Husband and wife Kevin and Emily Barclay Ford both found their passion in the world of filmmaking before collaborating on an award-winning Netflix documentary that magnified their careers.
From a town in Northern California with around 500 people, Kevin first picked up a video camera from his aunt at the age of 10. Throughout high school, he filmed videos with his friends and learned the art of the craft from a retired German documentary filmmaker. He wanted to tell his own stories with experimentation through the medium, leading him to New York City and Los Angeles for most of his young life.
Emily, from Oklahoma (she grew up in north Edmond), was no stranger to the film world in high school, and she was fiercely determined to pursue her career at USC. She landed a job working on the set of the Steven Spielberg movie Twister and soon became a producer in Los Angeles. Emily is also executive vice president of Team Downey, Susan and Robert Downey Jr.’s production company.
The pair worked internally with Robert Downey Jr. to develop documentary ideas, as Kevin previously shot countless hours of archived footage and behind-the-scenes for the actor.
Once Downey Jr. was presented with the idea, he turned it down in favor of changing the subject of the film to his father. The documentary titled Sr. was born. At the time, the widely celebrated filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. had Parkinson’s disease. Both Kevin and Emily began the documentary as a reflection of Sr.'s filmmaking throughout his life, but they quickly realized the film would be taking another direction.
“The collaboration was born, and we all embarked at that time thinking it was probably going to be more of a cool, funky retrospective about his dad's films,” Kevin said. “I really don't believe any of us set out thinking we were going to make a film about him facing his own mortality. But that is the nature of the documentary. And over the course of those couple years, that is what the film became. It was like a race against the clock to tell his story and to celebrate his filmmaking.”
Kevin and Emily captured Robert Downey Jr.’s tribute to his father while simultaneously forming connections with Sr. themselves. The documentary showcases Sr.’s reflections on life and shines a light on his relationship with his son, but during the process of filming, Sr. wanted to add his own twist. Kevin was pulled aside to a private editing bay with Robert Downey Sr. to cut another version of the documentary.
“What became apparent to me was that his version was really a last chance for him, while he was alive to revisit every single film he'd ever done,” Kevin says. “Which were postcards from his past; he made like a collage of his whole life's work and threw everything in the blender. So, it wasn't chronological telling of a story for him, it was probably just an amazing trip down memory lane. I got to help him do that. So, we have these two different results, but I think our film, the released version, if you look at it and have that in mind, you see the artist at work and you start to see how his brain works.”
With such raw emotion translating through the camera lens, both Kevin and Emily shoulder creative and personal responsibility crafting the cinematic journey that is Sr. Following Robert Downey Sr.’s passing, the impact of Emily and Kevin’s role in producing, editing and championing the heart of the film remains everlasting.
“As a producer, I felt my contribution was important to honor Sr.'s spirit because when he was alive I felt protective of him,” Kevin says. “And then, after he was gone, I felt even more protective of him. Sr. was the kind of guy that was encouraging about following your art and passion. The fact that his name is not forgotten, his works pop up and people learn about him or even get curious, then it wasn't for nothing. He didn't just disappear. So, I think Robert Jr. was really right on the nose when he said, ‘I'd rather make a film about my dad.’”
After finishing Sr., the pair embarked on a journey to Oklahoma for Emily’s Heritage Hall High School reunion when they found themselves looking for a change. Despite the drastic differences between New York and Los Angeles, Kevin and Emily began to explore the filmmaking world in Oklahoma City.
“When we had come here before, it was always in the context of my family,” Emily says. “I was like, I think we just need to get our own place, be in the cool part of town, and just do our own thing and explore. Within 24 hours, Kevin said, ‘I don't wanna leave. We're not going.’”
After touring a few film production companies across the city, Kevin and Emily felt a strong sense of community and independent creativity throughout the industry.
“I'm mad that Sr. isn’t here now because I would love to tell him about how wonderful I feel things have worked out for us in Oklahoma City,” - Kevin
“A lot of people ask us about the film industry here. There are all the ingredients for it to grow. There's the right stuff. And with some of these people that are already here and have been doing it for the many years that have led to this moment, we're just trying to add our thoughts and hope to be a part of that growth.”