What Your Favorite Directors Do When They’re Not Making Movies

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Almost all of your favorite directors, from Spike Lee to Scorsese, direct commercials. In fact, quite a few directing greats got their start in commercials.

Being surprised by that is tantamount to being shocked that a great chef, in addition to cooking at 5 star restaurant, also cooks at home.

As a director myself, I can offer some thoughts on directing, though anyone could’ve derived the following:

1) Directing is not easy, if it was, you’d be doing it.

2) Directors like to direct for both passion and practice.

3) Features film are vastly more difficult to develop (unless you’re Woody Allen who does one every year) than commercials.

4) Directors like to get paid.

Don’t take my word for it though, take David Lynch’s;

‘The money’s good, and the added bonus is that I get to use and learn about the latest technology, tools that normally wouldn’t be available to me, and then I can use those tools in my feature work.’

So that being said, here’s a list of extremely well known and very well regarded directors and some of their commercials. Enjoy.

Spike Lee

A prolific filmmaker, Lee is also an old standby in the commercial world, directing for Nike, Taco Bell, Ben & Jerry’s, etc. Recently he teamed up with State Farm as well as MSNBC to do their  ‘Lean Forward’ ads (shot by Oscar nominee Matthew Libatique).

Behind the scenes:

And an old Nike/Jordan commercial:

Wes Anderson

The understated stylist of the Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic and Rushmore, etc, also has done commercials for American Express, AT&T, Stella Artois and IKEA, amongst others. However the one you likely never saw was for a Japanese cell phone company and starring Brad Pitt.

Darren Aronofsky

The writer/director of the devastatingly hard to watch Requiem for a Dream teamed up with the Meth Project to create some equally devastating anti-meth commercials.

Tom Hooper

Academy Award winner for best director (The King’s Speech), Tom knows story and has brought his talent to the small screen directing commercials for Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Sony, etc.

Just after winning his Oscar he directed the absolutely awesome Captain Morgan ads.

David Lynch

As a rule, Lynch movies cannot make sense, his commercials for the likes of Playstation, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein and brand films for Gucci and Dior make as little sense. Some do however, like his pregnancy test or Alka Seltzer commercials or this one for a French cigarette company.

David Fincher

One of the best in the business, with recent hits like The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and past classics like Fight Club and Seven has helmed commercials for Nike, Budweiser, Heineken and Levi’s amongst many others.

Check out this Nike ad:

And for Heineken starring Brad Pitt:

Fincher channeling Ridley Scott:

The Scott Brothers

Ridley Scotts company, which Tony came to work for, RSA (Ridley Scott Associates) was formed as, and remains, a largely commercial producing house. Scott Free is the Scott Bros film and television outfit.

  • Ridley Scott

By his own estimation, he’s directed over 2,700 commercials for basically everyone and everything.

Most notably, fresh off of completing the seminal Aliens and Blade Runner, Ridley made this Apple commercial that aired once during the 1984 Super Bowl, considered a watershed event.

  • Tony Scott

Like Ridley, Tony has also directed north of 1,000 commercials, here’s one featuring Anthony Hopkins for Barclays.

Here’s a brand film for BMW, in the style of Man on Fire (the best Tony Scott film, in my opinion) starring Clive Owen and featuring Gary Oldman…and James Brown.

Michael Mann

Director of Heat, The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral, etc. has also helmed shoots for Nike, Ferrari, AT&T and directed a brand film for Mercedes featuring Benicio Del Toro.

Here’s a Nike spot:

Spike Jonze

Best known for films like Where The Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Jonze is also a prolific music video and commercial director. He’s done spots for Gap, IKEA and Levi’s amongst others. Check out his epic Adidas commercial featuring music by Karen O.

Michel Gondry

A surrealist on par with the best of them, known for films like The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has also made a nice career of music videos and commercials. He’s done ads for Motorola, Air France, Levi’s, etc. Take a look at his 1998 Smirnoff ad which pioneered the ‘bullet time’ effect that The Matrix came to get credit for.

If that seems like a bit of boys club, here’s a couple wildly successful lady directors and their commercial work:

Sofia Coppola

The daughter of (former) powerhouse director Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia has made some pretty amazing films herself from The Virgin Suicides to Lost in Translation to the recent Somewhere. She’s also directed ads for Dior and H&M.


Kathryn Bigelow

The first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director, for the truly amazing Hurt Locker, she’s done a brand film for Pirelli Tires as well as ads for Revlon.

And as promised in the intro, ‘from Spike Lee to Scorsese’;

Martin Scorsese

The Oscar and Golden Globe winning directing legend recently did a Chanel fragrance commercial. In addition he’s done commercials for American Express, Armani and a brand film/commercial for Freixenet Wine.

More at directors listed at FlavorWireBusiness Pundit and Ask Men

An in depth article about film directors and their commercials at The New York Times

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5 Responses to What Your Favorite Directors Do When They’re Not Making Movies

  1. Scott St. John
    Scott St. John February 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    The Scorsese commercial is a foreign spot, I still don’t see the commercials by Kubrick, Hitchcock, David Lean, or Copola

  2. Steve Tsentserensky February 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    The Scorsese spot is foreign in that it’s for Chanel, but it’s a global campaign that’s played on a plethora of US channels ad nauseum. So have his Amex commercials. That’s irrelevant anyways though because they’re still commercials.

    Ultimately that’s not the point though. The point is there’s nothing wrong or abnormal with great directors, cinematographers, etc. doing television commercials.

    • Scott St. John
      Scott St. John February 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      Scorcese was in the Amex spots different, Show me the Kubrick spots or Hitchcock or Lean or Frank Capri then you’ll have proved your point

  3. Steve Tsentserensky February 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    Scorsese directed the Tribeca Amex spot as well as a few other:



    Kubrick never directed any but commented on the artistic nature of commercials in this Rolling Stone interview:


    You’re never going to find one by Hitchcock or Capra; maybe because of the old Hollywood studio system way of contracting directors that lasted until the early 60’s, maybe because TV ads were in their infancy then, maybe because agencies couldn’t afford to pay them.

    Commercials didn’t become a particularly creative medium until relatively recently and if you don’t consider the directors I listed as great that’s fine with me.


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