Capitol Communicator is featuring “Best Crew,” a profile series brought to you by Eli Meir Kaplan, a Washington, D.C.-based commercial photographer and director. The series “Best Crew” features talent behind the scenes of photo, film and video productions. This profile features Kevin Barker of Faction, a post production studio.
How long have you been in business and how did you get started?
I worked for a large post-house in the region for over a decade. I started out working the graveyard shift in the machine room with the duplication department. I was a QC technician, assistant editor, and eventually moved into online editing. I started doing basic color correction for clients in AVID DS – just quick and dirty balancing for clients that didn’t want to go into our color suites. I immediately fell in love with color. There were four staff colorists, a couple of which had been there for a very long time and had great relationships with most of the clients that came in. Eventually I realized that in order for me to grow as a professional, I would need to venture out on my own. I freelanced for a short period around town at various production companies before creating Faction. We’ve been in business for 6 years now.
Who are some of your clients and why do they love working with you?
Our bread and butter work is in documentary and unscripted television. We color and finish several series for Discovery, National Geographic, PBS, A&E, etc. A lot of that work comes to us from Half Yard Productions, Lucky Dog Films, and National Geographic directly.
I think the clients that come back repeatedly realize that we are very much invested in their productions. All of us at Faction are wired very similarly. We have a need and desire to fix things – to make them as good as we can. We get excited to make noticeable improvements and help elevate the production value of any given project, but we’re also just as happy to fix the small technical details most people wouldn’t notice. We strive to build very personal working relationships with our clients and just be present and involved in the work. There’s no assembly line mentality here.
What is your most invaluable tool?
If I can swap tools for resources, I would say it’s my teammates. Gear and tech is always updating and getting better so the tools I rely on are always changing. My most invaluable resource is absolutely my peers.
For me it has always been about sharing knowledge and tips within our craft. There’s nothing better than being stumped on a project and walking into another suite or picking up the phone and talking through workflow.
What gear/kit purchase have you made that you wish you didn’t?
Nothing that comes to mind. I’m pretty cautious on making upgrades or adding new tech at the office. I do my research, call up friends in the industry, and always get several opinions before adding or changing anything. In post production, reliability and predictability are your primary concerns.
Our biggest upgrades in the last year and half have all centered around finishing programs in HDR. It’s still very much the wild, wild west and gear is very expensive. I am very happy with what we’ve purchased and that we waited to make those purchases. I’m not one to run out and always buy the shiny new thing unless it will be paid for by the work coming in.
Who has inspired and helped you along the way?
Way too many people to list. There have been innumerable people that have inspired me during my journey. Any one that I come in contact with that openly shares their experience, perspective, and knowledge within their craft. There used to be this persistent mentality that you hoarded any special tricks you had. I guess they believed if they shared their knowledge they would lose the edge that they had with their clients. If you’ve got clients because you’ve got some special trick up your sleeve you’ll eventually lose out.
What do you love about the work you do?
We’re not saving lives or anything, but I absolutely love helping people. I love the collaborative aspect of filmmaking. I was an art kid in high school and college – always surrounded by kids like me. We all had our individual art – drawing, painting, photography, writing. Once I realized that all of these skill sets existed in one profession and that I could work with these types of people for the rest of my life I knew it was the direction to go in. I love creativity in general and love being around people that embody it. It’s always so inspiring and motivating when you surround yourself with people that are driven and expressionistic.
What was a favorite production you’ve worked on and what made is special?
I really like commercial work. I much rather have a few hours to work on 30 seconds than work at the speed required for unscripted television. One of the first real commercial projects I ever worked on was an eye opening experience. Clients were in the room with me and we discussed everything about the image, what needed to be brought out in the photography and what needed to be “fixed”. Every detail from skin tones and overall mood, down to ensuring the clothing matched the catalog.
Projects become special to me once I develop an understanding of the client. I want time in the room with them, I want them to tell me what they like and don’t like and why. Once I get a sense of their taste, every project we work on is elevated by this unique shorthand communication that’s developed. I want clients to walk out of the suite and feel confident that their project was everything they hoped it would be and more.
What advice would you give to others who are starting out in your field?
Be curious and be humble. Never think you know it all or that you have it all figured out. No one does. If you’re not learning every day or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone then you’re doing it wrong. I’m nervous every time I sit down with a client. It doesn’t matter if I’ve worked with them dozens of times or if it’s the first time. I never assume I have the perfect grade for a project. I ask lots of questions, I ask for references or try to get a sense of what the client is going for. If you’re in this industry, it is collaborative and the absolute best projects are always the ones where everyone brings their A game and rely on each other’s strengths. Be honest and offer your perspective and expertise when you can and don’t let your ego block the creative process.
What are your top 5 favorite movies?
So tough to narrow it down to five! I guess if I was on an island (with electricity and a tv) I would take the films I can watch over and over – pinnacle 80s spectacle films like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, and Goonies, but also one of my all time favorite independent films, Rushmore. I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve seen these films.