Many years ago, The Playlist started off as a blog dedicated to soundtracks, scores, music movies and the rest of the middle part of the Venn diagram where the worlds of music and film collided. Though we’ve evolved since then, that overlap is still something close to our hearts. One way those worlds are inextricably interlinked is in the number of directors who come from a music video background to work in features, and with most of us being that precise age that we can still remember the first heyday of the music video, it never ceases to surprise us how many of the promos we remember best were shot by filmmakers we now associate primarily with features. Arguably the form is experiencing something of a renaissance in relevance these days, not just via YouTube, but also with high-profile bands like Arcade Fire embracing and expanding their music videos’ artistic potential, even while the Robin Thickes of the world grab some extra headlines with risque or provocative content.
This weekend, Fredrik Bond, a commercials director but with a notable music video in Moby’s “Bodyrock,” makes his feature debut with “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman,” a film that owes a large aesthetic debt to the music video form, not always to its credit (our Sundance review is here, though apparently Bond has re-edited the film somewhat since then). With music video alumni Jonathan Glazer, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry as well as the tentpole likes of Gore Verbinski and Zack Snyder all having films that premiered this year, and everyone from Simon West to Mark Romanek to Michael Bay to Tarsem due to have films out in 2014, we thought it’s high time we took a look at the phenomenon in a little more depth–and to query just how true is the cliche that promo directors tend to favor style over substance throughout their careers? So here are 10 music video directors who turned to features: how their first film stacked up, what they brought from one form to the other, and how things have gone for them from there.
Selected Videography: Really, no one bestrides the world of the 90s/noughts music video in quite such colossal style as Spike Jonze. Picking favorites is hard, but there’s no doubt that among any list of the most memorable music videos of the past two decades, Jonze’s work is going to figure prominently, with hallmarks that include: seemingly unprofessional dancing, a skewiff, humorous retro feel, and occasionally woozy, hallucinatory imagery. The higher profile include: Fatboy Slim‘s “Praise You,” and “Weapon of Choice,” Bjork‘s “It’s Oh So Quiet,” Tenacious D‘s “Wonderboy,” Weezer‘s “Buddy Holly,” Beastie Boys‘s “Sabotage,” Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs,” LCD Soundsystem‘s “Drunk Girls,” and many, many more.
Debut Feature: “Being John Malkovich” (1999)
As consistently surprising and engaging as Jonze’s video work had been, he still managed to exceed expectations with his brilliant, gonzo debut, not least thanks to it also marking the feature debut of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The film, benefiting from Jonze’s off-kilter eye (the puppetry scenes, for example, can be seen as another iteration of his interest in the the point where ungainliness meets gracefulness), felt completely fresh and original and unlike anything to that point: meta-on-meta funny, but sad and soulful too. Starring John Cusack and Cameron Diaz at their dowdiest, Catherine Keener at her vampiest and John Malkovich in a brilliantly straight-faced performance that completely proves Krusty’s adage that “it’s only funny when the sucker’s got dignity,” the film is a giddy treatise on the perils of puppetry and what might happen if you found a portal into a celebrity’s brain. Still retaining its freshness and balls-out weirdness to this day, neither Jonze nor Kaufman could possibly have hoped for a better manifesto for future intent, and while they were at it, they made a film that’s little less than a millenial touchstone.
Film Career Since Then: Jonze has consistently worked in both forms since his feature debut, but his next immediate credit was as the off-camera co-creator of epochal TV sketch show “Jackass,” after which he reteamed with Kaufman for “Adaptation” a perhaps slightly less lovable, but no less brilliant (and brilliantly messy) film about the torture of the creative process. Next on the big screen was the fond adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are” before Jonze returned this year, to widespread acclaim with “Her.” Most recently, however, he was the Creative Director of the inaugural YouTube Awards, in all their shambolic, um, shambles, but if that showcase didn’t really do it for us, then there are a clutch of other side projects which really do, especially his two recent half-hour long shorts: the Arcade Fire short film “Scenes from the Suburbs” and 2010’s Absolut Vodka-sponsored “I’m Here.”
Selected Videography: Photographer turned filmmaker Anton Corbijn has directed music videos since the mid-eighties, but it is his image-defining work with Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and especially U2 that is the most instantly recognizable. With Bono reportedly saying that he hopes one day to be as cool as Corbijn makes him look, it’s clear that for a certain type of artist, Corbijn’s enigmatic, grainy, impressionistic imagery, that uses a lot of close ups, flashes and is often presented as a series of moving tableaux, when it’s not performance footage, is more or less the platonic ideal of music video aesthetics. Yup, he’s that influential. Highlights of a long career include: U2’s “Pride” and “One,” Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box,” (which was heavily edited for MTV airplay but you can see the fully restored version below) Mercury Rev’s “Goddess on a Highway,” The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done,” Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida,” and Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor.”
Debut Feature: “Control” (2007)
Fittingly, when Corbijn finally turned his hand to feature filmmaking, it was to tell the story of the early years of Joy Division and of lead singer Ian Curtis. Corbijn had been a lifelong fan of the band, and had met and photographed them (some of those images he used when he directed the video for “Atmosphere” in 1988), so the authenticity he brought to the film was perhaps to be expected, along with the gritty/beautiful aesthetic. But the film also boasted some terrific performances, not least from then-near-unknown Sam Riley as the tortured, tragic Curtis but also from Toby Kebbell as manager Rob Gretton and Samantha Morton as Curtis’ wife Deborah, on whose book the film was based. The film received glowing reviews and won the top prize at Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight, among many other laurels, and firmly established Corbijn as a restrained yet fascinating talent, who could bring a rare kind of thoughtfulness even to the most potentially sensationalist material.
Film Career Since Then: Corbijn returned to the big screen with 2010’s “The American,” starring George Clooney. An exceptionally cerebral and wilfully anti-actiony hitman thriller, it was a film we liked a great deal more than many, and while it turned a decent profit overall, the disappointment of audiences who felt they’d been sold a different movie (Clooney! Hitman!) tainted its reputation a little. But it’s the kind of film that we can see growing in retrospective acclaim: again, there’s that quality of deliveration and thoughtfulness that anyone who’s seen the documentary “Anton Corbijn: Inside Out” will recognize as being part of the director’s definite modus operandi. It’s something we can’t get enough of, so we’re hugely excited for his next outing, 2014’s “A Most Wanted Man,” based on a John Le Carre book, and boasting the exceptional cast of Rachel McAdams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe and Daniel Bruhl. Cannot wait.
Selected Videography: Fincher initially made his name in the mid 80s with a string of videos (back in the day when music channels actually played them) for pop acts like Paula Abdul, Johnny Hates Jazz,and Foreigner. However it was the late eighties when he hit his stride and started to hone his visual style into an embryonic version of the Fincher look we know today, and landed some high-profile collaborations which culminated in a 1990 MTV music awards in which he netted three of the four nominations for Best Director–for Madonna’s “Vogue,” Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” and Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” (he took the statue for “Vogue”). Other big gigs included Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” Sting’s “Englishman in New York,” The Rolling Stones‘ “Love Is Strong,” Billy Idol’s “LA Woman” and George Michael’s inescapable “Freedom ‘90.”
Debut Feature: “Alien3” (1993)
Having established a certain tone and style in his music videos (a kind of hard-edged darkness, a fondness for black and white/high contrast imagery, a hint of cynicism), Fincher landed a pretty enormous gig for his feature debut. Taking on the mantle of the hugely successful ‘Alien’ franchise, and thereby stepping into the shoes of James Cameron and Ridley Scott, was never going to be an easy task, but Fincher also inherited a script that had been through several different writers, and reportedly clashed with 20th Century Fox over both it and budgetary issues. The resulting film was a critical and commercial disappointment, received more or less poisonously by franchise fans, not least for the decision to again isolate Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) by killing off the other survivors of “Aliens” offscreen. Fincher certainly embraced the darkness of the story, but even now the balance feels off, with the film becoming grimy and murky rather than ‘dark’ per se, and the prison planet idea, while promising on paper, comes over as grimness overkill in practice. Subsequent years have seen its reputation somewhat ameliorated though, mainly because of the further erosion of the franchise’s cred with “Alien Resurrection” and “Alien vs Predator.” Still, it’s still by some distance Fincher’s worst movie, something he seems to agree with, saying in 2009 “No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me.”
Film Career Since Then: The experience burned Fincher on Hollywood (and possibly vice versa) for a while afterward, during which time he went back to commercials and music videos. This was until he roared back onto the big screen in 1995 with the brilliant grainy noir “Se7en” which made everyone forget he’d had anything to do with “Alien3.” Following that up with the stylish but maybe overly tricksy “The Game,” his next real splash was with “Fight Club” a much funnier, seedier and more satisfying movie that initially received a mixed reception, but almost immediately became a cult classic. “Panic Room” felt a bit minor after that, but “Zodiac” just gets better and better as time goes by, and while “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”’s magic realism was not a tangent that we particularly enjoyed, Fincher returned to our black hearts with the biting, bitter “The Social Network,” picking up the second of his two Best Director nods and firmly establishing his “superstar director” status. Recently he went back to black with an adaptation of literary phenomenon “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” that, while perfectly attuned to his sensibilities felt a little rote by comparison with his best work, and next up he takes on another celebrated book, in 2014’s “Gone Girl.”
Selected Videography: Romanek in fact has three Grammys for music video direction–more than anyone else, which should give you a good idea of how hard it will be to give a summary of his video output. Over the 27 years he’s worked in the music video biz, he has worked with huge stars (Madonna, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, REM) and smaller bands, but even early on found himself frequently turning in awarded promos, like k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving,” En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind,” Lenny Kravitz’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and the massive “Scream” for Michael Jackson. More recently he made the unforgettable video for Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” along with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Can’t Stop,” Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” and Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound.”
Debut Feature: “Static” (1985)/“One Hour Photo” (2002)
Well, whether Romanek actually belongs on this list at all is debatable, as he actually directed a feature film in 1985, the year before his first music video. This film “Static” is a quirky comedy about a man forced to desperate measures when no one else seems to believe in his invention which can show pictures of heaven, and stars Amanda Plummer and Keith Gordon, but Romanek has publicly distanced himself from the film in the years since, actively declaring that he considers 2002’s “One Hour Photo” to be his real feature debut. Knowing what we know now of Romanek’s style, “Static” does seem anomalous, so who are we to argue? “One Hour Photo” by contrast, is a low-key layering-on of dread on top of dread as Robin Williams, in a startling career about-turn that was echoed in his other 2002 film “Insomnia,” plays a slowly-unraveling photo technician driven to violence by loneliness, isolation and an obsession with a family whose photos he develops. But if the film does fray slightly around the edges by the end, in the main it is memorable, aside from Williams’ creepy but somehow tragic portrayal, for Romanek’s pristine control over its look, and over the heightened tone of alienation and outsiderness.
Film Career Since Then: Romanek was kept busy with life stuff (as he told us) and with commercials (that pay better than music videos) in the years between “One Hour Photo” and his next feature, 2011’s “Never Let Me Go,” an adaptation of the celebrated Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name. Romanek brought his trademark beautiful, cool visual style to the story, which was appropriate for the slightly otherwordly tone, but while the film looked amazing it felt slightly empty, and underperformed at the box office. Since that, Romanek has been linked to several high-profile projects, but after he left “The Wolf Man,” and the live-action version of “Cinderella,” and TV pilot “Locke and Key” didn’t get picked up, his most recent credit was on “Picasso Baby” the performance art video made with Jay-Z. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that one of his gestating projects gets the go ahead soon.
Selected Videography: So if you were in a successful indie band in the mid-90s, you went to Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry for whimsy, but if you wanted a slicker, harder and more unsettling edge to your promos (if, for example, you were pre-2000 Radiohead), you may have sought out Jonathan Glazer. From the ‘Clockwork Orange’-inspired “The Universal” for Blur, through Radiohead’s beloved and still beautiful slo-mo “Street Spirit,” Jamiroquai’s ubiquitous “Virtual Insanity,” Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” UNKLE’s “Rabbit in your headlights” and Richard Ashcroft’s “Song for the Lovers,” Glazer, who also made some pretty sublime commercials during this period (Guinness ad “Surfer” especially), really defined his approach: a cool, detached elegance to the imagery and a slightly alienated, dispassionate tone.
Debut Feature: “Sexy Beast” (2000)
Glazer’s first film, when it came, though, felt like a bit of a surprise to those who’d been following his advertising and music video career. A darkly comic, highly ironic crime caper film set largely in an expat community in Spain, it was a lot more oily, fleshy and brightly colored than we might have expected from a director who was most associated with a kind of cool, muted cerebrality. But it is still a terrific film, boasting the great bait-and-switch casting of Ben “Gandhi” Kingsley as the sociopathic, profane ex-associate (Kingsley reportedly based the character on his grandmother) who menaces unassuming, jovial, deeply tanned Ray Winstone. But Glazer’s inherent eye for composition and unusual shotmaking also elevate the film above the standard cockney crime drama, making “Sexy Beast” both one of the more surprising but also most assured debuts on this list.
Film Career Since Then: Glazer has continued working steadily in commercials, racking up some of the more memorable recent spots for Levis, Wrangler, Guinness, Barclays, Stella Artois and Sony Bravia, as well as a couple more music videos, but has returned to the big screen twice since his first film. In 2004 he released “Birth” with Nicole Kidman, one of the most widely misunderstood and unfairly overlooked films of the last decade, but one whose chilly brilliance we champion every chance we get. And this year he returned, after nine long years, with “Under the Skin” which premiered at Telluride and Venice, to reviews that were mostly ecstatic, and the few that weren’t were so dramatically opposite in opinion that it seems clear we can guarantee no one will be left unmoved, one way or the other. We loved it (see five reasons “Under The Skin” is one of the best films of the year here), and it has firmly established Glazer as one of our very favorite working directors, one who we deeply hope we won’t lose to the word of commercials for another nine years before his next feature.
Selected Videography: Though he’s mostly stepped away from the world now, French filmmaker Michel Gondry was one of the most influential music video directors of the last few decades; like Spike Jonze, who emerged around the same time, he often rejected glitz and big-budget effects for a lo-fi feel and ingenious trickery. Gondry started out making videos for his own band, Oui Oui, before coming to the attention of Bjork, with whom he’s collaborated many times, most notably on “Human Behavior,” “Army Of Me” and “Hyperballad.” Since then, he became one of the hottest video directors around, with multiple clips for The White Stripes, Beck and Daft Punk, as well as one-offs like Foo Fighters‘ “Everlong,” Kanye West‘s “Heard “Em Say” and Radiohead‘s “Knives Out.” His early clips are collected on an excellent Directors’ Label DVD.
Debut Feature: “Human Nature” (2001)
Like Jonze (who actually produced the French director’s debut), Gondry moved into features with a script by Charlie Kaufman. Unfortunately, “Human Nature,” a one-time Steven Soderbergh project, did not prove as successful. A curious satire/screwball comedy, following Patricia Arquette‘s hirsute sexual pioneer, Tim Robbins‘ mice-training psychologist and Rhys Ifans‘ ape-man, it’s bursting with ideas, and has some smart things to say about sexuality and civilization, but it’s an undoubted mess, despite game work from the cast. Gondry’s visual flourishes are occasionally in effect, but this feels a little faltering and lacking in confidence in places, though it’s hard to completely dislike the whole.
Film Career Since Then: Fortunately, Gondry and Kaufman stuck together, and knocked it right out of the park the next time around, with mind-bending romantic-comedy-drama “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.” Featuring performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet that are still arguably the actor’s best, with a profound, deeply sad take on the relationship movie, and with Gondry’s lo-fi style perfectly matching the material, it was one of the best films of the last decade. Since then, Gondry’s output has been more uneven, and closer to the divisiveness of “Human Nature.” “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” is an excellent concert movie, and “Science Of Sleep” and “Be Kind Rewind” both have their charms, while being uneven, but ill-conceived blockbuster “The Green Hornet” was a total disaster (as Gondry himself has admitted). Last year’s “The We & The I” wasn’t much better received, and his latest, the French-language “Mood Indigo” doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression either, and is still awaiting a U.S. release.
Selected Videography: The Indian born-and-raised Tarsem Singh (usually credited simply as Tarsem) had a brief, but highly memorable career in the music video world. Making his debut with a clip for Suzanne Vega‘s “Tired Of Sleeping” in 1990, he then turned further heads with the video for En Vogue‘s debut single “Hold On,” which combines Basquiat-ish backdrops with Tarsem signatures like flowing robes and topless dudes. He really made his name the following year, directing the video for R.E.M‘s surprise smash “Losing My Religion,” a painterly masterpiece that won the 1991 Video of the Year award at the MTV VMAs. Only two more clips followed, for Deep Forest and Vanessa Paradis, before Tarsem moved on to the commercials world.
Debut Feature: “The Cell” (2000)
2000’s “The Cell,” a post-“Seven” serial killer with a sci-fi twist that sees psychologist Jennifer Lopez and FBI agent Vince Vaughn enter the mind of serial killer Vincent D’Onofrio to find the location of his latest victim. The script is thin and pat in its psychology, and the performances (except D’Onofrio’s scenery chewing) are flat, but Tarsem more than makes up for it with some truly stunning imagery, drawing on contemporary art, his own video works, and music videos by other directors (it nods to Mark Romanek‘s work, among others).
Film Career Since Then: It took six years for Tarsem to follow up his debut, partly because he spent four years shooting passion project “The Fall” around the world, flying his cast and crew out to join him on exotic commercial shoots. The film, an oddball fantasy about the friendship between a young Romanian girl and a crippled stuntman, then took a further two years, but got decent reviews when it finally hit theaters. It’s certainly Tarsem’s best, and while it’s style-over-content, it’s his most successful blend of gorgeous imagery and story to date. 2011 saw him direct “Immortals,” a “300“-knock-off actioner with an impressively pre-Raphaelite feel, but little else to recommend it, while he took something of a left-turn for campy fairy tale comedy “Mirror Mirror,” starring Julia Roberts. Next up is “Selfless,” a sci-fi thriller starring Ryan Reynolds that sounds a little like a tribute to John Frankenheimer‘s “Seconds.”
Selected Videography; As the nephew of legendary Motown and disco producer Harvey Fuqua (a former members of the Moonglows, who would later produce Marvin Gaye‘s “Midnight Love” record), it was natural that Antoine Fuqua would kick off his career in the music video world. His first clips came in 1992, for the likes of Chante Moore and Christopher Williams, and quickly became in demand for R&B artists and the gentler side of hip-hop. Among his more notable work at the time was Mint Condition‘s “Nobody Does It Betta,” Toni Braxton‘s “Another Sad Love Song,” and Arrested Development‘s “United Front,” before he really made his name with Prince‘s “The Most Beautiful Girl In the World.” More work followed for the likes of Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder, Usher and Pras, along with the famous Michelle Pfeiffer-starring clip for Coolio‘s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” Fuqua mostly left music videos behind when he moved into features, but did make a brief comeback a couple of years back with the promo for Lil’ Wayne‘s “Mirror.”
Debut Feature: “The Replacement Killers” (1998)
Fuqua made his first feature with actioner “The Replacement Killers,” which paired the unlikely combination of Chow Yun-Fat, in his Hollywood debut, and a post-Oscar Mira Sorvino, as a hitman on the run from his Triad boss, and the forger trying to help him leave the country. Undoubtedly indebted to John Woo (who was a producer on the project), it’s generic to the point of irrelevance, but has tons of style, Fuqua successfully aping the master, not least in the bullet-ballet action sequences. As far as U.S. vehicles for the legendary Hong Kong action star go, the next year’s underrated “The Corruptor,” which teamed Chow with Mark Wahlberg, was more substantial. But you can certainly see from “The Replacement Killers” how Fuqua became a go-to action guy.
Film Career Since Then: Fuqua followed “The Replacement Killers” swiftly with the now-forgotten, tepid Jamie Foxx vehicle “Bait,” but soon bounced back, with cop-thriller “Training Day.” The film was a box-office smash, and an unexpected critical hit, winning Denzel Washington an Oscar and picking up a nomination for co-star Ethan Hawke. On reflection, it’s pretty silly in places, but remains one of the more solid examples of the genre. The director fared less well with his bigger-budget outings: “Tears Of The Sun” was a washout, and his skillset proved a poor match to the ridiculous “King Arthur” (though the film has a couple of good action sequences), while the Mark Wahlberg-starring “Shooter” was eminently disposable. Passion project “Brooklyn’s Finest” was a partially interesting, but uneven return to something closer to “Training Day,” and after a Tupac Shakur biopic and Eminem-starring boxing movie “Southpaw” failed to come together, he returned to the screen this year with ludicrous surprise hit “Olympus Has Fallen.” Fuqua’s mostly become a B-level action guy at this point, but hopefully his re-team with Denzel Washington on next year’s “The Equalizer,” a much-touted script once linked to Nicolas Winding Refn, will see him back on form.
Selected Videography: The Austrian-born, American raised filmmaker got an early start in the music video world, directing a video for Tidal Force aged only 23. By the end of the 1990s, Lawrence had worked with artists as diverse as Foreigner, Akon, Natalie Cole and Third Eye Blind, and was starting to stand out with his work on Robyn‘s “Do You Really Want Me (Show Respect)”, Pras‘ “Ghetto Supastar” and Aerosmith‘s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” Further videos for superstar artists followed in the 2000s, including “Independent Woman Part 1” for Destiny’s Child, “I’m A Slave 4 U” for Britney Spears and Pink’s “Just Like A Pill,” and he ended up looking over some of the key pop songs of the decade, like Justin Timberlake‘s “Cry Me A River,” Avril Lavigne‘s “Sk8er Boi,” and Gwen Stefani‘s “What You Waiting For?” In between features, Lawrence has kept his toe in the promo world, working with Beyonce on “Run The World (Girls)” and winning a Grammy for Lady Gaga‘s “Bad Romance.”
Debut Feature: “Constantine” (2005)
Lawrence kicked off his Hollywood career with one of the more high-profile debuts on this list, in the shape of Keanu Reeves vehicle “Constantine.” The film’s a travesty of its source material, dark comic book “Hellblazer,” and sometimes tips into CGI-driven incoherence, but it’s not terrible: Lawrence confidently sets up atmosphere and sets up a number of striking images, and has a fair amount of capability with actors (though no one could get a workable performance out of Gavin Rossdale, inexplicably cast as a demon). It’s no masterpiece, but it has a fair amount of personality for a comic-book tentpole, and it’s hard to totally hate a film that casts Tilda Swinton as the androgynous, villainous angel Gabriel.
Film Career Since Then: With “Constantine” a modest hit, Lawrence was given one of Warner Bros‘ crown jewels: a long-gestating version of “I Am Legend” which had once been linked to Ridley Scott, and was led by megastar Will Smith. In its mostly-silent depictions of a deserted New York, the film has some value, but gets increasingly less interesting as it goes on, and is fatally crippled by the unconvincing CGI antagonists. Lawrence stepped away from effects-driven blockbusters four years later for period weepie “Water For Elephants,” starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz. It’s passable stuff for older audiences, but the performances are pretty dull, and the film underwhelmed financially. Lawrence has never stood out as more than a very capable, tasteful answer to some of his music video brethren like Michael Bay, but the reviews for his latest film, “The Hunger Games; Catching Fire,” are very strong, and with Lawrence sticking around for the final two movies in the franchise, he may be about to reinvent himself as the David Yates of the dystopian young adult series. Maybe that’ll buy him the freedom to do something more personal and interesting?
Selected Videography: While many of these directors made their name in the hip-hop or pop worlds, Marc Webb is something of an outlier, as he owes much of his career to rock or emo artists. The director made his first video, for Blues Traveler, at the age of 23, and has barely looked back since: videos for Santana and Anastacia followed, before moving on to clips like “The Days Of The Phoenix” for AFI, “Festival Song” for Good Charlotte, and “Waiting” for Green Day. Work for Puddle Of Mudd, Maroon 5, Brand New, Jimmy Eat World and My Chemical Romance followed, before he diversified into pop (Ashlee Simpson’s “Boyfriend”), indie (Hot Hot Heat‘s “Middle Of Nowhere”) and hip-hop (Trey Songz, Nelly). “Ocean Avenue” for Yellowcard won a VMA, and he picked up the Best Director award at the ceremony in 2009 for Green Day’s “21 Guns.”
Debut Feature: “(500) Days Of Summer” (2009)
Webb went long-form for “(500) Days Of Summer,” a buzzy indie rom-com with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel that was well received at Sundance back in 2009, and proved to be a sleeper summer hit on release. It’s a very flawed film — it’s a rather one-sided male viewpoint on the romance, it’s a little in love with its own quirkiness, and like many first films, there’s a sense that it throws everything at the wall and sees what sticks. But it also had a freshness and playfulness that made it one of the more impressive romantic comedies, and for every contrived Smiths reference, there’s a moment of real feeling. And Webb’s visual nous gave the genre a fresh lick of paint, with a few genuinely stand-out sequences (not least the impressive split-screen ‘expectations vs. reality’ set-piece).
Film Career Since Then: Webb became a hot prospect off the back of the movie; though his immediate follow-up work was in TV (a middling episode of “The Office,” and the terrific pilot for the sadly short-lived Fox series “Lone Star“), but he was attached to a whole host of projects; he nearly beat Bennett Miller to the “Moneyball” gig, and he was attached to recent indie hit “The Spectacular Now” (before the James Ponsoldt-helmed version that hit theaters) thriller “Just Another Love Story,” sci-fi “Age Of Rage” and a new version of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” But ultimately, the tentpole world got its claws into him, and Webb landed the job of directing “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The film had a somewhat troubled gestation (there were rumors that Sony and Webb clashed on the tone of the film), and the eventual product bears those scars. Though Webb handles the effects and action decently, it’s a pretty bad superhero movie, but a fairly decent romantic drama, with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone making immensely appealing leads. If the rumors of a clash were correct, things seem to have been smoothed over, as the director’s currently in post on “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” and with two further sequels dated through to 2018, may yet be in that world for a while longer.
Honorable Mentions: Of course, as per usual, this just the tip of the iceberg. Other music video veterans who’ve moved into features include the likes of Tony Kaye, Alex Proyas, David Slade, Roman Coppola, Jake Scott and Flora Sigismondi (the latter being a veritable short-form legend, but with only a single feature behind her, “The Runaways.”). We also love Mike Mills‘ films so far, but he left the music video world behind almost 10 years ago, as did “Little Miss Sunshine” duo Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton. Garth Jennings also made a terrific feature with “Son Of Rambow,” while Richard Ayoade used videos for Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend as a way to leapfrog into features.
And of course, there are plenty of names who came up in the golden age of the music promo who’ve moved into features. Normally very, very bad features, in most cases; we’re talking about the likes of Michael Bay, McG, Simon West, Marcus Nispel, Russell Mulcahly, Brett Ratner, Len Wiseman, Joseph Kahn, Mark Pellington, F. Gary Gray, Dominic Sena and Steve Baron. – Jessica Kiang & Oliver Lyttelton