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Meet Karyn Barnett-Day of Roen First Films in Burbank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karyn Barnett-Day.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Karyn. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Everything begins with music for me. I started my filmmaking journey pairing photo slideshows to Napster downloads in the 6th grade. When I hear a song, I see visuals and when an image moves me so much that I’m inspired to create a film or project, I hear the music it would best pair with.

I began studying film and television in 2005 as part of the Communication Studies program at CSU Stanislaus in the Central Valley. Upon graduation, I realized I was yearning for more practical skills and experience that would allow me to actually get out there and make something. I moved to Oakland and started a master’s program in Broadcast Arts, focusing on documentary production and television’s impacts on society. I started as an intern with The San Francisco Film Society, assisting in theater operations and events for the longest running film festival in the Americas. Upon graduation, I was interested in finding a way to continue studying and developing film scripts and TV concepts I was passionate about while paying the rent. I moved to Los Angeles and began my career as a contract worker for various film festivals and live events. For 10 years, I’ve assisted independent (and established) filmmakers from around the world, ensuring their theatrical exhibitions were technically sound, properly staffed, and to the best of my ability, an unforgettable experience for them. During events like Sundance Film Festival, Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and the former Los Angeles Film Festival, I coordinated and previewed countless films that went on to become major festival and box office successes. I also had the opportunity to listen in on hundreds of Q & A sessions with writers, producers, and directors. This lit the fire in me to create even more. It also outlined the risks, pitfalls, and joys one could expect when they choose to embark on the life of an indie filmmaker.

Three years ago, I wanted a change and moved to Madrid to teach English. I shot my second short documentary on Spanish guitar-makers and laid out the next three years of what would become my independent production company, Roen First Films (RFF). I mentally committed to producing and directing a short doc, short narrative, and feature doc to kick off my company and show versatility in my work. From afar, I began scouting subjects and actors, crewing up in advance, and reaching out to my community to lay the foundation. So, where did the name Roen First Films come from? At the time, I had been frequently enjoying seeing many of my closest friends giving birth to their first children. Naturally; being married for years and around the same age; many people were asking me: “Are you guys thinking about kids now?” — In the past, my response was: “Yes, but school first”….then “Yes, but this job/internship first….then “well, yes, but this travel adventure first.” I’ve jokingly referred to various film projects as “my children” — and this company was certainly some type of birthing of ideas and passion.

Gradually, I started thinking about what I would name a first child if I had one — “Roen” stuck out. Following the start of the company and initiating my first website, I was asked again if I wanted to have children, and to that I replied: “Yes, but Roen first.” RFF is my  metaphorical child; one I hope to grow and nurture with some of the best production partners I know (including my husband who has  been involved with every project). One thing you’ll notice is that I have decided to create films in foreign languages. It wasn’t something I pre-planned — it just happened that way. I am completely in love with foreign film and with languages. American cinema is incredible, but my soul is forever-tied to the nature of foreign filmmaking.

The first festival-bound film by RFF was just released and came together through crowd-funding and a tight community of people who just loved the script and devoted themselves purely for the art. The passion, knowledge, and hard work brought to this film by the diverse group of people I’ve come to know was truly incredible to watch and be a part of.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I feel blessed to say the least. There were definitely challenges and struggles I had anticipated moving forward as an independent, but the community that has gathered around RFF projects has made the bumpy ride fun and filled with gratitude.

Some of the largest challenges have been funding — in the land of indie film, whatever your “max budget” is ends up being a nice suggestion when it comes to taking the project all the way through the final phase of production (in my experience). There are always hidden expenses or costs that come up because of the shoe-string risks taken to pull off the low-budget work. Aside from this, everyone involved works a full-time job or many other gigs simultaneously, so scheduling is a beast. After the actual content is shot, post-production and the journey to exhibition is long and drawn out — because each step you have to fall back, re-group, find more support, and continue on. It’s the deep love and passion for the art that keeps you going during 2AM edit sessions on a weeknight before returning to your full-time job the next day. Your patience is tested daily and there’s a level of trust (and faith) required to partner with collaborators and jump-in to work together at various stages of the project.

For me, the greatest challenge is the waiting game. Due to the fact that I also work multiple gigs and long stretches of full-time jobs, I can never move as quickly as I’d like to, or as intensely as I feel the need to. I have to be okay with slow and drawn-out returns on my investments. And when I’m exhausted, I can’t stop. I have to rally and make sure the energy is maintained  and that everyone is still connected and motivated to uphold the project and ensure quality stays high until the bitter end.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Roen First Films – what should we know?
Roen First Films is a bit of a one-woman show at the moment. I founded the company and have produced and directed all projects, as well as written scripts that are currently in development or production. My main role is Producer/Director, but I’ve served as cinematographer, gaffer, boom operator, editor, colorist, and many other crew roles right down to craft service.
I specialize in producing and music/visual editing — I know a bit about everything each piece required to make a film, but I focus on bringing together people, equipment, and locations that will enrich the script. I rely on the super-talented members of my crew community to bring their skills to the more technical aspects of production; I have learned SO much from them.

One of the key elements I want my company to represent in the industry is a knack for the magic created when the right visual is paired with the right melody, composition, or musical vibe. I pride myself on making sure each piece of work contains at least one scene meant to move the audience through the use of music and the unavoidable rapture it creates in a dark theater. RFF also prides itself on authentic connection with film subjects. There is a very fine line we walk as documentarians and editors of doc narratives. To lead without actually leading, to engage authentically and because we want to (on more than just the story details being recorded). Films often take a side or present an agenda — at times, that can’t be avoided – especially in documentary work, but the goal is to approach stories ethically, sincerely, in as balanced a manner as possible, and with the desire to create a true human connection during the process. We are all connected to one another through stories and it’s important to make sure we respect that and work to present the details in the best and fairest way we can.

The thing I’m most proud of about the company is that even when I thought it was a bit of a pipe dream to create, and even with the long stretches of being hand-cuffed by budget and time, the company continues to attract support and interest and remains a representation of what I believe in; which is the effort to create truly independent cinema. RFF really is one step at a time, from the heart, and always open to education and inspiration that will contribute to making the company (and the work) better.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My parents Jim and Sue Barnett — Beyond the endless love and support they have shown me as an aspiring filmmaker, they bought me my first camera, have partially funded most of the projects from RFF and became the Jack and Jill of all trades on my first narrative film set. Countless hours in 100+ degree heat making sets, coordinating transpo, cooking homemade meals for craft service, and supporting the extreme highs and lows that came along with that project and many others. They are greatly responsible for the success of RFF and my career thus far and they absolutely would have worked in the movies in another life.
My sisters Katy Barnett and Kristin Green — there for every phone call, filled any role that was needed, and remained strong and encouraging cheerleaders and sounding boards through all of this. They have contributed funding and flown from out of state to come and support my dreams and so far, all of this would have been impossible without them and the rest of my family.

Kaitlyn Brown — Friend, Colleague, and Co-Producer on the short Radio From The American Sector (RIAS), which has been the most intense and expensive project yet. She was there at the beginning, encouraging me to finish the script and provided undying support through finding crew, sourcing equipment, managing the set, and sitting in on every edit session during post. She is an integral part of RFF’s first narrative short title!

Ryan Broomberg — Friend and Cinematographer on RIAS — We met Ryan in a blind interview when he was in LA shooting (he is based in NY and shoots around the world). He answered a FB ad that simply described the short, script, and that we needed to lock an experienced DP with equipment. From there, we developed an amazing relationship as Director and DP and he mentored me / walked me through every stage of planning the camera work. We met in person, skyped, emailed daily — he was an open, giving, enthusiastic contributor who not only brought in free gear and worked for a really low rate, but he also colored the film in his spare time and taught me more about the post-production process that any class I ever took in school. An amazing supporter and believer in me and in RFF.

Travis Prow — DP on Feature Doc The Last Generation — a very involved project that has already spanned three years of filming and traveling. Slowly and whenever I am ready/funded, Travis teaches me and supports me to achieve the shoots I want and my need to continue telling the massive story I’ve been working on since Graduate School. He is a professional DP in Hollywood I met through a friend and he has provided gear, time, and advice for free since the beginning. I owe him a lot and I consider him a mentor.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Kristin Green, Kaitlyn Brown, Ryan Broomberg, Karyn Barnett-Day

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