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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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';
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.
An in depth article about film directors and their commercials at The New York Times