Aaron Craig, An Alumnus With 'an Eye for Finding Beauty in People'
Aaron and I met at 10 a.m. at the studio his film company, We Are Films, rents in DUMBO. It was a rainy morning,and Aaron told me he would be a few minutes late—the trains were running behind. At 10:10 a.m. Aaron arrived, wearing black tennis shoes, black jeans, a white buttoned black shirt, and a navy baseball cap with a thick, grey Swiss Army-style cross on the front. The studio, in the first floor of an ordinary apartment building, was roughly the size of a suburban bedroom -- with four different working environments packed into the space. On the right was a desk with two Apple cinema monitors sitting adjacent to an unusually clean dry erase board. The board contained only a list of confirmed projects —Emergent Utah, Sam Overs, a new interview, AECOM, a Sufjan Stevens live concert—and a list for potential projects. Two leather chairs faced a media entertainment cabinet filled with various books—The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield, Story by Robert McKee, Agency by Rick Webb. The whole apparatus was connected to the Apple cinema monitors, in case clients wanted to edit in studio. Camera equipment was lying on the floor when we walked in, left by the crew just returning from a shoot. This was normal, Aaron said, because the studio was used more often as a drop space for the equipment, with the bulk of pre- and post-production work done at he and his brother’s apartments.
“If you weren’t here, I’d be at home working right now," Aaron, a 2010 PPE graduate of King's, said.
Aaron, 28, has one brother, Alex, who is a year younger. The brothers grew up in Richardson, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas.
“We lived less than the length of a football field away from some railroad tracks.” Aaron said. “We used those tracks to make some really fun short films as kids. It’s kind of what made us so interested and excited about filmmaking."
In 2006 Aaron moved to New York City to go to The King’s College—a year later Alex moved to Grand Rapids to attend Compass College of Cinematic Arts.
“We didn’t know what we were doing back then and in many ways we still have no idea what we’re doing. But it’s the gung-ho attitude of We’ll figure it out until it’s great that has stuck with us since kids. If we didn’t have that drive as a kid, I don’t think we would have that drive now," Aaron noted.
The brothers moved the studio to its current location earlier this year from a larger studio in Williamsburg. More traditional, with space to shoot indoors, Aaron said they did not need the indoor space very often so they moved to the stripped-down DUMBO location.
I asked him about work that We Are Films is doing this year. He told me they just confirmed their biggest client yet: AECOM, the developer responsible for sites like One World Trade Center, London 2012 and Rio 2016, Barclays Center, AT&T Stadium, Boston Logan, LAX, JFK, Hong Kong International. AECOM asked We Are Films to do a multi-part video series running from November this year through 2018. They have the most beautiful buildings, Aaron said, but they have 95,000 employees.
"What do you mean," I asked.
"The employees know they have the most beautiful buildings, but they don’t feel connected to them," Aaron said. "They don’t feel known or cared about in that way."
AECOM knows this and asked Aaron to create a series of short video profiles of their employees, the goal being to show that it took all 95,000 employees to build these beautiful buildings, known all around the world.
This attitude was a new direction for AECOM, but not for Aaron. Since he graduated from King’s, he accepts projects largely on the condition that they would allow him to try something new. In 2012, The Welcome Wagon's asked We Are Films to create the music video for the song "Would You Come and See Me in New York." The video, a pensive four minutes drenched in golden hour, slow motion-staged scenes of childhood innocence, ended up in the hands of the band’s label mate, Sufjan Stevens. Sufjan liked it so much that he asked Aaron to produce the video for his song "I’ll Be Home For Christmas."
Aaron took a risk on a new shot with Stevens: the entire four-minute video was a single tracking shot. Everything had to be exactly right for the whole four-minute take.
“I love that shot because it was so tough to get," Aaron said. “It was nearly impossible. There were 100 things that could’ve gone wrong. We could have had the exact same set and actors and lighting, but used a generic camera tripod or handheld shot and it wouldn’t have been beautiful or innovative to me, because it wouldn’t have been new.”
Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Aaron if he believes himself to be an artist.
“I never went out of my way to 'become' or 'be' an artist. I never told myself, ‘I want to be an artist!’ I just did what I wanted to do and it just so happened to be a profession that many people see as artistic," Aaron explained.
When asked about Aaron’s work, President of The King’s College Gregory Thornbury decided to twist the phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ calling Aaron the beholder who has an eye for finding beauty in people.
It is fitting, then, that Charlie Chaplin’s "The Great Dictator" speech is the voice over to his 2015 demo reel.
“In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man,” Chaplin said. “Not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you!”