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Opinion and Insight

SixTwentySix: Lead Don’t Follow

Co-founders Austin Barbera and Jake Krask met in high school, launched a production company aged 20 and are now creating some of the coolest, most culturally-relevant music videos around

SixTwentySix: Lead Don’t Follow

Austin Barbera and Jake Krask first met in their Los Angeles high school. They both joined a film programme called ‘The Academy’. They must have learned something useful because these 22-year-old mates are now also business partners with their own production company. They honed their skills by working on TV shows and as line producers on music videos. They’re now the founders of SixTwentySix, an LA-based production company that launched in January 2017.

The vibe from Austin and Jake – as well as their insanely cool roster of directors – is one of energy and relevance. One of their directors is Millicent Hailes, who has just completed three high profile promos for Young Thug and was recently featured in a feature of ours on the female directors shaking up the hip hop music video scene. SixTwentySix are absolutely on the vanguard of the current music video renaissance – and the boys are looking to bring their pop culture cool to brands.

So, what inspired them to walk the walk and launch SixTwentySix, and what has the journey been like since? 

LBB’s Addison Capper found out more. 

LBB> You’re both relatively young! Tell us about your experiences before setting up SixTwentySix. How did you both get into filmmaking? What drew you to it?

Jake> We’re both 22 years old. We met in high school when we both joined a film programme at Calabasas High called ‘The Academy’ which was a smaller class that linked our English, history and film classes together into a combined curriculum. Instead of doing the normal assignments we could incorporate film into our assignments. 

Austin> During high school while being in the Academy I randomly ended up on a music video set and accidentally ended up being a PA on the job. After the long (16-hour) day I thought it would be a good idea to talk to the director. Long story short, that director, Dano Cerny, took me under his wing to be an assistant to him and learn the industry. Throughout the rest of high school I would ditch school to go and work on music videos. After I graduated high school I started working right away as a PA in the reality TV/game show side of the business, on shows like West Coast Customs, Let’s Ask America, The Queen Latifah Show, the James Corden Show, and a pilot for Jennifer Garner. I decided to go back into music videos because I could move up to being a coordinator, then production manager, then line producer - it’s a quicker path and I learned so much so fast. I was working with some of the music video industry's biggest directors and artists. I randomly fell into it and fell in deep. I just love the craziness of the industry - the creativity, the technical side, the people…all of it.

Jake> I grew up in a family in the entertainment business. My grandmother was a recording pianist and my other grandmother was a Hollywood casting director. My father is a TV producer and my mom is an entertainment lawyer. Growing up I had always loved the entertainment industry. It fascinated me. In eighth grade I became very interested in filming and editing and would spend all day everyday making short videos and learning how to edit and do VFX. In high school, I joined the Academy and met Austin. I ended up running our school monthly TV show and would film and edit skits and all the school events. After high school, I went to the University of Arizona and majored in film. I hated it. After one month, I moved back to Los Angeles and started doing some freelance editing and VFX and eventually transferred to Loyola Marymount University to major in entrepreneurship. I have always had a fascination with running a business as well as a love for film, so being a producer is the perfect job for me!

LBB> What inspired you to launch your own company? What was the lightbulb moment between you two?

Austin> After spending a couple of years as a line producer, working for multiple music video and commercial production companies, I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to start my own company with a young and diverse roster of directors. I never knew how hard it would be to start and to run but Jake and I talked about it and then decided to make it happen.

We started SixTwentySix with our first director, a good friend of ours, Chris Varonos from high school with whom we all used to make short films. We then met Miles Cable, who later became part of Miles&AJ, and then we met Millicent Hailes, who had recently relocated to LA from London, through our music video directors rep. With that group of talent, the company pretty much took off from there. We successfully produced almost 60 music videos in our first year of business and have been lucky to have a lot of repeat clients right from the very beginning.

Jake> When I was in high school and college I always loved the idea of creating my own business from scratch and being in control of my life. I wanted to take on that challenge and make something sustainable. When I moved back to Los Angeles, Austin and I discussed creating a production company. One day instead of just talking about it, we decided to just go all-in and it has been like that since! 

LBB> What are the ideals and ethos that you founded the company on?

Austin> We want to be an honest company that works with good people and treats people with professionalism and respect. We want that to be our reputation, and I believe it is. We have always had one major rule and that is not to work with assholes. Our business is naturally full of challenges which require our imagination and energy. Why spend that on people who don’t want to be there or contribute to the process? 

Jake> Producing music videos is a funny scene. To be honest, it’s a business that has plenty of shady operators in it, people who don’t pay their crews properly or who don’t put the budget on the screen. We decided from the beginning that we weren’t going to work that way. We want to make sure our clients and the artist and our director and crew are happy and getting the materials and support they need to make the best work possible. We want to be proud of everything we make, as well as the way that we made it.

LBB> What's the inspiration behind the name?

Jake> SixTwentySix comes from Austin’s Birthday which is June 26th. He named the company before I joined him! 

Austin> It’s also an LA area code. Lots of people assume it’s from that.

LBB> I know you’ve been working mainly in music videos, but do you have any advertising experience? 

Jake> It’s something we’re growing into. There’s so much obvious crossover between music videos and longer form commercial content as well as spot work. In fact, we’re about to announce a new director we signed who has an incredible commercial reel, with work for Mercedes, Gatorade, Adidas. So, we’re starting to see a lot of boards from the ad and brand side of things. That’s an exciting evolution for us.

Austin> We are starting to focus more on the branded content and commercial space. It’s a whole other ball game but we’re starting to build contacts and relationships and build clients in that world. When launching the company, we were initially set on producing music videos because that’s what we knew best at the time and those were the clients that we had. But as our work and roster has grown and evolved, those opportunities are presenting themselves.

LBB> How do you both work? You’re both producers… do you have any ambitions to direct at all?

Austin> Jake and I both focus on running the company as executive producers. We want to keep our directors working and busy and make sure our clients are happy throughout the entire process. 

Jake> Neither of us direct, at least not yet… but if the right project came along I think it would be cool to one day direct a video together.

LBB> You're based in LA... the home of filmmaking! With that in mind, what makes SixTwentySix unique among that market?

Austin> I think it is twofold. We have an incredible roster of talented and unique directors, which we never take for granted. And we have our reputation and relationships, which we’ve built with our clients by working in an open, honest, and collaborative way.

LBB> Your website says that you are "focused on making content that’s cutting edge, culturally relevant, and entertaining" - what's cutting edge and culturally relevant in 2018 and what do you need to consider when taking on new jobs?

Jake> Our mantra is to avoid trends and lead instead of follow. With social media, there seems to be a lot of copying of trends instead of challenging the status quo. Our directors are great at leading with their creative visions and creating work that feels like their true voice. 

Austin> That also means we choose jobs based on whether it’s going to connect with one of our directors and give them the opportunity to create something exciting and original.

LBB> The music video scene is a thriving area of filmmaking at the moment, after a few years in the wilderness. What do you think is pushing that trend?

Jake> I think that music videos are so hot right now because artists are so involved with social media and their image, and they need constant content to post for their fans and audience. Music videos are a way to experience their songs in a unique way and draw current and new fans into their new music through striking visuals.

LBB> What have been some of your most memorable experiences since launching? 

Austin> One specific one was watching SixTwentySix’s first music video project, which was for Billie Eilish and directed by Miles & AJ grow to almost 85 million views. But it’s also been amazing watching our directors grow and do bigger and bigger jobs and also watch the company grow from working from our homes, to getting a small office, to growing into our new office in Burbank and having a staff now.

LBB> What did you have in mind when initially building your roster?

Jake> We built our roster around signing new talent, this group of diverse and talented directors. We’re young so we relate to that feeling of breaking into the business. We also can see that they are very connected to what is happening in culture, what is cool and on the radar. Our clients know that we offer that perspective.

LBB> And what do you look for when signing new directors? 

Austin> When signing new directors we are looking for directors that have a unique point of view and offer something different from the other directors on the roster. 

LBB> Which recent projects are you particularly proud of and why?

Austin> Millicent Hailes recently directed three Young Thug videos, which are all really incredible. We pulled them off with practically no time to prep and they all ended up being such amazing videos. She’s a major talent and we’re going to see more great things from her. 

Jake> We also love the work Miles & AJ did for Yoshi Flowers. The work is so cool and different.

LBB> What are your plans and ambitions for 2019?

Jake> Our plans are to get into the commercial and branded content space as well as begin to develop longer form work, like movies and series.

LBB> Where do you see SixTwentySix in five years? What’s your ultimate vision?

Austin> Oh, you know. The biggest music video and commercial company on the planet, maybe. Always with the most exciting and diverse directors to present to our clients.

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