10 Music Video Directors Turned Feature Filmmakers

Features
by The Playlist Staff
November 13, 2013 3:06 PM
2 Comments
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Tarsem
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."


Antoine Fuqua
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.


Francis Lawrence
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?


Marc Webb
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

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2 Comments

  • Joe Ikeda | November 13, 2013 7:31 PMReply

    You have the HURT video by Mark Romanek in the Jon Glazer section. Should be an honest mistake, but it's a mistake you shouldn't make.

  • Jay | April 4, 2014 6:47 AM

    Wow, you're a hard task master

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