At the age of 20, Dallas based cinematographer, Aaron Lawson has managed to accomplish what is an impressive videography reel for his age and has given himself six more years to do it.
“Life is too short to stick to something so when I’m done with video in six years from now, I want to get a pilot license and become a professional pilot,” said Lawson.
In just 2021, he has filmed US tour concert recaps for Rema, Adekunle Gold, Davido and most recently a dance video for Poco Lee. Prior to this year, Lawson’s expertise catered mostly to the real estate, commercials, and event recaps.
After being booked by DJ Rocket for a show, he decided to take a stab at concert videos. It was this event that put Rema’s manager on his radar. Later, he got booked by local afro-fusion artist, Jerzeyson, who happened to open for Davido. Lawson decided to film a recap for Davido as well and sent it to the promoters involved. Once Davido’s team decided to use it, this opened the door for Lawson as the go-to cinematographer for Nigerian artists touring in Dallas this year.
Although he appears to have an early track record, Lawson’s journey started when he arrived in the United States from Nigeria at 11. He finished high school at 15 and while in high school had the chance to work with his brother, Arnold Lawson, a well-known wedding cinematographer in Dallas. He’s been doing cinematography since the age of 13 and has now produced a film called Anchored in addition to his other work.
Apart from cinematography, Lawson started a scholarship called the African Immigrant Scholarship to help fund education and business plans for immigrants that may not necessarily be able to get help because of their status. Also, he participated in the End Sars rally in Dallas and was named “voice of the Nigerian youth”.
In this interview, we spoke with Lawson about his career journey and how he’s navigating it as an immigrant:
How did you get into cinematography?
I started to live with my brother at 13 and he explained how the rent was expensive and I needed to get a job. He asked if I wanted to work at McDonald’s or work with him at weddings. I ended up starting to help him from the age of 13 so we shot a lot of weddings together. I hate weddings. Weddings are not my thing. There is way too much going on all day. You can’t miss one thing. So I started shooting weddings, and I didn’t like it. So I was just like, I’m not gonna be a videographer. Let me continue to chase school so I went to college for real estate so I can become a real estate agent. I didn’t like school either. Then a client from one of the weddings I worked at asked if I would like to shoot houses for real estate and that’s how it started. I dropped out of school because it wasn’t worth it and I don’t plan on being an agent. I also had to pay international student tuition because of my status.
What are the differences between what you normally shoot and a wedding? What don’t you like about weddings?
The main difference is a wedding is a one-time thing and you can’t change what you recorded. If the bride is walking down the aisle you can’t say, ‘oh everybody pause let’s rewind.’ Let’s let the bride go back again. If something happens with real estate, you can go reshoot the house because the house will still be there.
What other resources did you use to learn video?
For video, I would probably say my mentor Noble Madu. He taught me the greatest piece of advice. He said nobody really shops for video because the videos are cool. They want to know a story and they want to know the person behind the story. When I was younger, I didn’t understand what he was saying. It was like three years ago that it really started to hit like people are really buying videos based on your personality, and how good your storytelling is. On my Instagram, I never post any of my videos because all of my business to this day has been word of mouth. I always make sure that I leave a good impression wherever I’m shooting. All my clients to this day are by word of mouth.
What about music videos? Is this something you would shoot?
I usually tell people, I don’t shoot music videos and that’s because music videos too, is just a hectic thing for me. I help out my friends and I see how stressed out they are at the end of the shoot. A music video has too many moving parts and the artists reaching out usually don’t have the budget for the moving parts. They will have an idea but the budget is not right behind it. So you want me to skydive, and you want the camera to be on your head but you’re offering $400? I can’t risk my camera for fun.
However, I’m a huge fan of Chance the Rapper. My friend Ben, who does videos full time, was working with Chance the Rapper and I listen to him heavily. He knew I was a big fan and asked if I would be the creative director of the shoot. I dropped everything and I was there. This was for his music video with 10k cash, a Dallas rapper for the song called Me and My Friends.
What are some challenges you’ve faced?
My biggest challenge to this day is my age. In the video world, they believe that the older you are, the more you know. A 40-year-old man can start filming today and he’ll get more clients than me because of his age. A lot of people have a hard time believing in the fact that I know what I’m doing just because of my age. I’m always having to prove myself to every single client, which is no problem for me. I love challenges like that.