By Ronda Payne/Special to the Langley Advance
People who fall into their careers don’t normally become award winners.
Yet that’s pretty much how the story goes for Stephano Barberis, a local award-winning music video director.
As Barberis puts it, he went backwards, skipping the teen and young adult years of his working life to take his directorial career back to childhood.
“When I was a kid, I do remember playing with my Star Wars characters and I remember saying to my friends, ‘you can’t stand there, that’s where the camera would be’,” he explained.
“So now, when I look back at it, it just links. I don’t think I’m doing anything different than what I did with my friends. I always was doing these weird skits… and the kids were riveted. I feel like I skipped my teens and 20s and went straight back into my childhood.”
Now, as the winner of 35 awards – 18 of which are from the BC Country Music Association, including the 2017 video director of the year – he sees his childhood awareness as part of the creativity that makes him a sought-out director.
“I’ve done close to about 170 music videos. It wasn’t really intended to be that way,” explained Barberis. “I guess I get so busy with music videos that I don’t have time for features.”
It takes about a month to create a music video Barberis’ way. There’s two weeks or more of pre-production and about two weeks of post-production with a day of shooting in between.
It sounds glamourous and not like something a regular guy living on the border of Langley and Surrey – near Clayton Heights – would be doing.
“When you live in a big city there’s obviously more creative people,” he explained.
“Obviously someone more successful should come out of a big city. But when you’re in a smaller centre like Surrey or Langley, it’s kind of cool [to say] “Oh, I don’t live downtown’.”
That doesn’t mean Barberis has grown used to his own success, mind you.
It was a very unusual beginning that’s lead to 20 years of award-winning music videos.
“I started 20 years ago. The very first music video was directed on the day [Princess] Diana died and I wasn’t even supposed to be doing that. I went to university for a few years to be an urban planner,” he recounted.
“Then I switched to BCIT, the marketing program. I had a job as a marketing assistant for a film production company for the summer. They had this one artist who they didn’t like the treatments for.”
As the story goes, Barberis threw out an idea to use an ice castle, and the artist loved it. The producer, however, shot a withering look to the rookie who opened his mouth in the room of directors.
But because of the saying “the client is always right,” Barberis’s idea stuck.
He described what happened next as feeling like being in film school.
When he initially took on directing, the crew often thought he was the actor, not the director, he was so young.
“So, I was thrown into directing and I had three assistant directors under me because I had no film experience,” he said, noting the story had a happy ending.
The artist for that first video [I’ll Do Anything] was Maple Ridge native, Rick Tippe.
Tippe had him do a number of videos after that, which seemed odd because country wasn’t a genre Barberis had great affinity for.
“Slowly country started noticing I was making country not look like country… I think I changed the way country videos were being made,” he said.
Another early Barberis video was Aaron Pritchett’s You Can’t Say That I Didn’t Love You.
“It went to number three in Canada and it went from there,” he recounted, adding that “Country and rap were the first two genres that embraced me… which is ironic because those weren’t the first two genres that appealed to me.”
He’s directed music videos for Chad Brownlee, Dallas Smith, Karen Lee Batten, Gord Bamford, Dean Broady, and Doc Walker, to name a few.
Regardless of the genre, it’s the creative process that keeps Barberis doing what he does, and doing it well enough to continue being recognized provincially, nationally and beyond.
“I like to make things all the time, it’s like oxygen to me. I think anything I do, I have to create,” he said.
“I wanted to get into advertising, so that’s probably what I would have done, but this is the same thing when you think about it, I’m still advertising music.”
While the recognition continues to pour in, Barberis is not used to the sensation of winning awards.
He describes his first win as shock, but subsequent wins continue to elicit a significant emotional response from the Kitimat-born professional.
“Every time they call my name, my eyes start tearing up,” he said.
“After a couple of times you’d think they’d be tired of me. I keep trying to reinvent myself. Every single video I make like it’s my last video.”
He sees his career as a positive model for local kids, though many wouldn’t know he’s a local.
“I still think I’m under a lot of people’s radar, I don’t think a lot of people know I’m here. A lot of people don’t expect me to be here,” he said.
“I would hope that it gives hope that you don’t have to live in a major centre to be successful. In fact when there’s less of you, you can shine brighter.”