Tag Archives: Sam Dunn

CBC digs deep for a monumental history of music in From the Vaults

As Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC has—literally—a treasure trove of an archive from which to pull footage and information. With over 90,000 reels to draw from, it was a monumental task. But it paid off with the network’s latest project.

From the Vaults—bowing Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC—isn’t an update of the wonderful 1982 miniseries Heart of Gold. Where that three-hour special, narrated by Donald Sutherland, only explored Canadian singer-songwriters, From the Vaults uses music to tell the stories of Canada and the world through not just homegrown talent but international ones who visited CBC’s studios.

“I think the CBC has been trying to find a way to share their archive with Canadians,” says executive producer Sam Dunn. “It’s this massive, titanic, vault of material that not only exists in the basement of Toronto’s [CBC headquarters] but major cities across the country.”

Dunn’s Banger Films serves as producers of From the Vaults and CBC couldn’t have picked a better partner. Banger Films has produced a plethora of top-notch documentary films and TV series in Super Duper Alice Cooper, Metal Evolution, Long Time Running and Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. Teaming with the CBC was a no-brainer, Dunn says. He and co-executive producer and Banger Films partner Scot McFadyen love working with archival material and being storytellers and embraced the opportunity to cross decades and musical styles. They and their staff know music and how to tell a story but were nonetheless overwhelmed by the sheer amount of source material.

“We were completely daunted,” Dunn says with a laugh. “We couldn’t just go down there and pull a tape off a shelf because it was like throwing a pebble into an ocean.” The solution? They reached out to people they knew in Canada: music writers, musicians, folks who had a great knowledge of the archive and had worked at the CBC for years. The team slowly began piecing together performances that stood out for people. A key appearance by The Who in a student union building. A special hosted by Harry Belafonte documenting his travels across Canada.

Sammy Davis Jr. on the set of his CBC special, Parade.

The next step was to structure each of the six one-hour episodes. The CBC, Dunn explains, didn’t want them divided by genre, decade or regions of Canada. The solution? Use a theme that says something about Canada and our culture.

Narrated by Amanda Parris and Tom Power, Episode 1—labelled “Land of Opportunities”—recalls musical acts that used this country as a stepping stone or key component in their career. Though he was a world-renown entertainer and member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack, Sammy Davis Jr. would never be able to headline his own television show in the U.S. because of his skin colour. He came to Canada to do it, hosting a special called Parade. Singer-songwriter Joan Baez, meanwhile, performed and was interviewed at the CBC during the Vietnam War; and reggae legend Jackie Mittoo and blues singer Muddy Waters sought the freedom to explore their talents on Canadian soil.

From the Vaults not only spotlights music and musicians but the network as well. Footage is culled from several past projects like Adrienne Clarkson Presents, Let’s Go, Nightcap, Pilot One, Take 30, Talent Caravan, The Tommy Hunter Show and The Wayne & Shuster Hour, providing a history of the CBC and its ongoing relationship with the arts.

“Up until The New Music and the emergence of MuchMusic the CBC was the only place in town that would show music on television,” Dunn says. “I think the other factor is that we’re talking about a CBC at a time when it a little more like the Wild West out there. It’s a credit to independent-minded producers who were really determined to create the kind of shows they wanted to see on the network.”

From the Vaults airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


Banger Films returns to TV with excellent Rock Icons

Are you ready to rock? Four years after Banger Films brought the history of metal music to television with Metal Evolution, the boys are back with Rock Icons.

Debuting Sunday on HBO Canada (after a first window broadcast on VH1), Rock Icons celebrates the men and ladies who have built incredible careers in the music industry. Beginning this week with a focus on Rush frontman Geddy Lee, upcoming instalments boast Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford, Ted Nugent, Heart’s Ann Wilson, Megadeth founder Dave Mustaine, Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, Daryl Hall, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan.

“Picking these icons was really a collaboration between ourselves and VH1,” says Sam Dunn, who co-directed the series with Scot McFadyen. “We had our favourites and they had theirs and we created a list where we felt there were stories to tell and they felt there was an audience for.” Dunn and McFadyen’s Banger Films have produced a must-watch list of feature documentaries on the subject of rock and metal music, from Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey to Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, Iron Maiden: Flight 666 and Super Duper Alice Cooper, building trust within the music community. That trust gave them access to folks like Wilson, who is notoriously shy when it comes to granting interviews.

Even well-versed fans of bands like Rush and Mötley Crüe will be surprised by what the Banger crew uncover; Lee’s interest in music was inspired by Roy Orbison and Sixx is the reason the glam rockers existed in the first place.

“The story of Nikki Sixx has always been the same, the sex, the drugs and the rock and roll,” Dunn says. “We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to look at who this person was. We came up with the title The Architect, because he really is the architect behind Mötley Crüe. He guided and shaped that band and is a really smart guy, and we felt that was a more interesting story than talking about the Sunset Strip again.”

Dunn acknowledges the 10-part first season barely scratches the surface on all of the icons they’d love to celebrate, but at this point there’s no Season 2 planned. Not that he and the Banger Films team are sitting around. Their latest feature documentary, Satan Lives, is available on iTunes and On Demand across Canada now, and a two-part doc on the history of hip-hop called The Message: Hip-Hop Evolution is on the way. The company also launched a kids’ programming division called B Minors; Gaming Show (In My Parents Garage) currently airs on CHRGD.

When I mention the possibility of a documentary celebrating the Scorpions, Dunn doesn’t miss a beat.

“Someone needs to make that film,” he says. “They’re the biggest musical act to come out of Germany. They’re the biggest metal band to come out of North America, the U.K. and the English-speaking world. Someone’s gotta do it and we’d love to do it. I better call some German broadcasters.”

Rock Icons airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET/MT on HBO Canada.