In a couple of sentences, can you summarise who you are and what you do?
My name is Josh Aarons, I’m a writer, director and all-round creative based in Oxfordshire. I spend most of my time creating original concepts and content for film, TV, music videos and commercials.
Out in the countryside of Oxford, what makes you excited to get up in the morning?
Ahhh, I feel very, very fortunate and grateful to live where I live, especially during this current period of being quarantined during the COVID-19 outbreak. To give you a little bit of context I’m originally from the North East of England, and for the first half of my life, I grew up in towns and cities all over the country. I’ve spent most of my time in London, and so I naively and proudly called myself a bit of a city boy. How wrong I was.
A year ago, myself, my partner and two close friends decided to leave the city for a sleepy village where we moved into a cottage overlooking endless fields and little streams. My office is an outhouse at the end of the garden, a converted garage which the house owner has turned into a custom-built workspace with loads of natural light, desk space and the most spectacular view of the country. I get excited about coming down here and getting stuck into whatever it is I’ve got my teeth into, I get excited about my countless daydreaming and procrastination sessions where I’m just gazing out the window.
You studied German, Spanish & International relations, worked in events but ultimately ended up as Head of Marketing for a venture-backed Startup before transitioning to filmmaking. How did that come about?
Before university I worked in radio, formerly GCap Media, now known as Global, I worked on their now Heart brand doing bits and bobs. Great first job. Then I went to uni, spent some time abroad – decided after doing translation for one of those placements that it just was not for me. I then pivoted back to music, and that brought me to events where I became a planner, producer and marketer. I always enjoyed marketing, and I felt like it was something I was good at. I’m a hands-on kinda person, and so it meant that I could just think and then do. I didn’t need loads of people to help me make these things happen.
But music is a mad world, and it was around the time when Startup became a word everyone was beginning to murmur. So I pivoted again. And what’s beautiful about startups is that you learn fast and you have to be hands-on. The company I was working with was venture-backed by some brilliant people, and they were keen to experiment, and so that had me doing anything and everything. One day I was writing blogs; next, I was making commercials and intro videos – there was so much variety in what I was doing. Photoshop, Indesign, Premiere Pro and Excel, all open on the same day. I love that kind of hands-on stuff.
Startup is not for the faint of heart, you might go in soft, and if you survive it, you’ll have thick skin soon. You have to be prepared to lose at least 9 times out of 10 as a marketer or anyone in Startup. You have way less money and way fewer resources than the other guy or the giant you’re trying to unseat. And so you make do, or you don’t. I think there’s a stat that the average turnaround of start in Startup is 12-18 months before they leave and move on. I didn’t – I stuck with it for a long time. But there were moments of deep discomfort and unhappiness with that work, so I wanted to move in the direction of something that I loved. I began working in my free time back on the things I had a passion for.
What have the most significant challenges been with your transition from marketer to independent filmmaker?
The biggest challenges in the transition are knowing and accepting that you will earn significantly less than you’re on at the moment to be somewhere where you are happier. I was on decent money before I left my job as a full-time head of marketing. I enjoyed nights out, meals, trips and holidays, treats, new gadgets, all the fun things in life we all love. You give that up, at least to begin with. You need to be prepared for the financial worry that comes with being your own boss in a pretty turbulent time.
It's definitely an unconventional journey. Have you been able to apply any of the skills you picked up along the way in the video world?
Absolutely. Any if not all, I think. I love a budget, I love tweaking an excel spreadsheet to make things happen, I love getting stuck into photoshop where I can play with visual concepts and grow some ideas. Get me on a camera I’ll shoot, give me a drone I’ll fly it, let me edit. I love to try and do everything, but my learnings are that you can’t and shouldn’t do everything. So lots of lessons and skills have done me well in this world.
You've worked successfully as a writer, director, producer, editor, camera operator - the list goes on, do you have a favourite?
It’s like asking what your favourite film or song is. It’s near impossible to answer. I think I enjoy all of them much, but the top three have to be writing, directing and editing. Those three together really feel like the beginning middle and end for me. If I can do all of those, then I know I’ve put my heart and soul into a project.
You recently got back from the Canary Islands after working on a music video for the talented musician Henry Green, what was that like?
What an incredible experience. We were lucky, it almost didn’t happen.
Apart from music videos, you've worked on documentaries, advertising videos and short films - do you have a favourite genre to work on? Do you have a favourite video from your past projects?
I’ve got to say I love music videos – there’s just so much freedom for expression with a music video that an ordinary film or short to some extent doesn’t allow. With a music video, much like the music, it totally open to interpretation. You can be safe and go for a standard approach to a music video, or you can go ‘out there’. With a music video, there’s room to let your imagination go a bit wild – though I think the key to that working well is ensuring there is some form of narrative in there. Gratuitous pretty shots are lovely to look at, but we as humans love a story to connect with. Not a particularly profound statement but one that I think often gets forgotten.
What's next for your filmmaking career? Have you got anything in the pipeline?
Two things I’m really excited about, the first is a 30 min short that I have written and will be co-directing which should currently be in post-production but is on standby until the government lift restrictions. It’s a story of a mother and son’s struggle with his heroin addiction, a familiar story for many families in ex-mining communities around the country. It’s set in Yorkshire, it has an incredible cast and crew, and I can’t wait to shoot and release that.
Second is a new commission I’m working on – a feature-length film which I will be writing alongside a BAFTA writer, set in gritty London. It’s all a bit secret at the moment but plenty more to come.
Do you have any nuggets of wisdom or practical tips or tricks for becoming a better filmmaker?
Well, I think I must state that I’m still on the journey and haven’t ‘made it’, so take whatever I’m saying with a pinch of salt. But I honestly believe that the power of the story is most important, it’s stuck with me in everything I have done since. What’s the story, why should I care, why should you care? If there’s no story, no amount of beautiful footage or fancy editing will ever make a video or film good.
Second is to learn from others but stick to your own principles and style. Your world, eye, and viewpoints add a different perspective to what it is you do, and it’s essential to make sure you don’t become a carbon copy/beige/’seen that one before’ creative. Explore, try things, but ultimately make sure you stay true to you.
Where can people find out more about you or reach you online?
When to Jump – Mike Lewis
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg Mckeown