Barnhardt sets up scene
John Barnhardt sets up a scene for Chords at CSU’s Campus Transit Center

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

While an English major at CSU, John Barnhardt (B.A., ’96) had a “sweet bar-backing job” at Lucky Joe’s in Old Town Square Fort Collins. He and fellow employee Kevin Kirchner (B.A.,’97) spent hours talking about movies, shooting film, and film careers. Several decades and Emmys later, John has returned to Fort Collins to use his skills in the local community.

John Barnhardt behind bar
Barnhardt behind the bar at Lucky Joe’s in Old Town Fort Collins

During those early discussions at Lucky Joe’s, Barnhardt became convinced he would have to move to Los Angeles to have a film career. Then he “met a girl” who told him that Charleston had a dynamic film scene; more than 100 have been produced there. After graduation, Barnhardt moved to South Carolina. He tried to get on Dawson’s Creek but finally took a job at a news station, running a teleprompter for $5 an hour and carrying gear for the news photographer. He later got a commercial production job at a news station.

From 1999 to 2011, he taught motion picture production, cinematography, and lighting at Trident Technical College in Charleston, which gave him access to gear and allowed his film career to take off.  Barnhardt has worked on a number of TV and film projects. The TV series included Born to ExploreGame ChangersLucky Dog, and Exploration with Richard Wiese. He also served as director, cinematographer, and producer for the Building Alaska TV series for the DIY Network in 2015. His film shorts and videos include Cadillac in the Sky, Butterflies Wake, The Man Who Shot God, and Dust.

John Barhardt directing on set
John Barnhardt and assistant director Ben Kaufman setting up a scene in Chords. Photo by Jill P. Mott Photography

His career has focused more on artistry and projects that inspire him than on financial rewards. Among his volunteer efforts are a film of disaster and humanitarian relief efforts that helped raise over $450,000 for the South Carolina Aquarium and a human rights film that helped raise over $750,000 for the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center. He also did films for One World Health Project in Uganda and the Stemm Orphanage in Tanzania.

He has launched Barnfly Productions in Fort Collins. A current project is Chords, a film he wrote and directed about the local music scene. His old friend from Lucky Joe’s, Kevin Kirchner, is audio supervisor and a producer for the film. Barnhardt says he has been “emotional” about the number of local people, including CSU student interns, who have “pitched in” on this film. He says it was an exciting opportunity to tie music and film together. Chords will premiere on April 29 at the Aggie Theatre.

While at CSU, Barnhardt played lacrosse and focused his studies on poetry and film. He credits Professor David Vest with “changing my perspective on film.” Clearly he was taught well, as he was nominated 16 times for an Emmy and won for cinematography. He also received two local Emmys and a national Daytime Emmy. He is proud of his students’ successes, as well; among them, one is on Walking Dead and was a producer for Chords, and another is a director of photography.

Perhaps nothing says more about the heart and perspective of this alumnus than his response when someone said to him “Hey—you made it!”  Barnhardt replied, “No, I am just at the bottom step of Machu Picchu.”