TBB Talks To … Aaron Bishop Director Of Short Film Playing With Fire

Journalist-turned-director, Aaron Bishop’s debut short film has been a revelation on the festival circuit…

It has been screened at the UK Monthly Film Festival and The London Independent Film Festival garnering acclaim for its authenticity, intricate storytelling and for sparking conversations about the existence of morality in London gang culture.

In an exclusive interview with The British Blacklist, the South London filmmaker opened up about his creative influences, funding his own project and actors he hopes to work with in the future (yes, Denzel Washington is one of them!)…

Please introduce yourself…

My name is Aaron Bishop, I’m a writer, director, journalist and generally all-around creative person. There’s not much within the creative field that I haven’t at least tried. For the last six years, I’ve built my career as a music and culture journalist, interviewing everyone from Dizzee Rascal and Big Sean to Daniel Kaluuya and Central Cee, so I’ve definitely tried to operate at the highest level I possibly can.

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now?

This is God’s plan, you could never understand.

Congratulations on your debut film Playing With Fire. There’s probably never an easy time to take the leap and make your first project, but during a pandemic must be up there as one of the most challenging! Why did you decide that this was the best time for you to bring your vision to life?

I was at a point where I wasn’t working due to the pandemic and I was no longer being productive with my time. I had a few deep conversations with people close to me and I realised that we will probably never get this much “free” time again in our lifetimes. I didn’t want to look back at what I did or what I could have done and regret it. Filmmaking has been one of my dreams since childhood, but no one is going to just hand you a million-dollar budget. I needed to get experience and making shorts seemed like the logical first step. When I came up with the plot for Playing With Fire and wrote the script, I knew it was the one. It honestly felt like God was guiding me from there.

Calum Carr as Calvin – Playing With Fire

You’ve previously spoken about being in control of many aspects of the creative process (writing, directing, etc) and also funding your own work. Were both decisions intentional or born out of necessity?

I would say a little bit of both. I knew from the beginning I wanted to both write and direct. I didn’t see the point in trusting someone else with my vision for the film when I felt like – with enough preparation – I had the ability to do it myself. But in terms of funding, I did consider applying for some, but in most cases, I found that they wanted to see examples of previous work, of which I had none. So I felt like I needed to take control of as many aspects of the production as I could, at least the first time around – not only to prove to myself that I could do it but also to prove to other people in the future that I’m somebody worth taking a chance on in this space, despite my lack of experience.

How did you go about selecting the group of people to work alongside you on this project?

I really tried to do my due diligence as if it was a feature or an interview I was doing. I watched a lot of short films, both in the UK and overseas. I spoke to trusted people in my network and asked for recommendations. And I spent probably hours scrolling through social media and YouTube looking at who had worked on what, what kind of prices people charge, how much crew I would need etc. In the end, it all came together really organically and the team really believed in me and my vision as a first-time filmmaker. I even cast my friends in a few roles. It was a real guerrilla-style production, but one thing I refused to compromise on no matter what was quality.

In recent years, the hood genre has gone from underground to mainstream, but it isn’t often handled with care or delivered in a way that authentically reflects the lived experience of that community. Were you mindful of this when you made Playing With Fire?

As someone who grew up as part of that community, I don’t think it’s something I had to be mindful of. You don’t have to try to be authentic, you either are or you’re not. I wanted to make a thriller that just so happened to be set in the hood. The hood wasn’t the main draw of the film. I know that the mainstream media has often been accused of glamourising the genre and some of the more distasteful but still very real experiences of people living in those environments. But for me, I just wanted to tell a story with real characters, so by definition they had to have real motivations and reasons for their actions. And so as a writer, I think the only thing I had to be mindful of was the “why” of every character, and as a director, the “how“. “How can I bring that to life on screen through the visual choices I make?” But I think I managed to do that.

I’ve heard that you grew up watching soaps like EastEnders. Playing With Fire definitely feels like it borrows from the same storytelling aesthetic (e.g. dramatic tension and whodunnit). What are some of the influences on your work that people would find most surprising?

​I think we’ve all grown up in some way or another on Eastenders, especially as a Londoner. Those Christmas specials used to be iconic! I don’t think it will be surprising once I say it, but David Fincher is probably one of my biggest influences in terms of directing. Him and Quentin Tarantino. There are others but I’d say they’re the main two. I love the way Fincher builds tension in films like Panic Room and the way he subverts the audience’s expectations in films like Gone Girl and Seven. You can tell I like a good thriller! And something he shares with Tarantino is the way they build these memorable and authentic worlds and characters with so much personality and detail. It’s not always in your face either. A lot of it is very subtle. You can also add Scorsese and Vince Gilligan in there for similar reasons, although Gilligan is for the television masterpieces that are Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

L-R: Calum Carr as Calvin & Mohammed Mansaray as Jay – Playing With Fire

Given your flourishing career as a journalist, did you ever fear that people wouldn’t be open to accepting your transition into filmmaking?

Not really to be honest, because I didn’t do it for people. I did it for me. For the love of the craft. Of course, I want people to see my work, but this was something I did for myself. Some of the greatest pieces of art might not have been made if people had listened to what other people said. Sometimes you have to show people the vision for them to get it and understand it. And when you know yourself well enough there’s nobody who can tell you what you are or aren’t capable of.

For example, there were people who told me I wouldn’t make it to university, but I did. I believe I can achieve whatever I put my mind to and if there are people who don’t accept it, they’ll either catch on later or they weren’t meant to be part of the journey and that’s okay too! I haven’t given up journalism either. At my core, I’m just someone who has a strong appreciation for the written word, in all its forms.

This one is a three-part question! If you had unlimited resources, what genre would you like to explore; which actors/actresses would you like to work with and where would you want to film it?

This is a hard one. Thrillers are my go-to film but with an unlimited budget, I think it would have to be a Spielberg-style family movie that gives you the feels as if we were back in the 90s. A lot of movies don’t have that soul anymore. Or maybe a superhero movie. I’d love to do a grittier, more grounded version of the Suicide Squad or even a Batman Beyond or Spider-Man 2099.

In terms of actors/actresses, I think working with the GOAT Denzel would be an honour. I also really love Jack O’Connell, Jake Gyllenhaal and Daniel Kaluuya. And finally, the location would be whatever the script demands, I don’t really have a dream destination to shoot a film but desert scenes always look stunning – probably a nightmare to shoot though!

Outside of directing and writing, you also made a brief, yet important cameo appearance in your film. Is acting the next career path that you’re considering venturing into?

​Acting is something I’ve done from a young age. At one point it was a career path I thought about as a possibility to pursue. Even though my cameo has received a lot of love, to me it still wasn’t as good as I know it could’ve been from an acting perspective. If I was to properly venture into acting in bigger roles, I’d want to take acting classes again and hone my skills. For now, though, I think I’m happy with the odd cameo. I love when directors appear in their own films: Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino…the list goes on.

Getting To Know You…

  • A book you have to have in your collection? The Four Agreements

  • A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Cozz – Grow

  • A film / TV show that you will watch whenever it’s on repeatedly? Shrek

  • Something you saw on stage that left a lasting impact? Wicked (is my favourite stage production that I’ve seen because of the unique take on The Wizard of Oz mythos and the spectacle of it all. It really transports you to another world and has the “wow-factor” a west end show should have.)

What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Can I say my girlfriend? I’m joking, I’ve had a good week. I’m glad to be doing this interview with you!


Playing With Fire is available to watch https://youtu.be/_3ghYHHPhSE

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