Each director has a way behind the camera, shape-shifting the cinematic mood to make it meaningful and ring with symbolism. Some directors got their start in music while others have slowly begun crossing over into musical terrain. Whether it’s a 90-minute film or a three-minute music video, the directorial process can be a challenging undertaking; one that should be honoured.
Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Contagion, the Ocean’s trilogy), recently directed his first music video for California’s DTCV. Employing a split screen where varying rustic-meets-modern objects were dispersed, Soderbergh weaves a visual dialogue with historical eminence.
Here are 13 more directors that have made an imprint in film, but have also delved into the world of music to mark their appreciation for the sonic craft.
Michael Jackson – “Bad” (Director: Martin Scorsese)
This 18-minute video was a movie in itself with MJ smack centre and a cast including Paul Calderon and Wesley Snipes. Apparently Prince turned down the role (Mini Max) that Snipes snagged because he didn’t want the opening “butt” lyrics being sung at or by him.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, the 1987 video for “Bad” was shot in Brooklyn’s Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station and had a running budget of approximately $2 million. Throughout the short film we see a variety of sequences with Jackson and his crew dancing around the subway alongside his old friend Mini Max.
The video was nominated for a MTV VMA for best choreography but lost out to Janet Jackson’s video for “The Pleasure Principle.”
The White Stripes – “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” (Director: Sofia Coppola)
Taken from their 2004 album, Elephant, this nearly three-minute tune got sexed-up with a video featuring Kate Moss twirling about in her underwear. The set was minimal because really all you need is a pole, box, a near naked model, and the eye of Sofia Coppola to get distracted.
Sure, it’s not a deep, let’s hold hands and think about life video, but there’s enough of those, and Moss definitely does not disappoint in her feature role. Plus, Jack White’s voice falling in tune with Moss’s prowling moves fits quite nicely.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Under the Bridge” (Director: Gus Van Sant)
Then a rising director, Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk) lent his talent to the seminal song with a reflective array of visuals as Anthony Kiedis scurries through the City of Angels. The video came out the same year (1991) as Van Sant’s coming of age, Portland-repping film, My Own Private Idaho, and has a similar desert setting as that seen in the RHCP music video while John Frusciante plays guitar.
Flea had a small role in My Own Private Idaho, which starred Keanu Reeves and Flea’s close friend, the late River Phoenix. The song was initially penned as a poem by Kiedis, drawing on his feelings of isolation between himself, Flea, and Frusciante, which happened after Kiedis got clean. He writes more on the subject in his autobiography, Scar Tissue.
Aerosmith – “Jaded” (Director: Francis Lawrence)
Choosing from Lawrence’s music video catalogue can be tricky, and regardless if you are a pop fan or not, some of his memorable directions have been with Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani. However, Aerosmith’s “Jaded” and the inclusion of Mila Kunis is not to be overlooked.
Who doesn’t write sweet nothings on steamed mirrors? The circus-esque video complete with acrobats, statuesque stilt man, Geisha-gothic women and Steve Tyler’s mouth all make each scene worth it. Plus, Kunis finds her enchanting garden after all, so there’s a happy ending or whatever.
Lawrence’s film resume includes I Am Legend, Constantine, and three out of the four Hunger Games series.
Public Enemy – “Fight the Power” (Director: Spike Lee)
Could there be anyone better to protest on behalf of African-Americans than Public Enemy and Spike Lee? Quick camera shifts document the hip-hop ensemble taking to the Brooklyn streets in front of crowds of supporters sporting ‘Fight the Power’ shirts while holding Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson signs.
Don’t forget the archival footage of cowboys and Elvis Presley plus a nice dose of sky fists, scattering police officers, Flavor Flav shimmying, peace hands and crowd chants, which all circle together in the impromptu political rally and docu-style video.
Spike Lee was at the helm of the song and used one of the versions of the track in his 1989 film, Do the Right Thing. It seems only fitting he’d direct the music video too.
Hot Chip – “I Feel Better” (Director: Peter Serafinowicz)
Enter a creepy bald, gaunt, illuminating force gliding through crowds of screaming girls. On stage we’re greeted with sharp (not at all) dance routines from a generic boy band comprised of common names like Kyng, Mar’Vaine, Octavian and Popeye. Without warning the force spews a laser beam out of his mouth and a band member becomes comatose.
One by one each of the boys gets knocked out by baldy’s mouth sabre as girls scream in fear. After each has been eliminated a moment of deep thought soon catapults the illuminating force as the fifth member of the boy group, now all dancing and singing in harmony. Soon, another force kills off everyone and concludes the show with a devious smile, for each “only wanted one night.” Competition at its finest.
Is it any wonder that Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy, Shaun of the Dead) directed this beauty?
Madonna – “Vogue” (Director: David Fincher)
Here’s a lad who got his start making music videos only to further kill it in the world of cinema. David Fincher (Gone Girl, Fight Club, Seven) directed Madonna’s black-and-white video for the seduction single “Vogue”, which was kind of a huge deal, and still is.
Fincher also helped make her a bona fide success in other videos including “Express Yourself,” which had a price tag of nearly $10 million, one of the most expensive music videos ever made. His final collaboration with Madge was 1993’s “Bad Girl.”
Fincher and Madonna were tightly connected during their formative creative beginnings and this can be keenly noted on “Vogue.”
Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise” (Director: Antoine Fuqua)
Is it possible to think of Dangerous Minds without the smoke-filled snapshot of Coolio serenading the mind? Michelle Pfeiffer reprises her role in the video sporting her leather jacket and “I’ll cut you” face.
The filmography of director Antoine Fuqua highlights man grit—think Southpaw or Training Day—and what plays better to this grit than a man living in “Gangsta’s Paradise”?
The video won a MTV Video Music Award in 1996 and will be recited in full for centuries to come. L.V. is still sweating profusely.
Beastie Boys – “Sabotage” (Director: Spike Jonze)
A list of this sort is simply incomplete without the inclusion of the stellar Spike Jonze. Similar to Fincher, Jonze was deep-rooted in music video direction before also leaping into film (and other notable mentions like Viceland and Girl Skateboards).
The “Sabotage” video played tribute to classic cop shows like Starsky and Hutch and Hawaii Five-O, with the Beastie Boys playing central roles in their own crime-spinning production.
Academy Award nominee Jonze has directed cult hit films such as Being John Malkovich, Her, and Where the Wild Things Are, and has collaborated with other acts like Björk, Daft Punk, and Fatboy Slim. He also directed Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” video, another incredibly gifted slice of music video delight.
Michael Jackson – “Thriller” (Director: John Landis)
Before Scorsese was in the mix, John Landis initiated us into his monster mash world of “Thriller.” The iconic red jacket that Jackson donned was even designed by Landis’s wife, Deborah.
Landis is no stranger to comic relief having directed classics like National Lampoon’s Animal House, Trading Places, and The Blues Brothers. It doesn’t matter how many times you watch this video, there’s never enough zombies to dull you up.
Fiona Apple – “Hot Knife” (Director: Paul Thomas Anderson)
P.T. Anderson’s work with Fiona Apple, an artist whom he dated IRL, dates back well over a decade ago. While the list is littered with collaborations between the two, the simplistic, cinematic benevolence seen in 2012’s “Hot Knife” video makes for a truly genuine viewing experience.
Anderson manages to capture a bareness in the visuals with underlying intrigue into the textural range that lassoes the vocals. And, who can forget some of his directorial feats including There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights? He has recently signed on to direct an upcoming video for Radiohead.
Pearl Jam – “Jeremy” (Director: Mark Pellington)
His film career may not be as decorated as many on this list (Arlington Road was pretty good), but neglecting to acknowledge the masterwork Mark Pellington did with “Jeremy” would make it hard to sleep soundly tonight.
From start to finish this video is electrifying, full of angst and revolt, and is the biggest FU to bullying. Watching Eddie Vedder’s facial twitches and eye bulges is in itself fascinating. Couple that with a trajectory that hypes the senses, and you’ve got a savoury memento of the ‘90s that keeps on giving.
Pellington also has many other music video wins including Foo Fighters’ “Best of You.”
Outkast – “Ms. Jackson” (Director: F. Gary Gray)
F. Gary Gray is a talent that helped the rap and R&B scenes thrive in the ’90s. His work on OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson” continues his tell-tale trend, this time within a Wizard of Oz twist and house full of critters.
Gray worked with legends like Ice Cube (“It Was a Good Day”), which is another arguable contender for this rundown, and Dr. Dre (“Natural Born Killaz”).
The 46-year-old director continues his imprint on the world of film, recently directing Straight Outta Compton. Other films he’s helmed range from Friday to the remake of The Italian Job.