INTERVIEW WITH Aaron Bierman - Writer, Filmmaker

Aaron Bierman has been a storyteller his whole life.  As a kid, Aaron shot Super 8 films, wrote and drew comic books and was a breakdancer in the streets and clubs of New York City during the early days of hip hop. As he grew older, Aaron didn’t see his creative pursuits as a way to make a living so with student loans to pay off, he pursued a career on Wall Street. While working as a trader at JP Morgan, Aaron’s distinctive market commentary and storytelling skills cultivated a loyal following of clients and were featured in various media including The Wall Street Journal & ABC News. Aaron was working in finance for over a decade when he read a New York Times article about a playground basketball legend that would change his life forever. The story inspired him to make a film about the man’s life. Three years later, “Release: The Jack Ryan Story,” was sold to 20th Century Fox and Aaron was given a writing deal to develop additional projects with the studio. Aaron quit his corporate job to become a full-time filmmaker in 2010 and was signed by the Gersh Agency soon after. Since leaving Wall Street, Aaron has completed the Professional Screenwriting Program at U.C.L.A’s School of Film & Television, written over a dozen feature screenplays, directed award-winning short films and developed feature film projects with producers including Warner Brothers, Anonymous Content, Studio 8 and 20th Century Fox

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Tell us about your background and when did you decide to become a filmmaker? 

 

I had always been creative as a kid.  I shot Super 8 films, wrote and drew comic books…  As I grew older, and student loans piled up, I never saw storytelling as a profession so I pursued a career on Wall Street.

In 2008, I was working as a trader at JP Morgan and read a New York Times article that would change my life forever. The story was about a playground basketball legend and it inspired me to make a film about the man’s life while still working full-time in finance. Three years later, "Release: The Jack Ryan Story," was sold to 20th Century Fox to be adapted into a feature film and I signed a writing deal to develop additional projects with the studio. (The feature film is finally being filmed right now in New York by an independent producer)


Films that inspired you to become a filmmaker? 

 

So many beautiful childhood moments that involved film.  Going to the drive-in theater with my family and having a picnic while watching Disney classics like Mary Poppins… waiting in line for 5 hours to see Star Wars and being blown away by the incredible opening shot… sitting in the balcony of an old theater in my hometown in New York and watching Jaws…  


Who is your biggest influence?  


Hard to say who my “biggest” influence is but I love Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney and Francis Ford Coppola.


What were some of the challenges you had to face in making your films? 

 

Burning Bright began as a live action project and we pursued it as such for a whole year.  The incredibly demanding schedules of the cast of five supermodels made scheduling a three-day shoot nearly impossible and we had to postpone the production several times.  This was beyond frustrating.  Once we established the film would be animated, it took 3 years to complete.   After spending a year perfecting the art for one of the characters, she abruptly quit the project which required a replacement and another year of redrawn art.  This actually happened several times on the project.   It made me question my decision to be a filmmaker (and my sanity!). 


Do you have a favorite genre to work in? Why is it your favorite?


I love thrillers that have fantastical elements with a lot of humanity and heart.  The Sixth Sense, Jaws, ET, The Green Mile…


What’s your all-time favorite movie and why? 


This changes often but some of my favorites are It’s a Wonderful Life, Apocalypse Now, Jaws, The Sixth Sense, Casablanca…

I had a professor at UCLA who said if you list your favorite films, you will find a thread that comes from deep within your subconscious that connects them all.  For me, I love a story where a character loses hope and is able to find it again through an epic journey.  All these films share those elements.

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If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?

 

It would be a dream come true to have Steven Spielberg produce one of my projects.  It would also be amazing to work with a legendary cinematographer like Janusz Kaminski or Roger Deakins.  


Tell us something most people don't know about you.


I was a professional breakdancer in New York City in the 1980s!


The one person who has truly believed in you throughout your career.  

That it will take years of hard work and failure before you will make anything good. 

 

My neighbor is an 85-year old artist that used to be a movie star and was married to an Oscar-winning screenwriter.  I value her opinion above almost anyone else.  She’s told me countless times how much she believes in my talent and it means the world to me.


What was the most important lesson you had to learn as filmmaker?


That it will take years of hard work and failure before you will make anything good. 


Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?


I think getting started is pretty easy.  You get excited about an idea and go with it.  Maintaining the energy and focus not only to finish something – but make it good – is a challenge for me.  It would be so easy to just walk away!

The ultimate antagonist is always yourself.  Fighting off my inner-critic, laziness, procrastination, self-doubt…  Once you realize these challenges are part of the creative process, you can enjoy the journey much more.


What keeps you motivated? 


We are in a very dark moment of history right now.  Stories have the power to build the world up or tear it down.  As a storyteller, I want to tell great stories that help to heal the world.  Stories that uplift people.  Connect them.  Inspire.  Stories that give people hope.  

Now more than ever, the world is in need of powerful stories that shine some light into a dark world and that is what keeps me motivated.

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How has your style evolved?

 

Early in my career, like a lot of filmmakers, I was chose projects based on what I thought the market wanted.  Now I pursue stories that interest me and I worry about what the market or anyone else thinks later.


On set, the most important thing is: 

 

Being open to the magic that happens when you are present.


The project(s) you’re most proud of: 


Burning Bright.


The most challenging project you worked on. And why?

 

Same!  For all the reasons I mentioned above and also the demands of 2d animation are intense.  In animation, the artist serves the role as a cinematographer.  I worked very closely with the artists to achieve my vision for each scene. Elements including color palette, lighting, composition and character design all go into the creation of a frame that later becomes animated to tell the larger story.

The first step is a great illustration based on a photograph of the person we are creating a character for and animating.  Getting the art correct often takes 5 or even 10 passes.  We often worked until 3 or 4 in the morning to get the art and animation just right.


What are your short term and long term career goals? 

 

In the near-term, I would love to make Burning Bright as a feature film and direct my first feature film this year.  In the longer term, I would like to get in the rhythm of writing and directing a feature film every 1-2 years for the next 20 years.  After that, I’d love to share my passion and knowledge with students at a great film school like NYU or UCLA.


Your next projects? 


I am working on the final draft of a supernatural thriller I’ve been writing over the past year and plan to direct called THE GRAY LADY. 


Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so our readers could keep track of your career.

 

You can keep tabs on me at OceanParkStories.com which has all my social media links there. 

My Instagram is @oceanparkpictures and Facebook is @OceanParkPictures