Once AJ Bartlett takes out his camera and shoots, he instantly creates a story around his scene – just as if time has stopped around him. At that frozen moment there are only him, his camera, and the person being interviewed. TEMPO caught up with AJ to chat about the unique transatlantic, diversity-celebrating, storytelling project he calls “The Creative Couch”…
TEMPO: What is the story of AJ Bartlett?
AJ: I’m an indie filmmaker and travel videographer out of Charlotte, NC. I aspire to make films in order to increase the narrative representation of people of colour within the media. Through my background in travel videography I’ve had the pleasure of filming across the US, Europe, the Bahamas, and now the Middle East, working on various travel documentary projects similar to Creative Couch.
When I’m home, myself and a small crew of guys work commercial gigs, event videography, and other freelance opportunities to keep the bills paid.
TEMPO: How did you develop a passion for videography?
AJ: I’ve studied film for the past eight years, so I’d say it’s been fairly intense; four years of academic study and four years of technical training. But I’ve only been working professionally for about two years now.
I’ve always been heavily involved within the arts community, but I first discovered my passion for film in particular during my sophomore year of college. I stumbled upon a “Blacks in Cinema” course that really opened my eyes into how film can be used as tool for constructing identity. And that was very important for me. Finding a medium allowed me to begin to discover my voice as an artist.
After that, I signed up for media criticism and film theory classes and that pretty much sealed the deal. I was studying the interplay of ideologies within the media, as well as the historical and technological evolution of the craft. So film for me instantly became a means to explore art more intimately, while outlining a path to reach to the world creatively, in a language that we all understand.
TEMPO: What’s the idea behind “Creative Couch”?
AJ: The goal in mind with “Creative Couch” was to use the project as a means to begin researching various countries, to determine where I could potentially see myself building a life and career abroad. The UAE was one of the top five spots on my list to explore, and I lucked out and found a really affordable flight this way.
I knew that in order to pull this off I would need to connect with peers in the community with similar interest, and the best way to explore how people live in another country is to actually spend a night or two living with them as their guest. So I created a crowdfunding video for couches, requesting participation from expatriates, film and media influencers within the region, and locals who could provide an authentic cultural commentary to the narrative.
Initially, I knew I wanted to create a project abroad that was more personal in tone. Something to summarize why I as filmmaker chose this particular path, instead of a more traditional route towards working in film.
TEMPO: How do you capture the essence of a person?
I feel that life and my craft are like an apprenticeship, and the people I come in contact with have powerful stories that I want to share…
AJ: …and it’s difficult to get all of it that on camera. So these projects are my way of giving back to those who’ve come before me for helping me to become a better artists. Documentary filmmaking has given me the ability to use the voices of contemporary authorities to continue to connect and encourage future generations.
If I aspire to create work that highlights the importance of multifaceted representation of people of colour, I can’t just simply be knowledgeable of my own personal experiences. I’ve got to research and connect with voices abroad who are finding creative ways in their backyard to do the same. Because we all need mentors, and any artists who aspires to walk this path, must study the footprints of those who’ve already made a way.
TEMPO: What reaction do you get to your work?
AJ: When people come in contact with my work they’ve typically enjoyed it. Or at least they’ve supported my intentions and consistently encouraged me to seek growth as an artist. They see something in me and expect that one day I’ll be a big a name in film. Anyone who has watched me over the years is aware of how serious I take my profession, and that’s the most important thing that I can take away from those who’ve shared their critique of my work; that they’ve seen consistent and intentional steps towards growth. And I use that encouragement to continue to push myself forward, so that one day I’ll be talented enough to make a name for myself, and prove them right.
TEMPO: Which filmmakers inspire you?
AJ: That has to be Ingmar Bergman and Steven Rodney McQueen.
TEMPO: What’s a day like for AJ Bartlett?
AJ: My days are pretty boring to be completely honest. I’m one of the lead editors out of our group and so that means scrubbing and organizing footage for most of my day. Four hour blocks doing anything from colour grading, tinkering with sound design or meeting with clients. The highlights of my day are exercising, keeping up with meals and sending emails. LOL.
TEMPO: Any next steps for you…?
AJ: Starting this 2016, we’ve got a season’s worth of material that we’re releasing in February, then heading to Seattle in April 2016 to finish production on our last big project. We’ve compiled a ton of material over the past couple of years, and now we’re finally transitioning into post production. So simply look out for 2016 when we’ll be releasing a core of our material.
TEMPO: What would you tell someone wanting to do something radically creative?
AJ: I wouldn’t tell them anything. I work to show them. That is my goal. That’s what makes a filmmaker a filmmaker. I want to inspire and encourage through my example – visually. I don’t think there are any words that can reassure a young artist through all of the hurdles, obstacles and sacrifices it takes to work in this field. They need examples, much more than generic statements to nurture their vibrant imaginations. They’ve got to be able to visualize someone who looks like them, creating material that inspires them to define their voice and find their own path. That’s my goal, that’s my job. To show, not to tell.
TEMPO: How can one support “Creative Couch”?
AJ: If you wish to support “Creative Couch”, please do. Reach out to me via email, I’d love to hash out ideas for distribution or even potentially turn this segment into a series abroad. Back home I run with a crew of four highly trained individuals who are capable of producing incredible work with a grassroots budget and “Creative Couch” is just a tip of that iceberg.
Once complete, we’ll be screening the film at different colleges and film festivals across the states and around the globe. So there are plenty of opportunities to help ensure that more examples of projects like “Creative Couch” reach the big screen, and we’d love to have your support.