The documentary tries to explain why Lou Pearlman was a captivating figure to these performers and their families and how he gained their trust

By Kristen O'Brien
April 03, 2019 12:05 PM
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Lance Bass endured great emotional and financial upheaval at the hands of Lou Pearlman — music producer, manager and mastermind behind *NSYNC. But despite being betrayed by a man he considered a father figure, Bass believes some good came from his misfortune. “He ended up bringing us all together more,” he told PEOPLE. “Look at the Backstreet Boys, right? We never spoke to them. We were always afraid of them. Now after the fact, we’re all really good friends because they went through something that we can only relate to — it really bonded all of us.”

Bass said he even talks to Justin Timberlake frequently, although you won’t see the former *NSYNC member in Bass’s latest film project but rather his mother, Lynn Harless. “I didn’t even ask him. I knew he would probably say no. But I really wanted his mom.“

The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story from Pilgrim Media Group is a documentary feature on the famed boy band impresario that’s already garnered buzz at South by Southwest. The film tracks Pearlman’s story from his childhood in Queens to the dizzying heights of managing mega-bands *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys, LFO and O-Town. The film also recounts his fall from grace after it was discovered that he perpetrated one of the largest Ponzi schemes in American history and swindled earnings from the hard-working, globally successful acts he managed.

Lou Pearlman (second from right) with *NSYNC.

The doc — which is in limited theatrical runs in Los Angeles and New York City and will air on YouTube Originals starting Wednesday — includes interviews with Bass and his former *NSYNC bandmates JC Chasez and Chris Kirkpatrick, as well as AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys, Ashley Parker Angel of O-Town and Aaron Carter.

The film’s director, Aaron Kunkel, told PEOPLE he wanted to paint a nuanced picture of Pearlman, who died in prison in 2016. Even after his death, many who knew the pop Svengali remain conflicted about his legacy. “Hopefully the film shows the complicated feelings that everybody in his life had for him. That it wasn’t just, ‘This guy’s a monster and he took this money from us and that’s that.’ It’s a lot more complicated because he was a real person in the world.”

Lance Bass.

The filmmaker and Bass wanted to show why Pearlman was a captivating figure to these performers and their families and how he gained their trust. “It was a really interesting journey. That’s why we wanted to talk to people from all different parts of his life,” Kunkel explained. “Not just the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, but all those others, some you may have never heard of. And they also had really different and unique experiences with him. We wanted to make sure you got the full picture.”

Kunkel credits Bass for convincing so many people from Pearlman’s life to open up and participate in the project. “We got everybody in the movie because they trusted Lance to be able to tell it; to protect their stories and tell it the right way and not make a hit piece,” he said.

Not all of the performers under Pearlman’s wing felt he had wronged them. In the film, Aaron Carter gets emotional talking about how Pearlman was like a father to him. “I don’t know if it is still denial,” Bass said at the film’s Q&A post-premiere at SXSW in Austin, Texas, on March 13, “but he feels he owes everything to Lou.”

Lou Pearlman and friend.
| Credit: Pilgrim Films and Television, Inc

Some have questioned why the men of *NSYNC didn’t realize Pearlman was taking advantage of them at the time. “When you’re in it you just don’t see it at all,” Bass explained. “And you’re not looking for it. I think that was a really good ploy by [Pearlman] — keeping every hour booked for years. We didn’t have a day off.”

“That was why he kept the two bands [*NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys] apart from each other,” Kunkel added, “because he knew that if they started talking to each other, they could start comparing notes.”

RELATED VIDEO: Lou Pearlman, Creator of the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, Dead at 62

Bass remains disappointed that Pearlman never apologized for his crimes, even after he was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges of money laundering, conspiracy and fraud. “I didn’t need an ‘I’m sorry’ to me, but I just wanted him to take responsibility and admit, ‘You know what, I did mess up.’ I really wanted to see a little remorse in him, but you could tell until his last days, he was just a true narcissist that really, truly believed in the things that he was saying,” the singer recalled. “I think he thought the world owed him a lot.”

The documentary isn’t all dark. In fact, there are moments of levity and humor, plus a great deal of footage fans will appreciate of *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys in their heyday. Bass hopes that those who grew up in the ’90s and lived through the era will enjoy the film “because it’s a story that they thought they knew and lived through in the music. It brings you back to that nostalgic time.” Moreover, he hopes the documentary will serve as a cautionary tale and convince the audience “to be a skeptic in everything we do these days. You always have to keep one eye out on what’s happening.”