On paper, Brandon Barnard is a cinematographer and editor based in Phoenix, Arizona. In practice, Barnard is a creative in pursuit of new ways to move audiences through visual storytelling, connecting the dots where dialogue alone cannot. From personal projects like his Audience Choice Award winner, “Paint Life Beautiful,” to National American Advertising Award winning projects at Kitchen Sink Studios, where he is the Director of Film. Barnard navigates the world of modern film with relentless creativity, fresh perspective and wonderful execution.
Could you tell us a bit about your background? What got you into filmmaking?
My background is kind of a mess. High school was a struggle and the only place that I really applied myself was in Mrs. Henschen’s photography class. It was the only time in my life that I felt good about something that I had made or done. Once I moved on to college, I decided that I wanted what everybody else who was successful had: a business degree. I was very wrong. After a few years of dropping classes and failing, I had only a handful of credits and no certain direction. I had to make a decision.
I boiled down my remaining options to x-ray technician school and film school. I thought about this for weeks and really stressed because I knew that it would change everything I did going forward. My father is a physician and so I am familiar with the environment of medicine, but ultimately, I chose film. I chose film because that was the direction I was heading anyways. X-ray technician school was just another way to take pictures and it took me a while to realize why I looked into it.
After choosing film, I had straight A’s through both of my degrees.
What was your process like for making “Paint Life Beautiful”? How did this project come to be? What did you learn from it?
“Paint Life Beautiful” was an idea that came from my good friend Mark Susan. He and I spent a lot of time in downtown Phoenix really absorbing it all. We were looking for something, and at the time this seemed to be it. He found this incredibly talented and humble person who was sort of ok with us following him around for a few months. It was a funny relationship between the three of us (myself, Mark, and Sentrock) because Sentrock didn’t know us and probably didn’t trust us. Picture this, a crazy Asian guy and a big bearded white guy want to follow you around for a few months and dive into your life story. Would you be skeptical? It took a few months, but Sentrock finally realized that we were just trying to tell his story without any bias. We wanted to showcase how special he was and really just build a film that was relatable to everybody in this nation growing up disadvantaged.
All in all, this project taught me way more than I could have imagined. I learned that if you want something, you have to go for it regardless of your situation. I could have easily not been a part of that film had I not been proactive. Simple as that. This whole project also taught me that there is this wonderful community in downtown supporting creatives, and when we premiered the film at Film Bar, it could not have been better. We were in post-production for a while with a few remaining shots still needed and it was starting to drag on. Then one day, we learned that Sentrock was moving to Chicago to pursue an art degree, and he was moving in two weeks. We decided that the film had to premiere before he left Arizona. We worked a deal with Kelly at Film Bar to premiere in a week. Mark and I edited and shot every night leading up to the premiere. We anticipated that we would get about a hundred people to show for the single showing. When five hundred showed up, we were in awe. The night was a success and I was officially going in the right direction.
What filmmakers have had the most significant influence on your work? Why?
I am the type of person who really doesn’t pay attention to big name directors. I find myself attracted to smaller creatives/filmmakers who have shown that they can match the level of creativity of those big name directors on non-existent budgets. There is a huge relatability factor for me when it comes to influencers. While Darren Aronofsky is my favorite feature director, I would be better prepared to talk about the work of people like Salomon Ligthelm, Anson Fogel, Brandon Li, Matty Brown, Skip Armstrong, or even collectives like Super Top Secret, Big Lazy Robot, MK12, Gnarly Bay, Sherpas Cinema, Brainfarm, and Forge just to name a handful. These are the guys that are truly pushing the industry in my eyes and I am always eager to see what they cook up next.
How do you negotiate time between personal projects and work you do for Kitchen Sink?
Kitchen Sink Studios is my personal work. I try to incorporate all of my personal projects into the pipeline here at Kitchen Sink because it is beneficial across the board. I work with a team that pushes the boundaries further than I could alone. Erick Lashley and Kyle Gilbert are my main guys and there is no project that we can’t handle together. With this mentality and the openness of KSS accepting pro bono work as a mainstay of what we do, it seems we are constantly producing amazing pieces. Of course, when we are super packed with paid client work we might have to dial back on other projects but for the most part, we are constantly working on other films. If you don’t continually push yourself, you won’t get better.
What is it like being a creative professional and a dad? How do these two parts of your life overlap?
Being a dad is the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me. My son Jack has taught me so much about life and what’s important and I am only just beginning to incorporate my newly gained perspective into my work. The balance of hours is the tough part and I know that it will always be hard because I just really want to spend all of my time with him. I am beyond excited to start teaching him everything I know and I can’t wait to see a camera in his hands.
What sort of films are you interested in working on in the future? Any grand concepts?
Cinematography has always been one of my biggest passions. Naturally, I’m driven to push the way viewers experience a film based on the visual elements while trying to remain proactive on the audible elements as well. Since so much time is focused on the technical side of filmmaking, it is often tough to keep the story in mind. In the last couple of years, the team at Kitchen Sink and myself have really been putting emphasis on driving the story. Ultimately, story is what holds a lot of the weight. Without a solid story, you are just making pretty pictures that won’t capture emotions. As far as upcoming projects, there are a few good ones on my radar for the future and there are a couple solid ones that I am currently working on. I can’t wait to share them, but right now they have to stay secret.
Could you tell us about “Vermillion”? What was the process of making that film like?
Vermillion was a trip. Nine days on the river in the Grand Canyon and I loved every second. Our Creative Director, Doug Bell, approached me wanting to shoot this film that explored both the brotherhood of good friends in a really special place and also the spiritual side of the river and the environment surrounding. We had a really good idea for how we wanted the film and story to come out, but we also left a few elements to be determined by what we encountered while we were out there. In all, we walked away with some really amazing footage and a ton of stories. We wound up transporting all the gear in these tiny little aluminum boats that could barely hold all of the pelican cases and I totally thought that we were going to wind up ruining something, but somehow all of our gear survived. This film was a really awesome experience to make, but it was even cooler seeing how much other people like it.
What’s it like being a creative professional in Phoenix? What does this community have to offer?
Phoenix is an awesome environment to grow in. There is so much support in the local community and I am only still here because of that support. Before starting at Kitchen Sink, I was in the process of moving to LA. I really wanted to surround myself with creatives that I looked up to and I had no idea that this whole community in downtown Phoenix existed. I even moved to Phoenix from Chandler so that I could really immerse myself. At this point, I could not imagine a better place to be.