Famous Movie Directors and their MTV Influence

Did you know some of your favourite film makers have made not just great movies, but some unforgettable music videos as well? Some directors got their start on MTV, but most on this list are just trying something different.

Antoine Fuqua, best known for directing Training Day and more recently Southpaw, got his start in music videos, shooting songs for Toni Braxton and Prince, but his most famous, arguably, is the one he did for Coolio: Gangsta’s Paradise, which took home best rap video at the MTV video awards in 1996. It’s been 20 years and a couple of weeks since its release but if you hear this song, it transports you back to that magical, Michelle Pfeiffery time in 1995 when rap was still a bit on the fringes, but Fuqua (hired by Jerry Bruckheimer) dared to pair Coolio with America’s super-white sweetheart in a series of face-offs that really  normalized things and turned the genre on its ear. “I wasn’t completely happy with Antoine Fuqua’s concept at first, [says Coolio, to Rolling Stone] because I wanted some low-riders and some shit in it; I was trying to take it ‘hood. But he had a better vision, thank God, than I did. I couldn’t completely see his vision, but I trusted him.” The video is dark, shadowy, and intense, with choice clips from the film highlighting its rougher themes, proving Fuqua had style.

Gus Van Sant, director of Milk and Good Will Hunting, did a video for Red Hot Chili Peppers after directing Flea in My Own Private Idaho. The band credits Van Sant’s video for Under The Bridge with helping them break into the mainstream. The video features the band in a studio with lots and lots of projected lights and layered images superimposed over their faces, and backdrops of deserts and ocean, and then shifts its focus to the streets of Los Angeles, where Anthony Kiedis sings at various city folk, the camera lingering on characters as they go by. This video is just a small dose of Van Sant’s melding of stylistic devises that audiences would come to know him for.

David Fincher, weirdo director of Fight Club and The Social Network, has done a number of music videos, including Billy Idol’s Cradle of Love and Madonna’s Vogue, but I love the one he did for Aerosmith because it’s SO Fincher. In fact, it was banned from MTV for its gruesome, realistic scenes that kinda sorta alluded to incest. It was a landmark video for its narrative structure, blue mood lighting, and tricky not-for-primetime subject matter.

Michael Bay is my personal nemesis, and director of winners such as Pearl Harbor, and Transformers. But did you know that before Bad Boys, there was Meatloaf? That’s right – in the greatest pairing since Avril Lavigne and the guy from Nickelback, Michael Bay staged the epic I’d Do Anything For Love video – ridiculous and grandiose, there is nothing these two wouldn’t do. No expense or piece of storyline was spared; the budget is said to have been over $4 million dollars, but there is a helicopter and 2 hours of makeup application for a 6 minute video, so that’s reasonable.

Sofia Coppola, feted director of Lost in Translation, once did a video for the White Stripes: I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself. It’s a cover song, obviously, and it needed a fab director to take a Burt Bacharach ditty that Dusty Springfield made famous, and putting their own mark on it. Coppola decided to keep it simple: Kate Moss pole dances, in black and white. Why? “Because I would like to see it. [says Sofia] That’s the way I work: I try to imagine what I would like to see.” It has a Bob Fosse\Factory feel and updates the vintage classic. But this is Virgin Suicides Sofia Coppola we’re talking about; the video is sexy, sure, but it’s also lonely. Moss is out there alone. No audience. There’s emptiness mixed with her particular brand of eroticism. But it certainly seems that she knows exactly what to do with herself. And now you might have a few ideas of what to do with her too.

And how about that Spike Lee? He’s gotta be the obvious one on this list, right? The director of Do The Right Thing was also behind the camera for Public Enemy’s iconic video. Videos actually; one was made to highlight the film, but a second was made with thousands of extras simulating a political rally in Brooklyn. It really captures the emotions, and the anger really, of the song’s lyrics. This song was conceived was Lee’s behest, and this is man who does not avoid controversy. The video was a megaphone and Lee knows exactly where to point it.

Brian de Palma is maybe my favourite on this list. You know him as the director of Scarface and Carrie, but did you know he also directed the video for Bruce Springsteins’ Dancing in the Dark? Neither a psychological thriller nor graphically violent, Dancing in the Dark doesn’t even appear to pay homage to Hitchcock. Are we sure it’s de Palma? Apparently this is what he does when he’s between movies. He makes music videos as business cards: this gun’s for hire.

And speaking of out of character, how about this New Order video for Touched By The Hand of God? It’s Kathryn Bigelow at the helm, responsible for the inspired casting of New Order themselves to play hair-band versions of themselves. No hints of The Hurt Locker here, Bigelow instead opts to parody glam metal. And where De Palma used a young Courtney Cox, Bigelow went with a young Bill Paxton. Crazy, right?

Tim Burton, the man behind Edward Scissorhands and a whole genre’s worth of quirky gothic horror stuff, also does music videos in his spare time. Hired by The Killers when they all had flagging careers, he in turn tossed a day’s work to Winona Ryder who was happy to get paid scale to play some sort of weird, bug-eyed wax doll. I think. It’s definitely cinematic and Burtony and it doesn’t make me like, or understand, the song any better.

This list would not be complete without Mr. Scorsese. He directed the epic music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad, which (together with Thriller, directed by John Landis) cemented these sprawling, story-telling videos. It co-stars a young Wesley Snipes and is heavily influenced by West Side Story. It is 18 minutes long (take that, Thriller!) and even had a screenwriter. Jackson plays a student named Daryl who’s home after a semester at a private school. To prove to Snipes that he’s still “bad” he…well, he dances. As you do. He snaps, the video turns to colour, and here you have it:

This list is already long but believe me, it could go on for ages. Directors be busy!

Gaspar Noe (Enter the Void) – Nick Cave, We No Who U R

Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind) – Chemical Brothers, Star Guitar

Spike Jonze (Her) – Beastie Boys, Sabotage

Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin)- Radiohead, Karma Police

James Cameron (Titanic) – Martini Ranch, Reach Bloated and starring Bill Paxton, what else?

Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) – Jessica Simpson, These Boots Are Made for Walking

Ridley Scott (Gladiator) – Roxy Music, Avalon

Ron Howard (Cocoon) – Michael Sembello, Gravity HOLY SHIT YOU NEED TO CHECK THIS OUT
Do any of these surprise you? Do you see any of the director’s style shining through these music videos?


There is no way in hell I could fail to mention that Canadian indie director whizkid Xavier Dolan recently directed the history-making, ultra-lush Adele video to end all videos. It’s the first music video ever to be shot in IMAX, in stark black and white. Set in the outskirts of Montreal, it’s an emotional one, beautiful and well suited for Adele’s overdue comeback. It racked up a record-breaking 27 million views in the first 24 hours of its release – take that, Taylor Swift. Apparently it was Adele who reached out to Dolan, and he’s still reeling that she even knows who he is.

26 thoughts on “Famous Movie Directors and their MTV Influence

  1. mikeladano

    Great idea for a post. I don’t pay a lot of attention to videos, so I knew very few of these!

    I have a review coming tomorrow of an Aerosmith record for which Bay directed the lead video.


    1. Jay Post author

      I knew a lot of these guys started out videos, but their names were often unknown when these videos were made so didn’t always know who belonged to what.

      Cool, can’t wait for Aerosmith!


  2. J.

    Jings! Who knew? I haven’t watched a music video in a very long time (since the clips on Beavis & Butthead), but I’ve seen a few of these … other than Spike Lee and Sofia Coppola, I had no idea who directed though. Not surprised by Bay and Meatloaf. Missing a few robots, but it’s got all the Bay hallmarks there.

    Ron Howard … what the … ?


  3. fragglerocking

    love this post! Aerosmith my fave along with The Boss, New Order were crap even when not parodying glam rock, (which they did a pants job of, no self respecting hair rocker would have a beard and a tash). Ridley Scott doing Avalon was awesome too. Feeling very informed! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jaina

    Did not know about Scorsese being the director behind the video for Bad! Total shocker for me. Wonder if there are any current music video directors with big films in their futures.



    Totally rad article. Very interesting and inspiring. Fincher made some super stylish videos. Love them. He probably is the best video turned film director. Glazer’s Karma Police is a real standout. My nerdy addition: F Gary Gray went from Ice Cube videos, to Friday, and eventually the recent smash Straight Outta Compton.


  6. That Other Critic

    Already knew about Bay, but the rest of these are surprising. In my opinion, Bay’s filmmaking style is pretty much that of a 90’s music video.


  7. Marshall

    It’s interesting to see who – mostly Fincher – allows the form of the music video to influence his features. I feel like most of these directors just use these essentially short films as sandboxes to play around in.


  8. StephLove

    Fun idea for a post. I think I would have guessed the Tim Burton one if this had been a multiple choice quiz. (Though I might have been briefly misled by the Meatloaf one– the levitating bed and all.) I may be seeing that wax doll in my nightmares.


  9. filmfunkel

    It’s an awesome post and I love it even if it does destroy my weekend and some part of my soul…

    …and I thought I had no more innocence left to lose…


  10. Pingback: Canadian Film Day | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

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