Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

5 Directors Who Started In Music Videos

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the least prolific directors of the last decade. Taking his time between projects, Anderson has only directed three feature films and a documentary in the last decade (although two of those films were masterpieces, so it’s hard to complain too much).

However, 2016 has been a prolific year for Anderson away from the big screen; Radiohead fans may have noticed Anderson being credited as the director on two of their recent music videos. While ‘Present Tense‘ is a relatively simple live video of Thom Yorke and frequent Anderson collaborator Johnny Greenwood, the music video for ‘Daydreaming’ features excellent work by Anderson as he tracks Yorke walking through various rooms and landscapes until he ends up atop a snowy mountain.


Seeing Anderson work on music videos got me thinking about other directors who have previously worked with bands and artists. Some of the greatest living directors first made a name for themselves with slick, stylish MTV promos back in the eighties and nineties, showcasing their talent in a few mind-blowing moments. From cult indie names to Oscar-nominated Hollywood directors, here are just five directors who started out directing music videos:

1. Spike Jonze

Before winning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Her or revitalising independent cinema with the insane Being John Malkovich, Spike Jonze shot to fame as one of the most prolific music video directors of the nineties.

Though his most acclaimed work came from collaborating with DJ Fatboy Slim (Jonze won two MTV awards for his direction on ‘Praise You’, which he also starred in, and ‘Weapon of Choice’, starring Christopher Walken), Jonze is perhaps most fondly remembered for his work with two of the best alternate rock bands of the decade; the 70’s cop show homage ‘Sabotage’ for Beastie Boys, and Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’, cleverfully featuring the cast of Happy Days.

2.Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer’s 2014 sci-fi Under the Skin is one of my favourite films of the last five years, and his 2000 gangster film Sexy Beast is a terrific black comedy. However, even Under the Skin struggles to top his best work as a music video director.

While most famous work, ‘Virtual Insanity’ by Jamiroquai, won MTV’s Video Of The Year Award and is still remembered and parodied to this day, perhaps his most beloved video was his deeply disturbing promo for UNKLE’s ‘Rabbit In Your Headlights’. Starring cult French actor Denis Lavant as a vagrant marching down a busy underpass, it really has to be seen to be believed.

3.Michel Gondry

Despite a long and varied career making everything from deeply personal surrealist comedy to mainstream superhero comedies, Michel Gondry is still best known for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a certified modern masterpiece and one of the most dazzlingly original films of its decade.

It’s no surprise to learn that most of Gondry’s feature films are visionary and utterly unique when you see the incredibly long and diverse list of music videos he directed. Working with artists as diverse as Bjork, Foo Fighters, and Daft Punk, Gondry earned himself multiple MTV Music Video awards for his groundbreaking stop motion video for ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ by The White Stripes.

4.Mark Romanek

It’s a shame that Mark Romanek has only directed two feature films to date; both 2002’s One Hour Photo and 2010’s Never Let Me Go were creepy, atmospheric, unforgettable dramas about disturbing worlds and unusual people, and displayed a lot of filmmaking talent. Thankfully, Romanek has directed many excellent music videos.

Initially making his name as a pop promo director, Romanek entered the history books when his music video Michael Jackson’s ‘Scream’ became the most expensive music video of all time, costing $7 million. Throughout the nineties, Romanek began working with great alternative rock names like Nine Inch Nails (‘Closer’), Beck (‘Devils Haircut’), and Eels (‘Novocaine For The Soul’). However, his best and most poignant music video remains Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’, the last video Cash ever recorded before his death.

5.David Fincher

One of the most prolific and respected directors of his generation, David Fincher has released some of the most beloved, popular, critically-lauded films of the last twenty years; from Se7en to Fight Club to The Social Network to Gone Girl, he’s earned two Best Director nominations at the Oscars and had tremendous box office success. However, he originally cut his teeth making some of the best music videos of the eighties and nineties.

A success at the MTV Video Music Awards, Fincher won back-to-back Best Director prizes for his work on Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ and ‘Vogue’, and his work on Aerosmith’s ‘Janie’s Got A Gun’ is still fondly remembered. As recently as 2013, Fincher earned a Grammy for Best Music Video for his direction on Justin Timberlake and Jay Z’s ‘Suit And Tie’.

By Harry J. Ford


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  1. Great people. Regarding Glazer, I personally disliked under the skin but love sexy beast.

    • Under the Skin is certainly one of the most divisive films I can remember. For every person who think it’s a modern classic, there’s someone who finds it dull and meaningless.

      • Yeah I agree. I am in the latter group and people hate me for that! But I won’t pretend I like it. Good list though! Spike Jonze is the man

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