With an impressive commercial directing portfolio — including work for Amazon, Phillips, VH1, and Park Hyatt — Josh Hayward is an expert at bringing creative visions to life. So when he ran into a snag while working on his own project, the Staff Picked short “Muay Thai,” he knew how to get things back on track.
“I put together a deck to inspire myself and the people I was collaborating with,” he says. “Essentially, that’s the process most commercial directors have to go through to win a project anyway. Holding myself to the same standard was hugely beneficial; it helped me get people on board, get them excited, and communicate what I was trying to do.”
For more on Josh’s commercial and personal work, check out his Creator Spotlight interview above. (Edited excerpts from the interview appear below.)
How did you get into film?
My path to being a director started in high school. I was playing in a band and needed posters. That led to doing a lot of design work, and then I went to college for graphic design. From there, I got a job at a company called Digital Kitchen. They do title sequences and a mix of motion graphics and live action work. Film brought everything I loved about design and music together in a more real, tangible way.
From there, I was mostly working on documentary stuff — me and a 5D out somewhere. I slowly built up a roster of clients and people who wanted to work with me. Now I make my living as a commercial director; more and more, I’m looking to get into music videos and short narrative stuff. I want to continue branching out into whatever forms those films take.
How do you approach sound in your films?
Every project I work on, I realize how essential the right music is to creating the tone that’s in my head. With my two most recent films, “Muay Thai” and “Still/Life,” tone is a really essential piece. I’m still working towards more narrative projects, and I look forward to doing that more in the future, but right now what really excites me is creating a world that envelops viewers. Audio is an essential piece of that.
Tell us about your Staff Picked film “Muay Thai.”
The idea for “Muay Thai” came from a commercial project I did for the Los Angeles International Airport, where we filmed things that were culturally specific to Bangkok. Through that project, I went to a muay thai gym on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. The things these boxers were putting themselves through and the expertise they had was astounding.
These were the best boxers in Bangkok, and the center of muay thai fighting in the world. “Muay Thai” came out of my being there and thinking, I want to come back here. I want to tell a more in-depth story.
What was your process for making this film?
This project went through a number of iterations. It was very low budget, in this great place, telling this person’s story. I cut that piece together, and found it somewhat underwhelming. I wanted to do something a bit more stylized, more visually elevated, so I basically scrapped that edit, called the producer, and was like, “Hey, I want to take a different approach.”
After that, I brought on this super young Thai DP. He was 20 years old, fresh out of film school, and down to approach it with everything we had. That was great. Building a core team of Thai filmmakers and working with them, I was able to tell a much more interesting and stylized story. It was (as most of my work is) using real people and places, but taking a more considered approach rather than just showing up and shooting whatever happens to be there. Creating these moments that are true to reality, but at the same time have visual consideration to make them look as good as they can.
Why was “Muay Thai” an important story for you to tell?
“Muay Thai” was important because of how inspired I felt when I was in the space. For a lot of the work that I’m drawn to, location is a huge part of it. It’s almost the starting point for an idea. It was also about showcasing this little sub-culture of Bangkok that is quickly disappearing. Creating “Muay Thai” was an opportunity to create a little time capsule of this world and share it with other people, while also making something that I can revisit for myself as well.
What advice would you give filmmakers who want to push themselves and make better films?
For me, a big moment was figuring out what sorts of projects I wanted to work on and what I wanted my work to look like. I’m sure the experience I had with the first run of “Muay Thai” is true for most filmmakers — the feeling of finishing a piece and be dissatisfied with some aspect of it. The way I re-approached that project was to get specific about the visuals and editorial sequences that were missing from Version A.
What was your first Staff Pick?
My first Staff Pick was a film called “A Girl’s Life.” It followed a 10-year-old girl named Unes who went to an all girls school in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a little bit about the school, and also just about what it’s like to grow up there.
What does Vimeo mean to you?
Getting an audience, basically. That’s what we’re doing, right? We’re trying to share work with people. Getting the Staff Pick definitely helped my film find an audience. With “A Girl’s Life,” I remember I was in the process of moving and my phone started blowing up. It took me a half an hour to realize that something had happened because it was the first time I’d ever really gotten exposure on a piece. It was amazing. It’s great to feel like your work is connecting with people — especially for a project like that, that has a cause behind it that I believe in.
Video by Ashley Maas.