down to record their self-titled album for Atlantic Records with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney.
Singer and guitarist Ewan Currie tells Rolling Stone that he wanted the film to “to show the working side of everything because so much of what is seen is just setups and the flash and the fun stuff – Jimmy Fallon or being on the cover or photo-shoot stuff. This was a chance to show us on the road, in the studio and what goes on behind the scenes and basically working.”
The idea for a Sheepdogs film came from Spencer Rice, best known for his cult comedy show Kenny vs. Spenny, who heard the band when his production partner Jimmy Shier sent him a link to their songs. “The only reason we got involved was because we loved the music,” Rice says. “The Rolling Stone thing happened after we contacted the band about doing a movie about them, so that was just incredible luck on our part, the timing of it.”
He had originally wanted to direct the film, but was committed to another project, so he brought it to Farpoint Films and took an executive producer credit. John Barnard came in as the director just three days before filming was to start.
“I didn’t know who they were; I didn’t know their music or anything,” Barnard admits. “When you go into these things, the lazy part of you hopes that you encounter some easy drama. What I found out was that they were total princes, not just to me but to each other. They had a lot of integrity about the music. So there was none of that idiotic reality crap that part of me wanted, but I was instantly delighted to find absent.”
While Barnard shot the band in New Orleans, Nashville, New York, Toronto and Winnipeg, some of the more insightful and endearing interviews were done in their hometown of Saskatoon with their parents. “There’s no way that they could have done what they did for so long without those people behind them and, because of that, it became a movie very much about artists and their parents,” Barnard says.
Involving their parents in the film was also affecting for the band, which also features bassist Ryan Gullen, guitarist Leot Hanson and drummer Sam Corbett. They’re on tour and will miss the festival screening.
“My mom is private so seeing her talk in the doc was interesting for me,” says Currie. “We knew that our parents were probably a bit concerned for us as we were getting older and the dream wasn’t really materializing, but they would never actually vocalize it because they were being supportive, so to hear them express their concerns was a little bit weird.
“The stuff that I like though is when you see the band recording,” he adds. “That Metallica documentary was always really fascinating because I thought the way that they recorded was such a stupid method, but it was interesting to watch them try it. So I liked the scenes where we were trying to record and screwing up takes. I think that’s kind of endearing as well.”