Lance Bass Relives an Astounding Fraud in The Boy Band Con

Manufactured pop meets true crime in this documentary about Lou Pearlman


Lou Pearlman celebrates an album sales milestone with his band NSYNC: (l-r) Justin Timberlake, Chris Kirkpatrick, Lance Bass, Johnny Wright, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Lou Pearlman (Photo by Diane Bass)

This is not a story about how teen bands dominated American pop in the 1990s. This is not a story about screaming fans. This is not a story about rock & roll excess. This is a story of a massive fraud, of managerial greed that spilled over beyond media success and into a $300 million Ponzi scheme. It’s the story of Lou Pearlman, the music manager who took the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC to the top of the global charts, and who died in jail after being convicted of massive white-collar crimes that wrecked lives. And it’s a story told, in no small part, by those that knew him – including Lance Bass, one-fifth of NSYNC and now producer of The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story.

“Everyone knows the music side of Lou,” Bass said about how Pearlman emulated the success of New Kids on the Block, creating two of the biggest pop acts of the decade. Then there was the darker side that made headlines in Rolling Stone: “The horrible contracts, how he screwed us and Backstreet over … but what people didn’t realize was that he’d been doing this since he was a kid. In his brain, he just made up all these fantasies of what he wanted to be, taking stories from his friends’ lives and making them his own. That was what was fascinating to me – really uncovering his character, and how he became that way.

“I had always wanted to do the story of Lou Pearlman,” added Bass, who had been bouncing around the idea of either a documentary or a narrative drama. However, that was one of those projects on the perpetual “to-do” pile – until he was approached by director Aaron Kunkel and producer Matthew Ducey.

According to Kunkel, the film (produced by Pilgrim Media Group and Lance Bass Productions for YouTube Originals) was originally Ducey’s passion project. “He’s always found Lou to be a fascinating person, this guy who changed music history but has this amazing background of where he’s from and what he was doing.” The idea was to create a documentary where the band narrative, much of it told by the musicians themselves, would set the scene before the bigger story – the story behind the music – exploded. Kunkel said, “Lance wanted this story to be told the right way, for the first time, and to get the people who were there to actually tell the story for themselves. That was what was really exciting for me.”

“I knew I was going to learn so much more than I knew about Lou. I just didn’t realize it was so much more that I didn’t know.”

“I was just so excited that someone would want to do the Lou Pearlman story,” said Bass. However, he also wanted it to be about more than his relationship with the Svengali-esque figure. “I knew I was going to learn so much more than I knew about Lou. I just didn’t realize it was so much more that I didn’t know.”

Many music documentaries have a rise-and-fall narrative, or maybe rise-and-fall-and-rise. But this is one with victims: not just the musicians who had to fight to get away from Pearlman’s nefarious business practices, but a huge number of ordinary people who lost their life savings to his long con. However, Kunkel found there were a lot of people who had reservations about being involved. “We tried to get a lot of people from his neighborhood, and a lot of guys from the bands just weren’t interested in reliving it. And the same with the Ponzi scheme victims. A lot of them were just like, “That was one of, if not the, worst parts of my life, and I can’t relive that. It’s just too hard.’ So it makes you feel extra honored and grateful for the ones that did.”

“We could make a second documentary with all the people we didn’t have in the first one,” said Bass. “It’s touchy. It affected a lot of people’s lives in a negative way, and it’s a little bit taboo to speak ill of the dead. But when you have an experience with a character like that, you have to tell your story.” Yet the process of making the film has helped some of those affected by Pearlman’s deceits come to some kind of terms with what happened – including Bass’ former bandmate, Joey Fatone, who initially declined to be involved. “He was just too scared to go down that road,” said Bass, “but once we got the rough edit done, I sent it to him, and after watching the first draft of the film, he was begging to be in it. He was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so great.’”

For Bass, the documentary still leaves many unanswered questions, not least about his own continuing and complicated emotions about Pearlman and his impact on so many innocent, trusting bystanders. “On one hand, I’m lucky that he discovered us and gave me the life I have today. On the other hand, he was a horrible cheat.”


The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story

24 BEATS PER SECOND

Wednesday, March 13, 3pm, Paramount
Thursday, March 14, 1:45pm, Alamo South Lamar
Saturday, March 16, 4:45pm, Stateside

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

SXSW, SXSW 2019, SXSW Film 2019, The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story, Lou Pearlman, Lance Bass, Aaron Kunkel

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