But when the opportunity to work for VTR presented itself, he had little hesitation in relocating to London and using the company's facilities to put a showreel together. Since then, Brown has worked on a number of music videos for artists including Faithless, Finley Quaye and Tori Amos.
In 1997, he was voted the best new director at the creative and design awards.
His 2002 projects include a comic spot for Eurostar France, a commercial for Coca-Cola Europe and two pieces for Ariel France.
More recently he has produced work for the PlayStation game "Getaway" and, of course, "that ad" featuring Justin Timberlake.
A vegetarian for more than 25 years, Brown wrestled with his morals before agreeing to film the "I'm lovin' it" worldwide brand campaign for McDonald's by the German agency Heye & Partner.
It was shot between Brazil, Prague, Singapore, Johannesburg and London on a range of cameras including 35mm, Super 8, DV and video. "My inspiration was to try and make it look more human," he says. "The ad is meant to feel a bit more jumbled, less pre-conceived, and using different cameras was the logical way to achieve that.
"Most of McDonald's previous work is shiny, so this time we were aiming for something that was a bit more real and I think that we have succeeded.
The idea behind The Getaway for the PlayStation was to capture what it would really be like to be in that game. It was the most expensive and realistic game out and we tried to recreate it on the streets of London.
"At the time we created the Eurostar ads, sales were down, so we wanted to do something that was fresh and appealed to young people. Within a month, the number of French people travelling to the UK has increased by 100 per cent."
James Brown was talking to Rachel Gardner.