We are all pretty familiar with the stories of how David Fincher (Madonna, Paula Abdul, Justin Timberlake), Spike Jonze (Weezer, Beastie Boys) and Michel Gondry (White Stripes) started out making innovative music videos for famous musicians, but many other major directors got their start on the smaller screen, too. Throughout the past decades, several future star directors created some of your favorite and best-known music vids. Leaping from directing a four-minute music video, to a 90-minute Hollywood film can seem daunting, but music videos are basically mini movies with elaborate productions and star power, so it’s not too disparate. Most of the directors on the list have abandoned their video roots for bigger projects, but once in a while, a few of the directors return to where it all started for them.
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10 Floria Sigismondi
The Italian filmmaker got her start as a painter before segueing into music videos. For over 20 years, she’s directed videos for David Bowie, Katy Perry (“E.T.”), Marilyn Manson (“The Beautiful People”) and a controversial Sigur Rós video for their song, “Untitled #1.” The video features school children wearing gas masks and playing in post-apocalyptic ash. In 2010, she wrote and directed her first film, The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning. The film’s a biopic of punk girl group, The Runaways, with Stewart playing band member Joan Jett. After she made the movie, Sigismondi returned to music videos and won an MTV Video Music Award (VMA) for Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors.”
9 Len Wiseman
Len Wiseman got his start as a property assistant on Independence Day and then transitioned to directing music videos in the ‘90s. He directed Megadeth’s “Crush Em” and En Vogue’s “Riddle” videos before directing Underworld in 2003, which grossed over $95 million worldwide. While filming, he hooked up with future-wife and cast member, Kate Beckinsale. He went on to direct Live Free or Die Hard and the sequel to Underworld. He now produces the genre show, Sleepy Hollow.
8 Zack Snyder
My Chemical Romance, Soul Asylum and Morrissey are just a few of Zack Snyder’s music video clients. After shooting videos, he directed the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, followed by comic book films 300 and Man of Steel. He is currently filming the Batman/ Superman mash-up, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, due to hit theaters in 2016. Snyder garnered the ire of some comic book fans when he cast Ben Affleck in the Caped Crusader role. With his busy schedule, it doesn’t look like Snyder will have much time for music videos any time soon.
7 Gore Verbinski
The director dabbled in music videos before he headed to the high seas on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Gore Verbinski directed four videos for Bad Religion, including one for their song “21st Century (Digital Boy),”and he filmed his first feature in 1997, a kids movie starring Nathan Lane called Mousehunt. He then embarked on a fruitful collaboration with Johnny Depp on the Caribbean movies, The Lone Ranger and the animated flick Rango, which won Verbinski an Oscar.
6 Richard Ayoade
The British comedic actor and director starred on The IT Crowd and made his debut feature in 2010. His coming-of-age romantic drama, Submarine was a sleeper hit at Sundance, and Arctic Monkeys lead singer, Alex Turner composed the score for the movie. He has a long history with Turner: He directed videos for their songs “Fluorescent Adolescent” and “Crying Lightning," and the documentary Arctic Monkeys at The Apollo. He also directed Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s 2009 video “Heads Will Roll,” which got nominated for a Breakthrough Video VMA. This year, Ayoade directed Jesse Eisenberg in the thriller, The Double.
5 Antoine Fuqua
Antoine Fuqua is a veteran to music video production—he started making videos for Prince 20 years ago. He also directed videos for other R&B artists like Shanice, Coolio’s “Gangsta Paradise” and Lil Wayne’s “Mirror.” With the exception of directing a couple of vids in the past few years, Fuqua's put his video projects on hold to make bigger movies. He made his directorial debut with the action film, The Replacement Killers, but his breakthrough came with 2001’s Training Day, when he directed Denzel Washington to an Oscar win. Fuqua also directed last year’s Olympus Has Fallen and this year’s The Equalizer, also starring Washington.
4 Tamra Davis
After studying under Francis Ford Coppola, Tamra Davis directed a slew of music videos for artists like the Bangles and Sonic Youth. She directed videos for the Beastie Boys’ “Netty’s Girl” (she’s married to Mike D of the Beasties), Young MC’s “Bust a Move” and Hanson’s “MMMBop.” Those successful projects led to directing Drew Barrymore in 1992’s Guncrazy, Davis’ feature film debut. She followed that up with comedies Billy Madison (Adam Sandler), CB4 (Chris Rock), Half Baked (Dave Chappelle) and Britney Spears’ debut film, Crossroads. Her latest project isn't directing, but producing, as she produced a doc about seminal punk girl, Kathleen Hanna called The Punk Singer.
3 Brett Ratner
Since directing action-comedy fare like Money Talks and the Rush Hour films, Brett Ratner’s become an A-list Hollywood director. In the early ‘90s, he made music videos for high-profile urban musicians Mary J. Blige, LL Cool J and D’Angelo. He famously directed Mariah Carey in eight videos, including her hits “We Belong Together” and “Heartbreaker.” Even after finding mainstream success in movies, Ratner continued to direct music videos. This year, he returned to the big screen with Hercules, starring The Rock.
2 Michael Bay
Through his ‘90s-made music videos and commercials, it became obvious that blockbuster director, Michael Bay had the chops to mastermind big-budgeted Hollywood films for Jerry Bruckheimer. Bay filmed the Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself” and Meat Loaf’s epic “I Will Do Anything Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and got the attention of Bruckheimer, who hired Bay to direct Will Smith in 1994’s Bad Boys. The film grossed a whopping $141 million at the box office and solidified Hollywood’s trust in Bay to deliver moneymaking movies. Bay found more success in directing Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and the Transformers movies.
1 Anton Corbijn
Unlike most artists on the list, the Dutch filmmaker started directing music videos in the early 1980s. Over the course of 30 years, he’s directed some famous videos, such as U2’s “One,” Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” and 21 videos for Depeche Mode, including “Enjoy the Silence” and “Personal Jesus.” Also a revered black-and-white photographer, Anton Corbijn has photographed everyone from U2 to Springsteen to Madonna, and he snapped the album cover photo for U2’s “The Joshua Tree.” Keeping with the music theme, in 2007, he made his first feature called Control, a biopic about the tragic life of Joy Division singer, Ian Curtis. He also directed this year’s A Most Wanted Man starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. Even though he moved on from videos to movies, Corbijn still occasionally shoots videos. Last year, he filmed acclaimed music videos for Depeche Mode ("Should Be Higher") and Arcade Fire ("Reflektor").
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