From Blackpool to Hollywood: award-winning Lancashire filmmaker Brad James talks inspiration, style, and overcoming self-doubt

Brad James used to be all about the music. Having played since he was 10, he dreamed of being a session musician performing on stage with all the top artists. At 16, he was all set to go to college to study music performance. Then his older brother showed him a film.

By Jack Marshall
Monday, 30th May 2022, 12:15 pm
Updated Monday, 6th June 2022, 8:07 am

“It was called Planet Terror,” says Brad, now 30. “It’s a bit cheesy, but the director Robert Rodriguez wrote the music and the script for the film as well as directing and, as soon as I found out about that, I watched all the behind-the-scenes stuff and thought ‘I want to do that’.

“I felt this immediate fascination and desire to learn more about this incredible industry,” adds Brad, from Blackpool. “I changed from music performance to studying media production and haven’t stopped since. My eyes were opened.

“I used my first camera at Blackpool Sixth Form and it was one of the greatest things ever - I was introduced to this world of visuals,” Brad explains, passion rising in his voice. “It changed everything.”

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Brad James at the Odeon NYFA Awards (Credit P16 agency)

Growing up in a small seaside town in the North West of England, however, is hardly conducive to dreams of Hollywood. But, no matter how far-fetched and lofty his ambitions seemed, Brad had a deep well of inner determination upon which to draw.

Determination which has served him well: last year, Brad won 14 awards and his films were showcased at 20 film festivals across the globe, from New York and LA to Milan, Florence, and London. But more of that later. First, we’re going back to Blackpool.

“What initially appealed to me about filmmaking was that I knew it would be a lifelong education,” says Brad. “It wasn’t just script-writing, lighting, music, or cinematography, it was everything so, at school, I really started analysing films and comparing them to mine.

“I’d be constantly asking myself ‘what are they doing that I’m not?’,” explains Brad, who, after college, went on to study at Westminster Film School in London. “Through my studies, I was exposed to people with a real love for different genres and styles, which was great.”

Brad getting to grips with the camera in 2010

After graduating from Westminster, Brad stayed in the capital, working for Sky and helping launch Now TV, and at E!. Inspired by the city’s architecture and history, he fell in love with photography, exploring composition, light, and framing.

He also had something of an epiphany.

“My perspective changed,” Brad says definitively. “I realised it’s not just about making a film, it’s about the art behind why something looks good, whether that’s through the script-writing or the visuals which would make my work stand out and keep people watching.

“In terms of my own style at the time, I’d grown up watching a lot of music videos and I always thought they were so creative on what were usually relatively small budgets,” he continues. “They were such good examples of surreal and experimental expressionism.

Brad James in 2005

“That influence gave my work a certain stylish flourish and, in terms of things which I find myself coming back to, my visual style even now involves a lot of symmetry, composed cinematography, balance, framing, and slow-motion, which I’ve fallen in love with.”

As well as an infectious passion for film, the other thing which defines Brad is his hunger. Admitting that he initially found script-writing tricky, he approached the issue with uncanny resolve, hitting the books to learn how to improve and never shirking constructive criticism.

But being so necessarily vulnerable in exposing his creative efforts also has its pitfalls.

“It’s about getting your work to the point where you’re happy with it but, even then, you’ve got to get feedback,” he explains. “Filmmaking has been great for me to shed my ego and listening to others’ great ideas, often better ideas than my own, has been really good.

Brad James in 2017

“Feedback is crucial, but putting your stuff out there means you’re vulnerable, which is where self-doubt can creep in,” he adds. “I’ve always had really bad anxiety - I’m always waking up in the morning before a shoot thinking ‘should I cancel? Should I injure myself?’

“It’s really bad, but you just have to keep pushing through it and, by the end of the day, I always look back and I’ve had a good time and I know I’ve done good work,” Brad continues. “That helps me slightly convince myself that, the next time I have anxiety, it’s all in my head.

“Putting parts of yourself out there for other people to judge - writing, filming, music - is constant but, over the past five years, I’ve started to realise that that self-doubt is always going to be there. But that little voice in my head isn’t necessarily negative.”

What do you mean? I ask.

“It never says ‘I’m not good enough’, it’s my subconscious saying ‘you need to practise harder, read harder, work harder, and learn harder so that you can be better’. That element of self-doubt isn’t negative because I can use it to look introspectively.”

Harnessing his self-doubt as a tool to ensure he is the best version of himself he can be, Brad’s career exploded in 2021 with the aforementioned slate of accolades confirming to others what he himself always knew deep down: that here was a talented filmmaker.

Brad James in 2012

A certain award of which Brad is particularly proud is the Phil Méheux Award for Best Cinematographer, which he won at the Odeon/NYFA Film Awards for Forgotten, a picture Brad wrote and directed himself.

Having worked on films such as Casino Royale, GoldenEye, Mask Of Zorro, Legend Of Zorro, Green Lantern, Bicentennial Man, and Edge Of Darkness, Méheux has always been a source of inspiration for Brad, who called winning the award an ‘amazing peak to the year’.

“After all those years of working hard and pushing past things like self-doubt, to be able to get all those awards was a real gratification,” he says. “It’s crazy: I’ve literally had anxiety about my cinematography, so to win an award for best cinematographer is incredible.

“It makes me look back at that inner monologue which was constantly asking ‘is this for you?’ and answer ‘yes, this is for me’,” he adds. “And others can see it now too, it’s not just me convincing myself. That’s so nice. It arms me with the tools to manage future self-doubt.”

Having described the film industry as like a rollercoaster, Brad is undoubtedly riding high at the moment. Just hours after we speak, he’s due in a series of meetings with a couple of international film studios about a feature film he’s set to direct next year.

“It’s a dream-come-true,” he says simply about the film. “I’m so glad that it’s a dream I chased. My goal was to make a feature film when I was 30 - I’ve had what I needed to do planned out down to the month for years - so it’s a uniquely cool feeling to be here.

“I’m confident I’m on the right path now rather than always being worried about where things will go,” he adds, having also just won the Jury Award for Best Short Film at the Cannes Independent Film Festival. “It’s spurred me on to work as hard as I can to make sure this year is even better than last year and the most exciting part is that none of this is a dream anymore.

“It just goes to show that, when you follow a passion, good things happen,” Brad says. “Keep believing, you’ll get there.”

Brad James on set in 2016
Brad James in 2013
Brad working on Forgotten Credit New Tribe Pictures
Scene from Brad James' film Forgotten (Credit New Tribe Pictures)