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For many, becoming a film director is a dream job. The glitz, the glamour… getting to hang out with famous actors – and tell them what to do?! 

But some may be surprised to find out that many of the most well-regarded directors don’t just make big-budget blockbusters. Many have turned to video commercials and web ads.

And keep reading to find out why Pixar – the late Steve Job’s animated movie company – made it on the list, too.

So let’s get started with #10 on the list:


Michael Bay

Michael Bay wasn’t always the blow-em-up pyrotechnics fiend that Transformers and the like made him out to be. Surprisingly, he actually made the first ever Got Milk? commercial.

There’s only one word for this ad: iconic. We still remember this campaign and its classic slogan to this day. And Michael Bay of all people made the commercial that started it all.


Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola’s style is easy to spot. Just watch Lost in Translation or Marie Antoinette and you can see her specific flair. So as you’d expect, her commercials use her signature pastel colours, beautiful camera movements, and features effortlessly cool music.

Watch this commercial she made for the Marc Jacob scent Daisy Perfume, and see why she’s a pro:


Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott truly got his professional career started in the world of advertisements. Before Alien, before Blade Runner, the English director took to the small screen. So when Chanel No. 5 was looking for a fresh brand image, Scott came to the rescue. A series of TV ads starting in the 1970s was produced by Scott’s production company, RSA. 

The commercials were beautiful, cutting edge mini-films with real production value. Check out one of the surreal, fantastical and captivating fragrance commercials here:

Scott also made the first ever Apple commercial. This was before Macintosh computers were even in stores. Check out the 1984-inspired ad here:


David Fincher

David Fincher is known for making actors do take after take (after take). He apparently shot 99 takes of the opening scene of the Social Network. But Fincher didn’t always have the huge budgets that would allow for those long working days. In order to get his stripes, he took to commercials and music videos.

This Levi’s ad, made in 1996, was made just a year after Seven came out. You can see a definite Fincher-esque style. This high-energy chase scene could fit in well in The Dark Knight.


Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze has perfected the short form of filmmaking. While you might know him from big blockbusters like Her, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich, he’s made waves in the commercial & music video game. He has won the most prestigious award for commercials out there – the Cannes Grand Prix – twice.

The first being in 2002, where Jonze made the iconic Ikea “Lamp” commercial. This might jog your memory:

The next Grand Prix winning ad was for Kenzo World, the fragrance brand. It’s very reminiscent of a music video Jonze made for Fatboy Slim – Weapon of Choice. Side note: If you haven’t seen Christopher Walken’s performance in that video, I don’t know what you’re doing here!


Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson has one of the most recognizable styles in modern filmmaking. From beautiful colour pallets, to his signature symmetrical wide framing… It’s easy to pick an Anderson film out of a crowd. And this is no different for advertisements. Partially thanks to his long-time collaborator, cinematographer Robert Yeoman – this AMEX commercial screams Wes Anderson. And it’s probably one of his most famous ads yet:


Martin Scorcese

It seems like if you’re a famous filmmaker and you’re going to make a commercial – perfume is the way to go. So when Scorsese took to the small screen, he decided to collaborate with Chanel.  No surprise, it uses a lot of Scorcese-isms – it starts off in the streets of New York, uses kinetic, high-energy editing, and a Rolling Stones song to boot.


David Lynch

David Lynch’s commercials – dare I say – are even weirder than his films. That’s coming from someone who sat through 3 hours of Inland Empire. Surprisingly enough, Sony approached Lynch to help launch the Playstation 2. I say surprisingly, as for today’s standards it would seem pretty unusual for Sony to come out with something as surreal as this. This is in black and white – something that Lynch apparently took offense to. He shot it in colour, and only found out they changed it once it was on the air.


Ryan Reynolds

We couldn’t leave Canadian commercials off this list. His production company Maximum Effort make not just clever, witty commercials – but makes them with lightning fast turnarounds.

When HBO released an episode of the Sex and the City reboot, where Mr. Big [Spoiler alert!] drops dead after a Peloton class – Peloton stock immediately plummeted. But opportunity struck, and Reynolds & company sprung into action. And within 36 hours, this ad dropped. Check out the ad featuring Mr. Big actor Chris Noth – and see how damage control is done right. 


Bonus: Pixar

Did you know that Pixar started off making commercials? Spearheaded by Steve Jobs, you have to imagine he didn’t have much experience in the animation industry. Sure, he made computers that artists loved, but did he have the resources to make full feature films off the bat? 

To garner some funding and find the talent and practice it would take to make bigger and better projects, Pixar took to ads for nearly a decade. This was a smart move, apparently, as these ads allowed the company to thrive, get their sea legs, and make full length movies, eventually. 

Pixar made 79 commercials in total so far. Here’s one of their earliest ads, made for Tropicana.

After digging into this, it looks like most directors have ventured into commercial video. It seems like advertisements are a way for many filmmakers to flex their creative muscles. Storytelling in 30 or 60 seconds is definitely a skill to hone – and must be an exciting fresh challenge for many directors used to feature length films. Do you have a favourite ad made by a famous director?

Rachel Siegel

Author Rachel Siegel

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