Dover native balances role on ‘House of Cards’ with running his own startup
By Katie Wecht
Special to Delaware Business Times
Dover native Brian Harvath already has a recurring role as a Secret Service agent on the award-winning Netflix series “House of Cards.” But when a longtime friend offered him the chance to pursue his passion for storytelling locally, Harvath agreed.
As director of photography and producer at Big River Film Co., Harvath has expanded his career both in front of and behind the camera. He has a place in Baltimore for when “House of Cards” is filming and frequently stays with a friend in New York City when working there, but he has kept his roots in Delaware to focus on growing Big River Films with founder Nathan Cronk.
Big River Film Co. is a video production company founded in 2015 that focuses on capturing the stories of their clients. Harvath and Cronk said they stray away from the standard corporate video in order to find the “why” behind what the company is offering.
“Storytelling is a much more engaging way of connecting with an audience,” Harvath said. “It tends to make people light up a little bit.”
Harvath, 33, attended Polytech High School in Woodside and graduated from the University of Delaware in 2006. It was during college that he developed an interest in photography and decided to combine it with other art forms like film.
Work as a commercial insurance agent helped pay the bills, and Harvath said he began freelancing in the area. Then he auditioned for “House of Cards” in Baltimore and picked up a role as one of Frank Underwood’s (played by Kevin Spacey) Secret Service agents.
The role gave him the confidence to quit his seven-year insurance job and pursue his passion for storytelling through film full time. “I was freelancing here in Delaware, New York and Virginia, and anywhere else I could find work really in between my “˜House of Cards’ seasons,” he said.
“The biggest thing that is great about being away from the insurance company is that I am now working for myself and have a creative outlet,” Harvath said. “I would work at the insurance company for eight hours and was exhausted by the end of it. Here I could work a 14-hour day and I don’t feel exhausted because it doesn’t feel like work.”
Harvath on location for his video production company Big River Film Co.
At Big River Film Co., Cronk and Harvath spend time crafting proposals for prospective clients and looking for the ideal person to tell that company’s story.
“It’s not always an obvious choice like the CEO,” Harvath said. “Instead we might start with the employee who worked for that specific company for 49 years.”
“Their help and flexibility in planning ensured we were able to get the best shots and the right people and moments on film,” said Christina MacMillan of M. Davis, one of Big River’s clients. “The end product turned out phenomenal.”
The name of the company, Big River Film Co., tells its own story. It is taken from the Genesee River in New York where Cronk was raised. Both Cronk and Harvath said they have always found comfort in the outdoors. “We’re similar in that aspect,” Harvath said.
Big River recently opened a second location in Wilmington at The Mill, in addition to their Dover office. “Our plan for the next year or so is to grow and expand our client base to the larger cities, while continuing to call Delaware home,” Harvath said.
They said they also want to incorporate their love for the outdoors and work with brands such as Patagonia or The North Face in the future. “I think it’d be easy for us to sit around here and do small projects that pay the bills that aren’t exactly what we want to do, but we both have strong desires and ambitions to push ourselves on a national level and say no to projects that don’t fit,” Harvath said.
Big River was recently given $8,000 in seed funding to create a short film for Dover’s 300th year. They intend to raise $20,000 for the project and have already reached $13,000 of their goal through email campaigns, a video pitch, and meetings with local businesses and entrepreneurship groups.
But there are also challenges, according to Cronk and Harvath. “On a bad day in film, it’s extremely stressful because there are so many moving parts. There’s so much for everyone to do and we have to make important decisions,” Harvath said.
His work on “House of Cards” has added more commitments, but Harvath said he is prepared to give 40 hours a week to Big River while freelancing on the side.
“The pressure is high at times, but I don’t regret any of it,” Harvath said. “There is something incredibly rewarding to telling a story, seeing the imagery in your head and bringing that