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Maybe it’s an itch they need to scratch. A director may sit and ask themselves, “Can I, a big Hollywood director, channel all my style and skills into a 30 second spot?”. It’s a tantalizing challenge. Either that or it’s all about the money. That brand new sports car isn’t going to pay for itself, you know. I don’t want to be cynical. Perhaps the director is stepping behind the commercial cameras to direct a spot for a product they really believe in. I know it’s hard to fathom. I mean, can you really imagine the eccentric personalities who make films today enjoying the simple pleasures of average consumerism? I choose to keep an open mind. The truth is, I think all three motives (challenge, money, love of the product) play a part when it comes to a director stepping behind the camera to helm a commercial.

It is a subject that has been discussed before. I suppose it’s always an oddity when a mainstream director steps behind the commercial camera. Research has been done, but findings have always been of the novelty variety used primarily to shock and amaze. “Did you know that Ingmar Bergman directed a commercial for soap and David Lynch did a commercial for the Playstation 2?” One-and-done commercial directors (while interesting) are not the main focus here. I’m taking a look at directors who have made commercials a secondary job. Why is it a relevant subject? Well, the push and pull in film between consumerism and art is always a hot topic. The chief question of the issue, “Can a director’s vision survive in the overly commercial business of movies?” I’ll admit it’s not a question suited for a yes or no answer. We all worry about our favorite directors turning into complete sell outs. How can we be sure that the pursuit of riches won’t cause our favorite directors to compromise their vision? Well that is where commercials come in handy. We can look to the commercials our favorite mainstream directors have made and get a pretty good idea of how well their personal style survives under the most commercial of circumstances. Selling out is not usually done all at once, but rather in degrees. A filmmaker’s commercial directing career can serve as a nice barometer for measuring the potency of their artistic vision under the constraints of a strict advertising (i.e. non-creative) business model. Plus, for those who just happen to be fans of a director’s body of work, their secondary commercial career should always be of special interest. Just think, in between the time you’re left waiting for their next film (which can be a long wait) a director’s commercial projects can be enjoyed. Even if it’s not a feature length expression their cinematic vision, then it’s at least a small extension of it.

So let’s take a look at the commercial careers of 8 very mainstream directors and see how they adapt their style to the pursuit of the almighty advertising dollar.

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This article was first posted on January 28, 2013