Creatives In Conversation: How content creator James Corbett flexes his creative muscles by practicing what he preaches.
James Corbett realized early on in his career that the best way to learn something is through taking direct action. After first picking up a camera over a decade ago, his passion for visual storytelling hasn't wavered since, leading him to exploring different forms of self-expression through the medium. Whether through making music videos to accompany instrumentals he'd produce or through studying online tutorials late into the night after working his day job, James was eager to learn more about the ins and outs of the craft by way of diving right into it.
Currently, as the president of the independent production company Big Blue Ox, James lends his talents and expertise to a variety of brands and clients, working to amplify their messaging in thoughtful, memorable and creative ways through video. His company is focused on creating content tailored to a YouTube and social audience, weaving between different content verticals such as branded, documentary, commercial and episodic, to name a few. With a vested interest in athletes, entertainers and extraordinary humans in general, Big Blue Ox has happily worked with the likes of Netflix, Disney, Wawa, NBC Sports, Old Spice, LEGO, IBM and the NFL, among others.
Drawing inspiration from the classic American folklore of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox, James' company comes to life when partnering with those who understand and support both his vision and enthusiasm for producing quality content. As exemplified by his diverse and vibrant portfolio, James places immense value on the art of creative partnerships, especially since working with others is an open opportunity to learn something new and try different things. While traveling to Los Angeles and taking a break from the wintery weather of the East Coast where the Big Blue Ox HQ is located, James stopped by DropLabs to talk more about what drives him as a creative.
How would you explain the DropLabs experience to your friends?
That's a good question. They are a unique product and there isn't something like them out there so honestly the selling point for me is simply to try them on. The best way to describe it is like a subwoofer in your shoes. That's probably literally what it is, but that's how I liken it. You literally can feel the pulse of a subwoofer working your feet and it actually translates through to the rest of your body.
I listen to a lot of music but one of my favorite things and actually the reason I still go to movie theaters a lot of the time is for the sound system. I really like loud movies. From the couch, it gave me that feeling of being in surround sound, like in a booming iMax theatre almost, but I was sitting. It had the same sort of physical effect, which to me, is a huge payoff. That's a game changer for me.
What do you do for a living and what helped you get started?
I run a production slash creative agency called Big Blue Ox. But really what that means is I'm working on all the creative production side of social and working on behalf of publishers and brands, heavily leaning into social and video content.
I started out more in the commercial world. I started out as a video editor but I would say over the last five years, I leaned heavily into just the social side of things. I was working for a company for three years called Whistle Sports, which is basically, or at least it was when I started, more of a start-up sports media company that partnered with social influencers and YouTubers to create content. That brought me into the world of social and understanding a bit about how it works and how to create specifically for it.
My background is in all things production like shooting, editing, producing, directing. Throughout my career, I have freelanced on the side and done a lot of consulting work with other people. Two years ago, I left Whistle Sports. I jumped out and started Big Blue Ox, which now is working with a range of brands, publishers and individual content creators.
Is there an early memory you’d like to share about when you first discovered some of your passions?
I've always thought of what I do now as a hobby when I was growing up. I was an artistic kid but ended up going to college for business and English. I put the visual arts side away, just thinking that it wasn't really a viable career. After I graduated, for my first job out of college, I was a life insurance salesman, believe it or not. That was a really interesting experience, mainly because it led me to say, 'Okay, f--k that, I know I don't want to do this.' It gave me license to go and try something else.
Essentially, I would work my full-time job and then I would just edit videos all night long. I'd be online learning from different tutorials and I'd start going out on weekends to film stuff just so I could cut it together into like the worst music video you've ever seen of just the worst footage ever. [Laughs] I would make the beats for it and everything but it was just like my creative outlet for this job that I felt was soul-sucking. No shots at life insurance salesmen; I think that's a viable path for a lot of people but it wasn't for me. I just felt myself gravitating towards this other career.
Can you recall a moment of recognition where you felt clarity in your path or purpose as a creative?
I think we all do it when we're younger, but I remember I took a sick day just so I could stay home and edit this video. By my standard's today, the video is unwatchable but I remember at the time feeling so passionate about it. It was this bootleg music video that I created the song for and I went out and just filmed cars on the road, you know what I mean. But I was stoked about it. That was the same day I applied for this internship in New York. This is 10 years ago now but I do remember that as bit of an inflection point of like either I'm going to try to turn this into a career or I'm not, because I know that it just doesn't feel like work and I can get lost in it. That was a pivotal moment for me.
What do you do to get into your creative zone?
It's funny because both of the things that I do lend themselves to DropLabs. I move around and I listen to music. Those are the two things that get my mind going the most and get me into the most creative space possible. I'm pretty active and I do a lot of road cycling. It's engaging when you're doing it but it also gives you time to just think. When I'm moving and I get my blood flowing, I'll spend hours at my bike just thinking. That's one of the best ways to get out there creatively, or just take a walk and listen to music. Those are the two biggest things for me.
What words of wisdom would you like to pass along to someone first starting out in your field?
It's actually weird advice but I work with a lot of people who are just starting out and I think of myself back then too. I worked for a lot of people who you can learn a lot from. The person who mentored me when I was first starting out was really big on process.
My advice is to treat it as a profession and make sure you've really got your shit together. Be really buttoned up and organized. I know that's a weird thing to say creatively but it actually enables you to be creative, especially for what we're doing. I would say to really take the time to build strong fundamentals and figure out what your process is. Once you've spent that time and really honed in on your process and you can sort of replicate it, you'll inevitably be able to grow and be successful. You have to be Tim Duncan before you go out and be Russell Westbrook or James Harden.
What do you aim to accomplish next in your career?
I think the next real thing is getting more into the world of original content. That usually falls by the wayside for a lot of companies like mine, which are doing a lot of client work. I think original content is the best way to continually flex your creative muscles and also practice what you preach. Going into meetings and telling people, 'You should be doing this, you should be doing that,' and then being able to showcase that on your own is really helpful.
As innovators by design, the team behind DropLabs Technology is dedicated to supporting and elevating members of the creative community. Together, we aim to serve as a platform highlighting different creators as they work towards achieving visionary excellence and inspiring others along their path. To nominate a creative leader you’d like to see highlighted on our website, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.