The traditional trajectory for music video directors starts on the streets and ends up in Hollywood. Spike Jonze began his career directing videos for Beastie Boys and Weezer, and went on to direct Her and Being John Malkovich. Antoine Fuqua went from directing the music video for "Gangsta’s Paradise" to the Denzel Washington epic Training Day. And then there’s Michel Gondry, Michael Bay, and McG, to name but a few others. But perhaps more surprising is the small group of talented actors, musicians, and directors who go from stardom to music video direction. Take some time to revel in some of the most unlikely, but wonderfully awesome, music video directors (you didn’t know directed music videos).
Olivia Wilde - Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dark Necessities"
The newest director/video on this list is Olivia Wilde with the release of the Red Hot Chili Peppers video for “Dark Necessities.” The actor, famous for TV series House and Vinyl, and films like Tron: Legacy and Her, brings a keen eye to this RHCP piece. Wilde recaptures the California vibe of the Peppers by juxtaposing the band playing around and looking antsy in a wood-paneled Cali home with badass lady longboarders tearing up waterways and showing off scars. The result is a shockingly young-feeling music video for a band that’s been around for over 30 years.
Michael Moore - Rage Against the Machine's "Sleep Now in the Fire"
Hearing that controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore directed Rage Against the Machine’s “Sleep Now in the Fire” makes perfect sense, right? And the director, better known for pissing off racist uncles all over the rust belt, combines on-the-scene filming with intentionally cheesy interstitials to create a portrait of rebellion and mockery that, upon closer inspection, seems so biting it's a wonder the video ever got airplay.
Fred Armisen - El Perro Del Mar's "Breaking the Girl"
Is this roundup obsessed with Red Hot Chili Peppers? Maybe. This cover of an RHCP song by Swedish project El Perro Del Mar stars and is directed by SNL alum and Portlandia co-creator, Fred Armisen. With his signature blend of comedy and absurdism, Armisen adds a sense of forward motion and propulsion to this dreamy pop cover.
Alex de Campi - Amanda Palmer's "Leeds United"
Alex de Campi is the only artist on this list who isn’t a big name in film and TV. Instead, de Campi got her starting writing amazing indie comics for publishers like Image, IDW, and even wrote a few issues of Wonder Woman. But she’s since moved into video directing, and this music video for Amanda Palmer (former member of The Dresden Dolls) gives off major steampunk and vaudeville vibes.
Jason Alexander - Brad Paisley's "Online"
Okay, so this entry may be pushing the definition of “actually awesome,” but it’s such an oddity that it had to be included. Jason Alexander (that’s George Costanza, to you) directed and starred in the video for “Online” by country music singer Brad Paisley. The song, a shockingly mean-spirited "takedown” of people who use the internet, features Alexander as a stereotypical nerd living in the basement of his parents’ house. Full of cheap gags, body-shaming, and a high school jock mentality, this bizarre music video is wildly bizarre and off-kilter. Watch this for how damn weird it is, not for any redeeming social or artistic value.
Diane Keaton - Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven is a Place on Earth"
From early Woody Allen films to Father of the Bride, Diane Keaton is one of the most-recognized and celebrated actors in America. She’s also an accomplished music video director, directing (among others) this video for former Go-Go’s lead, Belinda Carlisle. The video shows Keaton’s artistic sensibilities, featuring kids in sunglasses holding illuminated globes and spinning in a “Spin Out” amusement park ride.
Aisha Tyler - Silversun Pickups' "Simmer"
Comedian and actor Aisha Tyler’s shot several music videos for rock bands like Clutch and Silversun Pickups, and in all of them she seems obsessed with the nuts-and-bolts of what it takes to be a touring band. This video, for the song “Simmer,” slowly builds from behind-the-scenes footage reminiscent of old Metallica documentaries to a full-on concert video. This is a case where the director’s “other professional life” doesn’t give viewers much of a clue of what to expect from the video. Who knew the voice of Archer’s Agent Lana Kane was such a fan of the inner workings of a roadie’s job?
Drew Barrymore - Best Coast's "Our Deal"
Actor and director Drew Barrymore (E.T., Scream, like everything else) not only directed this music video for California indie darlings Best Coast, she also turned it into a ten-minute short film featuring several songs from their album Crazy for You. Star studded with Chloë Moretz, Miranda Cosgrove, Alia Shawkat, Tyler Posey, and Donald Glover, the video tells a “rival gangs/forbidden love” story between a daytime and nighttime gang. Very narratively driven, this video is full of style and humor.
Eric Wareheim - HEALTH's "We Are Water"
Eric Wareheim, actor, director, and one-half of the Tim and Eric duo, is best known for a particular brand of gross-out, stare-at-the-camera, post-comedy absurdism. But Wareheim also has a long and varied career as a music video director, with videos for Depeche Mode, Ben Folds, MGMT, Beach House, and Major Lazer all showing off his chaotic side. Of all his videos, though, perhaps the most “directed” is this gory, blood-soaked video for HEALTH’s “We Are Water.” The simple, stark premise and limited narrative invite the audience to fill in the blanks before, during, and after the action of the scene to great, and unsettling, effect.
Salma Hayek - Prince ft. Mia Maestro's "Te Amo Corazon"
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the room where Prince and Salma Hayek conceptualized a music video for his 2006 song "Te Amo Corazon." The song, a fairly standard spanish-guitar inspired love ballad (and now hard to find), is infinitely heightened by Hayek’s direction, which manages to capture the brooding, roguish Prince that hadn’t been seen for years. How good was Salma Hayek as a director? In a press conference, Prince said she was “the most thoughtful, attentive director I have ever worked with.” So take that, Kevin Smith.
Who's your favorite from this list? And who's missing? Let us know your thoughts @CreatorsProject or in the comments below!