From football to film: A conversation with Director Aaron Chapman

(Director Aaron Chapman)

Director Aaron Chapman brings a distinct vision for uncovering the humanity and emotion behind sport and athletes, with a uniquely personal lens gleaned from his experience playing football at the University of Washington.

His work elevates the perspectives and struggles of the individual alongside the grit and determination of athletic pursuit. Frequently shooting and editing his own projects, he has crafted branded content for such top brands as Adidas and Nike, featuring pro athletes including John Ross III and Aaron Gordon

San Jose, CA-born Chapman made the harrowing decision to walk away from a promising football career at the University of Washington after his third ACL injury. Grappling with a shattered sense of identity and lack of direction, he retreated to one of his earliest passions: filmmaking. Dedicating the discipline and determination gleaned from his time as a Division 1 athlete, he exposed himself to as many opportunities to create content as possible. He immersed himself in photography, which rapidly transitioned into video, learning the nuances of shooting, directing and editing his own content hands-on while steadily building a reel of work.

In 2018, he was selected as one of the writers on Kevin Durant’s Dream to Achieve series presented by American Family Insurance. By 2019, he had worked with over 20 professional athletes, crafting content that generated tens of millions of views across social media platforms alone.

What did you originally want to be when you grew up?

Growing up, I wanted to be a professional football player, but I also fell in love with music. My father signed me up for tackle football at the age of 7, and around the same time I started playing the drums. When I wasn’t practicing or in school, I spent my time creating music in a makeshift studio I had set up in my bedroom closet.

I would create beats for my friends and I to rap and sing on; we ended up developing a pretty big following in the neighborhood. During high school, I started to focus more on football and less on music as the idea of playing professionally started to look like a real possibility.  I played all the way up until college at the University of Washington, where injuries forced me to explore another path as my NFL dreams were gone.

How did you get into your industry, Aaron?

I often forget to mention that, as a young teenager, I would frequently shoot and edit music videos for my friends and I for the music we were creating. As I got older I became more focused on football and, once my career ended, I found interest in photography.

As my desire to storytell progressed I taught myself how to shoot and edit videos. I would film all things from athletic videos to short films – whatever I had the opportunity to create at the time. As my projects and client list continued to grow, It became more clear to me I wanted to do this on a bigger scale. I researched the steps I needed to take to direct commercials which, at the time, was the latest big goal I had set for myself. 6 months later, I had signed with Washington Square Films for commercial representation.

Who were your mentors?

I never really had any mentors. From Silicon Valley to Seattle, the majority of my friends and those older than me were athletes, or ended up working in tech or other industries. I had to motivate and teach myself. I grabbed inspiration from other creatives on social media and my friends who were still in pursuit of their athletic dreams.

Besides my parents, who have always pushed me to be great in whatever it is I choose to do, over the past few years I met some great people who not only inspired me, but gave me advice on how to navigate this industry. Erick Hercules, Khristopher “Squint” Sandifer, and Lauren Gillian are a few that made an impact.

Aaron, what do you consider your biggest achievement?

I recently released my debut short documentary “Mr. 50” which so far has been an official selection at three festivals including the Academy Award Qualifying Cinequest Film and VR Festival in San Jose, the Portland Film Festival, and the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. I directed, shot, and edited the film entirely on my own.

How about your biggest disappointment?

My biggest disappointment would have to go back to my athletic career, I tore my ACL for the first time my junior year of high school. After training to get back for  a year, I tore my other ACL in my right knee during the first game of my senior season.

At that moment I thought my athletic career was done, I lost offers and  most college coaches walked away, but I worked hard and finished my senior year strong, making it to the California state track meet eight months after my second ACL surgery. As tough of a time this was, it taught me I can do anything I put my mind to, and to never lose hope.

REELated: Filmmaker Kristian Mercado Figueroa’s eclectic vision

Name your biggest pet peeves

My biggest pet peeves are people who do not keep their word, and people who treat others negatively because they feel as if they have earned that right through their status.

Predictions for (Film) over the next decade

Unfortunately, I think movie theatres will slowly disappear as we continue to shift to these subscription-based models. On the positive side, I see filmmakers having the ability to create on their own as technology advances, allowing the “little guys” to tell their stories at an even greater capacity with less outside help.

Name a job you had that would surprise people 

I had a paid internship at Anthem Blue Cross in Walnut Creek, CA the summer after I retired from football. This was my first real job. The office was over an hour away and I was the only intern. Going from playing football for 12+ years to a job at an insurance company at the age of 20 was not easy. No one around me was my age and they did not have much work for me.

Since most of the websites were blocked, I spent the majority of my days mapping out new ideas in a notebook and wandering around outside of the office. It was that summer I realized I will never work in that type of setting again.

What famous actor plays you in your life story?

I originally was going to say Michael B. Jordan, but after watching Judas and the Black Messiah last night, it would be a crime not to pick Daniel Kaluuya.

What do you wish you had more time to do?

I wish I had more time for passion projects. It is easy to lose inspiration when you are constantly working on projects that do not serve your purpose.

Aaron, what drives you to create?

Although I am not the focus of the stories I tell, I express myself through my art. My goal is always to evoke emotion. I want the viewer to feel something whenever engaging with my work. I never want someone to view my work and carry on; I work to leave a lasting effect on that individual.

To watch Aaron’s reel click here.