Capitol Communicator is running “Up Close and Personal” profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic.  In this profile we feature Stephen Kern.  Photography for the series is by Cade Martin.wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire and Sybil Street for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson, Janice Kinigopoulos and Lori Pressman for THE Artist Agency.

Stephen, please provide us a short bio.

I produce television commercials – lots of them. Also marketing films and web videos, aka digital media. For awhile we flirted with being a national shop and had offices in Georgetown and Santa Monica, but these days Engine Pictures, the production company I founded in 1995, overlooks the village of Takoma Park, Maryland, where we work with local D.C. ad agencies and clients.

And we love our local clients! We love you PBS and Discovery, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and all you hospitals! We love you HHS, CDC, USAID and USHMM! We love our local ad agencies too, especially the ones who hire us to make issue ads for the good guys. We appreciate your business!

Way, way back I freelanced on Hollywood movies, indies and documentaries, accumulating a lifetime of stories about movie stars, exotic locations, and harrowing situations. When it comes to cocktail party conversation, I’m never at a loss for material.

Are you involved in any other organizations?

I’m a huge fan of the Free Minds Book Club, a program that brings poetry to incarcerated youth and allows them to share their poetry with people on the outside. It also provides support for young men when they come home. This organization combines two of my passions: poetry and social justice. Sign up for a “Write Night” and I promise you will be moved.

What are the things you are most proud of?

I should say I’m most proud of our recent Super Bowl spot for Dominion Energy, or maybe the campaign for VW and Shark Week that was an international hit and swept the awards shows, but the truth is I’m most proud of the colleagues whom I’ve had the privilege to mentor, many of whom have gone on to bigger and better things – including the intern who made her way out to LA and won an Oscar for Best Picture.

Who are your personal role models?

My grandmother was my role model. Alice Park was tough as nails and as sweet as her very own peach cobbler. She was an author and a storyteller. She was a naturalist who could name every bird, flower and tree on our long walks together. She was a model of appreciation and generosity.

What advice did you receive that was helpful in your career?

“Knock their socks off” was the advice my mentor, director/DP Paul Raimondi, would shout from the rooftops, meaning, give your clients more than they bargained for. Paul also taught me, by example, that there’s a relationship between doing good work and having fun, and that the two go hand-in-hand.  But it wasn’t the advice Paul gave me that advanced my career, it was the fact that he believed in me.

What professional advice to you have for others?

As regards film production, don’t go to film school unless it’s USC, UCLA, NYU or AFI, where you’ll get great hands-on experience – and make great professional connections.

Work for free. Best, and sometimes only, way to get in the door

Own a car, or better yet, a pickup truck – someone’s got to get the trash off the set at the end of the day and it might as well be you.

Ask for help. When a grip shouts at you to run to the truck to get a high hat, ask “what’s a high hat?” This is especially true when working with pyrotechnics!

Don’t sit in the director’s chair. In fact, never be seen sitting at all.

And never, ever comment on a scene. The vibe on a film set will seem very collegial and you may be tempted to offer your opinion. Don’t. Keep your mouth shut – until you’re the director!

Don’t date or marry a partner who is expecting you to make plans and keep them.

What’s on your playlist?  

 I’ve gone playlist crazy this year; I’m up to about thirty and there’s no end in sight. My current list is blues-based with a dash of hip hop and a pinch of old school: BB King, Freddie King, Roy Buchanan, Stevie Ray, Migos, Rihanna, Sinatra and Simone.

Also, I’m a big supporter or our new, local public radio station, WOWD Takoma Park. 94.3. If you’re out of range, stream it.  Best show is “Roots & Wings” on Saturday nights.

What are your favorite restaurants? 

D.C. is a great food town, not at all like it was when I was growing up here in the 70’s.  My go-to is the Red Hen in Bloomingdale section of Washington, D.C.. Special occasions would be Rasika for Indian and Le Diplomate for French. Happy hour and raw oysters at Republic in Takoma Park, where dogs are welcome on the patio; breakfast at my new favorite neighborhood joint,  Takoma Beverage Company.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I’m a native Washingtonian. My Mom was born in D.C., I was born here, and my two sons were born in the District. All in the same hospital at 23rd and M St.  A few years back though, Columbia Hospital for Women sold. The good news is that instead of tearing it down, they made it into condos, so I’m already working on my kids to do an Air BnB there when their time comes, to go for a home birth in one of the condos so we can keep the tradition rolling.

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