Stuart Raven Barter is a location icon whose career in locations spans five decades.
California born and raised, Barter attended college in Santa Barbara in the ’60s. Believing that an advanced degree in humanities had little relevance in the job market, he accepted an offer to survey roads and weigh gravel trucks for the US government in the heat of Death Valley. Flash-forward a few decades and he is again in the desert … this time in Utah, on Tony Scott’s memorable Marlboro commercials, and Ridley Scott’s archetypal Thelma & Louise.
A self-taught lensman, Barter has collaborated with some of the most talented directors in the industry. His photography skills are nonpareil, telegraphing the potential of light and composition. In his early career, he picked up assistant work in the burgeoning commercial production world. A new breed of directors seeking the realism of natural lighting and practical locations opened the door for him to segue into commercial filming. At that time, shooting locations with a Polaroid camera with a flash attachment was de rigueur. Abjuring a flash, Barter used a Polaroid Land Camera with shutter speeds and aperture settings. A tripod allowed him to shoot in dark auditoriums with no concern for the light falloff associated with flash work.
In the ’80s, Barter worked for Bob Giraldi on a full portfolio of commercial accounts, including Pepsi. He scouted and managed Giraldi’s music videos which were very much in vogue. Giraldi so appreciated his work on Michael Jackson’s Beat It that he rewarded Barter with an art direction credit, resulting in a nomination for Best Art Direction by the AMA. “On the scout, Stuart insisted on showing us a location in the barrio,” remembers Giraldi. “Michael Jackson was with us as we checked out the fire escape above and saw the blood dripping down on the DP. It seems some gal upstairs had enough abuse and struck back at her pathetic partner, who was bleeding out a window. Michael got giddy, we got our location and to this day, I’m sure Stu set the whole thing up.”
“I’ve worked with Stuart many times,” recalls Ridley Scott. “One of his major assets is his inordinately creative eye. He took the best location pictures of anyone and was relentless. He would sit and wait for the best light on location and would come back with the goods. Saved me a lot of time and effort. He was really a creative help to me.”
Barter was the only commercial location manager in the union when he joined the Hollywood Teamsters Local 399 in 1981. About that time, One Hour Photo shops were commonplace. Barter switched to a single-lens 35mm reflex camera, and began archiving his location work. In 1985, he scouted his first job with Joe Pytka on a John Hancock commercial, followed by an iconic Apple TV spot. After 32 years, Barter and Pytka still continue to collaborate.
“Stuart is what we call a ‘go-to guy,’ someone you could trust to do the job. This kind of trust is something you earn on our various battlefields. Some “go-to guys” are girls (or female to be PC), but whomever they are, they are precious and mostly irreplaceable,” says Pytka. “Stuart was one of my go-to guys. That’s because he was always going to Tony and Ridley Scott—and not that available a lot of the time, but when he was, he was a delight, unique, dependable, insightful, and creative.” – Director Joe Pytka
The late ’80s brought Barter to RSA, where he worked with both Tony and Ridley in both commercials and feature films. Barter’s contributions are evident in the European Marlboro campaign, True Romance, Crimson Tide, G.I. Jane, Matchstick Men, Man on Fire, Unstoppable, and many commercials. On feature films, location scouts typically report to the location manager or the production designer. However, in the commercial world, scouts often turn their work right to the director—which is how Ridley and Tony Scott liked to work. When working for either brother, the commercial model prevailed.
On Matchstick Men, Barter had five weeks to find all the locations. As the first day of principal photography approached, they still needed a carpet store. Scott drew him a quick sketch of what he had in mind. With this napkin masterpiece in hand, Barter was on his way. After a couple of days of scouting, he found something to match the esthetic of Ridley’s sketch. His job was done.
In his typical unassuming style, Barter sums it up: “I showed Ridley the store I liked; he loved it, and I went onto my next scouting project. I have had a long career in location work, with many good seasons, and a respectable batting average. In most cases, the process has been very rewarding. I really loved it!”