Arts and EntertainmentMusic

Stephano Barberis | Local Music Video Director Bends the Rules of His Genre

Stephano Barberis is a local music video director born in Kitimat, British Columbia. Finding a niche directing videos mostly for Country music artists, Barberis, to date, has won 18 consecutive BC Country Music Awards (BCCMA,) 10 Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA,) and was nominated for two MuchMusic Video Awards (MMVA,) amongst a plethora of other award wins and nominations. With such an impressive trophy-shelf, one would assume that Barberis has been developing his craft since his early days with ambitions of always one day being a cinematic director. In his rare case, however, Barberis confirms that he was arbitrarily dropped into the role without expectation or preparation.

Barberis came to Vancouver at the age of 18 to study at Douglas College. From there he moved on to SFU, Kwantlen, and BCIT.

“I was always in love with city planning,” Barberis explains. “I decided to go in that direction in university. I was going to school for a few years and I got frustrated with it in a way. It was artistic but it wasn’t really stories and visuals and epic things. I kind of switched halfway through and flipped it over to marketing and advertising.” Once completing his marketing and advertising program, Barberis got a job at a film production company as a marketing assistant, which ultimately led him into his videography career.

The Katherines - Primitive

“One day I was just sitting at a table and this client with a large budget needed a music video. The company had all their directors, plus me sitting in a room as an assistant, and the producer didn’t like any of their ideas so I blurted out one of mine.” Barberis continues: “I think by nature I’m a loose cannon, it’s like my brain is a giant uterus of ideas. I blurted out this kind of preposterous idea and the producer thought: ‘That’s it! That’s what we’ll do!’ That kinda thrusted me into directing this music video without really knowing what to do. That’s how it all started. The video went to, like, top 3 in Canada and one thing led to another.”

Barberis was 27 when he got his first directing gig, tossed head first onto a high-budget production, surrounded by seasoned filmmaking professionals. He was the little fish in a big, unexplored pond.

“I knew nothing. I didn’t even know how to do the on-set roll-call. Instead of saying ‘action’ I would just say things like ‘go,’ and stuff like that. This was before digital so we were using 35mm film which costed a lot of money. Thankfully the cinematographer and crew were so nice and realized just how green I was.”

Despite his lack of experience, Barberis’ talents didn’t go unnoticed as he would continue getting work as a music video director. The first video he believes really kicked his career in high gear was Aaron Pritchett’s “You Can’t Say That I Didn’t Love You.” Barberis went to elementary school with Pritchett in Kitimat, and the two reconnected as adults while making this video.

Aaron Pritchett | “You Can’t Say That I Didn’t Love You”

Although, for the most part, Barberis has almost exclusively worked in country music videos, it’s very clear that his talents expand far beyond the genre. In 2014 he cut together a director’s reel entitled “Menagerie” which serves as both a compilation of his finest shots at the time and, in a way, an experimental short film. While most demo usually cap at around 120 to 180 seconds, “Menagarie” sits at an epic 11 minutes, taking audiences on a somewhat-psychedelic visual journey that divulges into a series of emotions and atmospheric environments.

“Menagarie” | Stephano Barberis Director’s Reel

“I was noticing that there are a lot more directors so there are a lot more reels. I needed to find a way to make a reel something more than a reel,” Barberis exclaims. “I thought to myself: ‘Why don’t I make it a story?’ When you’re watching it you go from love to lust to other emotions. I think bringing people waves of emotion where they kind of get something new every so often keeps their attention.“ Barberis is currently working on a new directors reel which will also feature original tunes from his electronic music project: Breathe of My Leaves.

Breathe of My Leaves | “Cyclops”

“I don’t think the country genre screams out at you when you look at my reel. I think that’s the secret to why I was embraced so much by country. I just won my 10th CCMA in a row. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think the genre would embrace me, and it has. I like mixing things and turning them on their head and finding different angles. I don’t do anything that’s not natural to me, but I always try to reinvent myself. I just do what the song tells me to do, not what the genre tells me.“

In conclusion, Barberis is still, after so many years, dumbfounded at his progress into the spot he’s in right now. It goes to show that no matter where you’re at, the steps you take will ultimately lead you to where you belong as long as you’re open to embracing the opportunities that arrive in front of you.

It’s like this invisible hand is guiding me. You’re gonna end up doing what you’re supposed to do in life, just be open to it. Don’t go into the world thinking ‘I went to school for this long and so I should be in this position’ and all that stuff. I went to school for 8 years taking urban planning and then advertising and I did nothing in that. I’m still thankful, I’m alive and happy. If you don’t feel entitled, everything is going to feel like a gift to you. Never expect anything, just feel surprised and thankful and accept things from the universe and be thankful that you exist out of nothing.”

Frederick | “Watching You”

(All videos shared above are directed by Stephano Barberis.)

Johnny Papan
Jonathan Nicholas “Johnny” Papan is a Canadian writer, filmmaker, and musician born in Surrey, British Columbia to a Guyanese mother and half-Hungarian, half-Trinidadian father. Aside from film and music, Johnny also enjoys performing standup comedy. His interest in journalism surfaced after watching documentaries on influential writers Nora Ephron and Hunter S. Thompson. -