Movie Directors Who Started Out Making Music Videos

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is having a great opening weekend and I had the chance to see it on Monday.  Like director Michael Bay's other films, it was a visual stunner with non-stop adrenaline-fueled action and physics-defying stunts and explosions.  It was probably his strongest movie so far.  Bay started out making music videos, as did a bunch of other modern filmmakers.  The decline in music video production from its MTV heyday has been an unfortunate loss of a fertile training ground for cinematographers who used the short-form video-training as a stepping stone to feature films. 

Here are some of the directors who made it big after starting out making those popular three-minute music vignettes.

Michael Bay - Moviegoers can easily identify a Michael Bay movie from its visual style.  Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, and the Transformers trilogy all have those gorgeous, eye-catching benchmarks that Bay captures so well.  He started out as an intern for George Lucas on Raiders of the Lost Ark and honed his skills by directing commercials and music videos which foreshadowed his unique style, such as Donny Osmond's "Soldier of Love," "I Touch Myself" by the Divinyls, and Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything for Love," among others.  Critics bemoan his talent as style over substance, and they are often right -- Pearl Harbor, for example, is a glorious visual accomplishment and a complete storytelling mess -- but he is getting better.  I wonder what he can do with a fabulous script that can accentuate his positives.  Can he succeed if he forced himself to reign in his excesses?

David Fincher - A darling of critics and fans alike, Fincher has quite a filmography -- Alien3 (which was a flop and critically lambasted but has earned supporters in hindsight over the years), Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Social Network.  His music videos were equally spectacular and memorable, such as Madonna's "Vogue," Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love," Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun," George Michael's "Freedom '90," and many more.  He has the eagerly awaited U.S. adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo coming up.

Antoine Fuqua - He still might not be a household name, but he should be, because he's a very talented filmmaker.  His movies are awesome.  Check out The Replacement Killers starring Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino, Bait starring Jamie Foxx, the acclaimed Training Day starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, Tears of the Sun starring Bruce Willis, King Arthur starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley, Shooter starring Mark Wahlberg, and Brooklyn's Finest starring Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, and Don Cheadle.  His most famous music video was the awesome "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio.  He's working on a Tupac Shakur biopic -- maybe that will be the project to make him a mainstream A-list director.

Spike Jonze - He's quirky, unassuming, unpretentious, but incredibly talented.  You might say he's the anti-Michael Bay.  Jonze has directed some fantastic movies -- Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and the fantastic Where the Wild Things Are.  His videos are cult classics -- Weezer's "Buddy Holly," "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys, R.E.M.'s "Crush with Eyeliner," Fatboy Slim's "Praise You," Tenacious D's "Wonderboy," and many, many more.

McG - The one-named wonder has directed the Charlie's Angels movies, We Are Marshall starring Matthew McConaughey, and Terminator Salvation.  His music video productions include the popular Smash Mouth's "All Star" and Sugar Ray's "Fly."

Alex Proyas - He's another one of my favorites with a list of great movies on his resume -- The Crow, Dark City, I Robot, Knowing, and the upcoming Paradise Lost.  He's directed music videos by Sting, Alphaville, Yes, INXS, and others. 

Tarsem - There is likely no other filmmaker with such an unrepentent, symbolic visual style.  He thinks of himself as an artiste, and his movies The Cell and The Fall are like dreams (or nightmares) captured on film.  Some might say that his feature films feel like elongated music videos, where images are more important than narrative.  His next movie is Immortals about the Greek legend of Theseus, and he's working on a dark version of The Brothers Grimm's Snow White.

Simon West - He gave us Con Air, The General's Daughter, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, When a Stranger Calls, and The Mechanic.  He started out with the cult classic music video "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley.

There are many more.  Hopefully, even though MTV might not be showing too many music videos anymore, the genre will still survive and continue offering future filmmakers the opportunity to hone their craft before venturing out to feature length stories.