It was not along ago that there were only a couple paths to the director’s chair on a studio lot. Many went to film school and did time toiling for Roger Corman, while others jumped over from another profession within the industry. (Joel Schumacher, for example, began as a costume designer.) In the ’80s, there suddenly was a new way to get into the game – use a music video as your calling card.
Now, of course, we’re at the point where people receive job offers after posting a clip to YouTube (Lasse Gjertsen, who made the live stop-motion clips “Hyperactive” and “Amateur,” has received several offers of employment, but has turned them all down), and the music video path is now a well-worn road. Indeed, there are two movies coming out in the next few weeks (“Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network”) that were helmed by men who got their start telling rock stars to act like rock stars, which inspired us to take a look at the more prominent directors of the music video world and track their success. The lesson we learned: even when someone has so many small successes, it only takes one big disappointment to kill them. (Big, big shoutout to the good people at the Music Video Database for helping to clear the cob webs, as well as opening our eyes on just how prolific some of these directors were.)
You know it’s a Julien Temple video when: The entire piece looks like it was filmed in one giant tracking shot. (Look closer – the edits are there.)
Breakout video: ABC’s “Poison Arrow,” and the short film “Mantrap” the band made in conjunction with their (spectacular) album The Lexicon of Love.
Big screen debut: Temple is the only one on this list whose feature film debut came before his music video debut, though some would argue – and we wouldn’t disagree – that the movie in question, the Sex Pistols “documentary” “The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle,” is actually just a long-form music video.
Best Temple video you never saw: Paul McCartney, “Beautiful Night,” from Macca’s Flaming Pie album. Gorgeous, and the tune is a good one, too.
You know it’s a Russell Mulcahy video when: Dozens of extras are wearing body paint, or when a prop nearly kills Simon Le Bon. In slow motion.
Breakout video: Mulcahy was arguably the first “name” director of the music video world, helping clips for Ultravox, Kim Carnes and the Tubes – and, let us not forget, the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first video MTV ever played – but it was the clip for Duran Duran’s“Hungry Like the Wolf,” along with the other videos he shot for the songs from Rio, that made him a household name…with music geeks like us, anyway.
Big screen debut: “Razorback,” a monster movie about, yep, a bloodthirsty Australian pig. Mulcahy’s luck on the big screen changed two years later when he made the cult classic “Highlander”…then lost some luster when he made “Highlander II: The Quickening.”
Best Mulcahy video you never saw: “The Flame,” the overlooked third single from Duran Duran spinoff group Arcadia. Le Bon is in full Barry Bostwick mode as he attends a fancy dinner party and the hosts try to kill him Agatha Christie-style.
You know it’s a Steve Barron video when: Everyone looks like they’ve been Xeroxed.
Breakout video: Barron didn’t become a name director until his game-changing clips for a-ha’s “Take on Me” and Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” but what will surprise many is that he helmed nearly every high-rotation clip between 1981 and 1983 that wasn’t directed by Russell Mulcahy. Toto’s “Rosanna” and “Africa,” the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me” were all directed by Barron. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t nominate the one-two punch of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as Barron’s first big moments.
Big screen debut: “Electric Dreams,” where a geek and his self-aware computer (don’t ask) both fall in love with the same woman (Virginia Madsen, boiiiiiiing). His next film project would be his biggest, if a tad creatively dubious. Yep, we’re talking about 1990’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Best Barron video you never saw: Supertramp’s “Better Days,” where a boy is pulled from stock footage from the ’30s (you know, the reverse of “Take on Me”) and shown the future by two strange mimes.
You know it’s an Andrew Morahan video when: Half of it is shot from a helicopter
Breakout video: Morahan got his close-up when he made those epic clips to go with the epic tracks from Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion albums, but he was right in the thick of it during MTV’s salad days. And as much as it pains us to even type the words, the simple fact is that one of the first videos Morahan made was the day-glo-tastic “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!
Big screen debut: “Highlander: The Final Dimension.” And if directing the third “Highlander” wasn’t enough, Morahan also directed “Goal! III,” a straight-to-DVD release with a user review that says, “This movie ruined the Goal franchise!” Frankly, Morahan deserves better than this. Those Guns ‘n’ Roses clips were incredible.
Best Morahan video you never saw: Eddie Reader’s “Town Without Pity.” Burlesque dancers, yum.
You know it’s a David Fincher video when: It’s so gorgeous you want to have sex with it.
Breakout video: Not surpriisingly, Fincher came screaming out of the gate when his debut clip was one of the first videos that MTV promoted as a world premiere, showing it every hour on the hour for a good week. The video? Yes, well, that’s the funny part. It was “Bop ‘Til You Drop,” by Rick Springfield.
Big screen debut: The man has made some of the greatest movies of the past 15 years, but his feature film debut was the proverbial nightmare. Ladies and gentlemen, “Alien 3.” (Man, what is it with music video directors and threequels?) And if you’re smart, you won’t ask him about the experience. Unless, of course, you actually want to have your balls kicked up into your stomach.
Best Fincher video you never saw: Our first choice for this was Madonna’s “Oh Father,” arguably Fincher’s best video (the shadow work at the end is chilling, plus Madonna has never looked better), but the damn thing can’t be embedded. (You can see the clip here.) So instead, we’re plugging one of our favorite no-hit wonders from the ’80s, the Stabilizers’ “One Simple Thing.” Shoulda been a hit, this one.
You know it’s a Anton Corbijn video when: Someone’s walking slowly through a black and white desert.
Breakout video: Corbijn spent most of the ’80s as a photographer who dabbled in music video (U2 and Depeche Mode wouldn’t leave the house without him), and while his oddball clips for the singles from Depeche’s Music for the Masses were the first clips he had made that received regular airplay, his watershed moment is unquestionably the video for “Enjoy the Silence,” where a royally dressed Dave Gahan walks, and walks, and walks, until he finds a nice place to sit down.
Big screen debut: In no hurry to make the jump to the big screen, Corbijn bided his time until a passion project presented itself: “Control,” the 2007 biopic about Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. It wasn’t a blockbuster, but it was good enough to convince George Clooney to star in his next movie, the recently released “The American.” And if you can get Clooney to be in your movie, you must be doing something right.
Best Corbijn video you never saw: Travis’ “Re-Offender,” with a bullet. Shooting in color for a change, the clip shows Fran Healy and the boys slowly getting sick of each other on a tour and beating the shit out of each other between gigs, ending with a ’25 guys, 25 cabs’ kind of arrangement.
You know it’s a Michael Bay video when: The token females are all smoking hot and soaking wet.
Breakout video: Easily the most successful director on this list (at least commercially if not creatively), the first clip to get Mr. Blow Shit Up some serious airplay was Slaughter’s “Up All Night,” which is fitting considering the song’s overblown production fits Bay’s overblown directorial style. That pairing pales, however, in comparison to the one that would mark Bay’s springboard to the big leagues: he directed three videos from Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell. Well, of course those videos were directed by Bay.
Big screen debut: The Will Smith/Martin Lawrence buddy cop movie “Bad Boys,” which still strikes us as the most improbable hit of the last 20 years. It’s the kind of movie that makes money after another, better movie has already made empty-headed Jerry Bruckheimer actioners cool again, not the one that actually makes them cool. Now, that Verizon ad he did a couple years ago, that was cool. Or should we say, awesome.
Best Bay video you never saw: Bay’s best hidden gem will simply have to wait, kids. Instead, bask in the hip hop mellow gold that is Vanilla Ice’s “I Love You.” That high-pitched sound you hear out your window is LL Cool J laughing his ass off. (Click here to watch the video.)
You know it’s a Mark Romanek video when: Someone’s spinning in circles as if they’re in a zero-gravity chamber.
Breakout video: The short answer to this is Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” but the truth is that Romanek has made about a dozen breakout videos, from kd lang’s “Constant Craving” to Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” to En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind.” And later, he made more standout clips, including the mother of all heartbreakers, Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.” Oh, and he also made the most expensive video of all time – and won a Grammy for his troubles – with his clip for Michael & Janet Jackson’s “Scream.” Throw in Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” Eels’ “Novacaine for the Soul” and Beck’s “Devils Haircut,” and it’s safe to say that you can call nearly all of Romanek’s videos a breakout clip. And we still haven’t mentioned our favorite…
Big screen debut: “One Hour Photo” (2002), where a deranged Robin Williams developed the photos of a housewise and imagined himself as her knight in shining armor.
Best Romanek video you never saw: Truth be told, you’ve probably seen this video a bunch of times, but you’re nuts if you think we’re not using this spot to pimp the Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug,” which is arguably Romanek’s finest hour.
You know it’s a Spike Jonze video when: You start to question your sanity
Breakout video: With all due respect to the Breeders’ “Cannonball,” is there any question that the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” was the clip that put Spike on the map? When one of R.E.M.’s videos was put in the Best Video of the Year category by MTV, Michael Stipe laughed and said that “Sabotage” was the best video of the year, hands down. We’re loath to disagree with him.
Big screen debut: “Being John Malkovich,” the 1999 mind-bender where John Cusack finds a portal into John Malkovich’s head.
Best Jonze video you never saw: We were going to put the Pharcyde’s all-backwards “Drop” here, but with nearly two and a half million plays on YouTube, that clip is hardly a “lost” video. Instead, we’ll go with Elastica’s “Car Song,” where the band are ghostbusters in Japan. (You read that right.) Plus, Justine Frischmann’s in red leather. Any questions?
You know it’s a Michel Gondry video when: People have abnormally-sized body parts
Breakout video: Unquestionably Lucas’ “Lucas with the Lid Off,” where Gondry puts every single one of his oddball directorial tendencies on full display. The one-take aspect was a bonus, though.
Big screen debut: If you thought he pulled a Corbijn and waited until a can’t-miss project came his way…well, you’re just like us. All this time, we were sure that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was Gondry’s theatrical debut, but it was in fact “Human Nature,” an early Charlie Kaufman script about a love triangle that revolves around a man raised by apes. That sounds like a Kaufman script to us.
Best Gondry video you never saw: Thomas Dolby’s “Close but No Cigar,” which features some of the best FX work of any video made in 1992 or prior. The song also features Eddie Van Halen on guitar, if you can believe that. And you should, because it’s true. (Click here to watch the video.)
You know it’s a Jonathan Glazer video when: The floor moves beneath your feet. Or is it the walls that are moving?
Breakout video: Glazer probably has the smallest resume of anyone here, but when he picks a project, he makes it count. His fourth music video put him in the Hall of Fame (metaphorically speaking, of course), though, when he made Jamiroquai’s “one-take” head trip “Virtual Insanity.”
Big screen debut: “Sexy Beast,” a UK heist thriller with one of the most iconic villains in recent movie history, Don Logan (played by Sir Ben Kingsley). Glazer is currently at work adapting the novel “Under the Skin,” about an alien who picks up hitchhikers so they can be eaten by her people. Yum.
Best Glazer video you never saw: Sadly, most of them, as he is fond of directing UK acts who, while superstars in their home country, are cult acts here. (Well, except for that Radiohead band.) So we’re going with Massive Attack’s “Karmacoma” (with a surprising 1.2 million plays), because it’s so beautifully freaky. (Click here to watch the video.)
We have a friend who works in advertising. He’s worked with a director on numerous occasions who makes ridiculous bank making commercials for fast food joints…and he’ll never give it up, despite repeated offers to jump up to the so-called big leagues and direct a TV show or movie. Why does he continue to ride the commercial circuit? “The money’s great, the hours are better, and you don’t have the headache of dealing with egomaniac actors.” This guy might be the sanest man we’ve run across yet, and he’s not alone. Here are some other well-known music video directors who, for whatever reason, never bothered taking their talents to the big screen. Ten bucks says you’ve seen at least three to five videos from every person here too, so let it not be said that they didn’t have the talent to make a movie. They just never bothered, or so it appears.
Kevin Godley and Lol Crème
Signature video: It stands to reason that these onetime members of UK art rockers 10cc would find a home in the equally arty world of music video, and it makes even more sense that they would make a splash in their new profession almost instantly, directing the scandalous clip for Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film.” Naked girls, woo hoo!
How they’re keeping busy: The two dissolved their creative relationship in 1989, but Godley went on to direct some power-rotation clips for U2, Sting, Blur and Keane. As for Creme, well, he actually did make one full-length feature: 1991’s “The Lunatic,” which has the dubious distinction of sporting an IMDb page where there isn’t a single actor on the main page with a photo of themselves next to their name. That’s a roundabout way of saying that the actors in this movie are not what one would call full-time actors.
Best video you never saw: Lou Reed’s “No Money Down,” where we see a Lou Reed-bot lip sync half the song, then get torn apart by human hands. But for the first half, you can’t really tell that it’s a Lou Reed-bot. It pretty much looks like Reed acting like a robot.
Signature video: He would surely bristle at the term, but for better and for worse, Kerslake was the first name director of the grunge era, helming clips for Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots and Bush, but it was his clip for Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” that made him the It Boy of the early ’90s.
How he’s keeping busy: Kerslake has directed some TV here and there (“The Visitor” in 1997 and “Fallen” ten years later), but if the Music Video Database is to be believed, Kerslake has been out of the game since 2006, and that just seems wrong. He’s worked with too many quality bands and made too many memorable videos to not find work.
Best video you never saw: As much as we want to nominate the video he directed for Jellyfish’s “The Ghost at Number One” – because, well, they’re awesome – we’re going to go with a clip he did a year later, because it features one of our favorite singers in multiple dresses but also shows Kerslake having some fun. Plus, the singer here was Jeremy Irons’ psychotic girlfriend in “Die Hard with a Vengeance.” Gentlemen (and ladies), Sam Philiips, “I Need Love.”
Signature video: If you know this name, then do three things. First, pat yourself on the back, for knowing that name. Second, slap yourself in the face, for holding on to a piece of trivia that is pretty much worthless in pop culture circles these days. Lastly, pat yourself on the back again, because you know that the Polish renegade directed the unforgettable video for the Art of Noise’s “Close (To the Edit),” along with a bunch of stuck-in-a-moment videos like the Pet Shop Boys’ “Opportunities” and Simple Minds’ “All the Things She Said.”
How he’s keeping busy: Well, it’s the damndest thing: he seems to be done making the world happy. The bastard’s last credit is from 1992, and at that point he was either 52 or 53, so perhaps he took an early retirement. And really, how selfish of him to do such a thing, especially when the snippets we’ve seen of his work on “The Orchestra” were so sweet. Fuck you, Zbigniew. Kidding. Please come back, Zbigniew.
Best video you never saw: While one of our wives will surely make us pay for not highlighting Blancmange’s shoe-spinning “Lose Your Love,” we have to cast our vote for Propaganda’s “P.Machinery,” if only because it has the holy-shit-a rattlesnake moment, and three members of the band swinging like marionettes.
Signature video: We’re going to assume that Madonna is responsible for dragging fashion photographer Ritts into the world of music videos (his picture of Madge adorns the cover of her True Blue album), because his first clip was the black & white beach video “Cherish,” made back in the time when no one said no to Madonna. (True story: she was freezing cold while shooting that clip, but refused to let it show.) He followed it a year later with another equally memorable clip in Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” but since we’re guys, we have to go with his video for Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” Hubba hubba.
How he’s keeping busy: Sadly, we lost Ritts to pneumonia in 2002 at the far-too-young age of 50.
Best video you never saw: Ritts only made 13 videos, and nearly every one of them was for an international superstar. So by default, we’re going with the one B-lister in the bunch, Tracy Chapman’s “Telling Stories.” (Embedding disabled, click here to watch the video.)
Signature video: Think of Mondino as the French Herb Ritts. He made his name as a fashion photographer, then shot videos for superstars. His first American video is still his most enduring, not to mention award-winning: Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.”
How he’s keeping busy: By continuing to shoot photographs of beautiful women. Nice work if you can get it.
Best video you never saw: Mirwais’ “Naive Song,” an all-backwards clip of a man putting on makeup for a burlesque show, while topless dancers casually wallk by in the background. Whoa. Click here to watch the video.
Peter Kagan & Paula Grief
Signature video: This duo did the impossible in the mid-’80s by making videos that were both eye-catching and arty, blending color with black & white and having all sorts of fun with shutter speeds. Their first clip to receive heavy airplay was the one for Scritti Politti’s “Perfect Way,” but their biggest clips are Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” and Duran Duran’s “Notorious.”
How they’re keeping busy: Kagan’s video career ended almost as soon as it started – after shooting three clips for Duran’s Notorious album, he only made one more video, 11 years later – but he’s kept himself plenty busy shooting TV commercials and some short films for the Army and health care industry. Grief’s video career lasted a little longer (she directed New Order’s “Round & Round”), but she’s since gone into commercial work as well. Maybe they’re friends with our ad buddy’s director. Hell, maybe they are the ad buddy’s director.
Best video you never saw: We have a rule of not including any clip we ever saw on MTV, but since this clip was played about six times in early 1986, we’re making an exception because it’s just so damn pretty: “The Love Parade” by the Dream Academy.
Some of them just haven’t had the time to begin working on a second film. Others never got the chance.
Signature video: Easily the biggest self-promoter of the bunch, Kaye seems fond of looking for controversy even when it doesn’t exist, which might explain why he owns the shortest videography of anyone here. But when he makes a video, it tends to be a big deal, like Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” or Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”
The one good movie: “American History X,” where Ed Norton plays a reformed skinhead, but not before dispatching a would-be robber in one of the cruelest death scenes ever shot. Ironically, Kaye was unhappy with the final cut of the movie (it was done by Norton and the film’s editor), and lobbied to have his name removed from it. That seems like something the directors in our next category should have done, not Kaye.
Signature video: While he made a splash with the satellite-cam technique in ABC’s “Be Near Me” and Depeche Mode’s “Shake the Disease,” his signature video is still R.E.M.’s “Drive,” which is allegedly the first clip to receive a director credit on MTV.
The one good movie: “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys,” about four bored Catholic school boys and the comic book they create as a means of coping.
Signature video: For the sake of argument, we’re going to say My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers,” but that is mainly because we can’t bring ourselves to watch the pop acts that Webb spent most of his time directing. (Cough, Hilary Duff, cough)
The one good movie: Webb will surely add more good movies to his resume – at present, he’s been tasked with rebooting the “Spider-Man” franchise – but for now, his only credit is the fantastic “(500) Days of Summer,” which contains a great music video moment within the movie.
There are times when a director gets their shot to show the world what they’re made of. One, shot. No pressure, dude. If it tanks, you’ll never work in this town again. But that’s not going to happen…right?
Signature video: By all rights, Tim Pope should have gotten a chance to direct a movie well before Russell Mulcahy or Steve Barron did, because he was responsible for nearly every UK new wave band you can imagine. And if you’d like a list, we’d be happy to provide you with one: Soft Cell, the Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Altered Images, Roman Holliday, the Style Council, Ministry, Men Without Hats, Dead or Alive, Talk Talk, and the Psychedelic Furs. If the name ‘Men Without Hats’ stuck out a little more than the others, that’s because Pope hemled the clip for “The Safety Dance,” though his work with the Cure will ultimately be his legacy, having done over 30 videos for the band.
The one movie: “The Crow: City of Angels,” where another promising director’s film career is torpedoed by yet another unnecessary sequel.
Signature video: If you need to shoot a live video, or a live performance synced up to the studio version, Wayne Isham is your guy. In a business ruled by creative visionaries (read: insufferably arty pains in the ass), Isham is the blue collar man of music video, churning out clip after clip for big-time rock band after big-time rock band. It was his first two videos from Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, though, that put him over the top. Between “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Isham’s work was as ubiquitous as any director from the period.
The one movie: The 1998 indie drama “12 Bucks,” and while we haven’t seen it, one IMDb commenter called it “mind-numbingly pretentious.” That seems an odd word choice to describe the work of a guy whose work was anything but pretentious. They must have been referring to the writing, since we writers are known to be completely full of shit from time to time.
Signature video: While Bayer’s most-played clips were when he worked with the It bands of the moment (Cranberries, Candlebox, Hole), he was careful to keep from being typecast to a certain genre, working with Rush, Melissa Etheridge and Corrosion of Conformity during the same period. Having said that, his signature video isn’t even remotely up for debate: Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” a.k.a. The Bee Girl Video.
The one movie: It just came out this year, so he still has a chance to redeem himself, but really, after waiting this long to take the plunge, he should have known that directing the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was a bad idea, not to mention a waste of his talents. But apparently not – he’s currently rumored to be directing the sequel. D’oh.
While most music video directors have starry-eyed dreams of becoming the next Scorsese, there are times when Scorsese has the urge to become the next Wayne Isham. Here are a few videos made by big-time film directors, and it will surprise no one that three of them directed Michael Jackson at one point or another.
John Landis – “Thriller,” Michael Jackson
Jonathan Demme – “The Perfect Kiss,” New Order
Martin Scorsese – “Bad,” Michael Jackson
Kathryn Bigelow – “Touched by the Hand of God,” New Order
James Cameron – “Reach,” Martini Ranch (For the unfamiliar, Bill Paxton was a member of Martini Ranch, hence the Cameron connection, and Paul Reiser cameo.)
Spike Lee – “Hip Hop Hooray,” Naughty by Nature
Apologies are due to Chris Applebaum, Chris Cunningham, F. Gary Gray, Joseph Kahn, McG, Mark Pellington, Alex Proyas and Hype Williams. You should be here, and we know that, and we’re sorry.
Tags: Andrew Morahan, Anton Corbijn, David Fincher, Film directors who made music videos, Godley & Creme, Herb Ritts, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Julien Temple, Kevin Godley, Kevin Kerslake, Lol Creme, Mark Romanek, McG, Michael Bay, music video, Paula Grief, Peter Kagan, Russell Mulcahy, Samuel Bayer, Steve Barron, Tim Pope, Wayne Isham, Zbigniew Rybczynski