Director Barry Avrich Talks Giving David Foster His Due In New Documentary

David Foster
Courtesy of Melbar Entertainment 

David Foster

David Foster: Off The Record, directed by fellow Canadian Barry Avrich, will have its world premiere Sept. 9 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Born in Victoria, BC, David Foster has worked with a veritable who's who of the music industry as a producer and/or songwriter: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Michael Bublé, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and many more. The debut screening will be followed by a tribute to Foster at a TIFF gala.

After all the screenings at TIFF, the documentary will enjoy a limited run in theaters, then air on CTV and stream on Crave, Canadian channels both owned by Bell Media, which partnered with Avrich's Melbar Entertainment Group to make the film. The U.S. and international release is "to be announced soon," according to Bell.

Billboard spoke with Avrich (The Last Mogul, Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz) this week at the TIFF media announcement for the Canadian selections.

People in the music industry are familiar with David. He's quite public and had that reality show, The Princes of Malibu. In the description of your film, it says you had unprecedented access, but there has been a lot of access. How is this different from what we've seen before?

There's been access in that he's done reality shows. There's no question he's a very public man, but he's never put his family out to be so candid about growing up with David as their father, about looking at the back of his head for decades in the recording studio and what that's like. We're talking about five daughters, three different mothers, five sisters, five wives. And so it comes together all in one film to get a sense of what drives this man, which is quite extraordinary. He's relentless. And I think also, Canadians, we're so bad at celebrating our own. Everybody knows who Quincy Jones is. David should be on that Mount Rushmore next to Quincy. Just look at the career.

How did you get involved with this project?

A guy named Jeffrey Latimer [CEO of Canada's Walk of Fame, manager of The Tenors and director, business development & stakeholder relations at the David Foster Foundation] brought the idea to me, along with Randy Lennox from Bell Media. At first, I wasn't sure. I'd been extraordinarily busy and they both said, 'Look, go and have a meeting with David.' I know who he is. We'd never met. And so it literally became about a two-year process to talk and figure out what were the rules going to be because I didn't want to just make a tribute video. I wanted something that's got a real sense of who he is.

From his perspective, what was important to him?

I think to really get the story straight in terms of what drives him, and the fact that anybody and everybody can have a career. That's interesting. He really loves discovering talent and that he also waves the Canadian flag, which is so rare, whether this is relevant to story or not. So I think that was important to him. And the family stuff in the film is tough for him to watch. But, as he said to me, 'I know the rules and it's all part of the big picture.'

What interviews with musicians did you get? Celine Dion? Josh Groban?

Celine. Barbra Streisand, Peter Cetera [of Chicago], Michael Bublé, Lionel Richie, Paul Anka, Josh Groban. It's endless.

How would you describe him?

Complex genius, there's no question.

We know he's a genius. What makes him so complex?

I think the need to go from behind the piano and get out of the studio and be on stage. Composers and producers are not front-of-camera people. So I find that interesting. And that he feels that that's part of his alchemy, that you watch his one man show and it's very Vegas-y. There's no question. Very, very powerful.

You also called him a game changer. How so?

I think he's changed the way people record music. He's completely changed the way people look at the entire industry in that he's not one lane. He's not the rock n' roll guy. He's not the this guy. And the interesting thing about David is I honestly think that David thinks that his life as a record producer is over because music has changed. But you talk to anybody in the industry, no matter how young they are, they would die to work with David right now.

He's almost 70. Of course, he's sold millions [the press material says a half billion]. He could retire. He could sit on an island. Why doesn't he?

He keeps looking for mountains to climb. And it's Canadian. Somebody showed me years ago a cartoon of a Canadian climbing Mount Everest and puts the flag in and [shot] pulls back, 'We're not at the top.' 'Oh, that's good enough.' David's not that way. The next mountain is Broadway. He's working on three different Broadway musicals, including Betty Boop, the musical, an adaptation of a book and then an adaptation of his music.

Is his philanthropy, such as his foundation [which provides financial support to Canadian families with children in need of organ transplants and education on organ donation], in the film?

Absolutely. And again, I wanted that in there. I didn't want it to be another star who has lent his name to a foundation and gives away millions. His mother changed his life saying, 'Look, you've got to get into philanthropy. This is the cause you need.' And he's raised close to $50 million. It's amazing.                                                                                                                                           


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