When we think of Hollywood directors, we often envision them immersed in the world of film from the get-go. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan appear to have been born to entertain us with epic movies that push the boundaries of long form movie magic.
However, for many iconic directors, the path to Hollywood was paved through the world of advertising. Advertising, with its demand for tight narratives, eye-catching visuals, and the art of persuasion, often serves as an excellent training ground for those aspiring to shape the world of film.
To underline and celebrate how important ad land was a s a steppingstone for so many of these legendary figures, we’re shining a spotlight on a few of the most popular major Hollywood directors who cut their teeth in advertising.
Sir Ridley Scott, the visionary director behind classics like “Blade Runner” and “Aliens,” began his career in the advertising world. He founded Ridley Scott Associates (RSA) with his brother Tony, and they made a significant mark on British television advertising in the 1970s. One of Scott's most famous commercials is the 1973 Hovis bread advertisement, which showcases his knack for storytelling and atmospheric visuals.
Another notable work is his 1984 Apple Macintosh advertisement, which made waves with its dystopian take on George Orwell's novel. This advertisement background heavily influenced Scott's cinematic style, laying a foundation for his meticulous attention to detail and ability to craft dense, atmospheric worlds.
Renowned for his intricate narratives and keen eye for detail in movies like “Fight Club” and “The Social Network,” David Fincher's roots lie in the world of music videos and advertisements. Fincher directed many commercials for global brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Levi's.
These projects honed his technical prowess and gave him a deep understanding of visual language. His ad for the American Cancer Society, which featured a foetus smoking a cigarette, is particularly memorable for its jarring imagery, showcasing Fincher’s ability to leave a lasting impression on his audience.
Before bringing to life films such as “300” and the “Justice League,” Zack Snyder directed music videos and commercials. His background in advertising is evident in his visually stunning and stylized approach to film.
The understanding of branding he developed in advertising helped him conceptualize movies in a unique manner, evident in the iconic slow-motion action sequences in “300.” Snyder's work in commercials for brands like Audi, Jeep and video game brand Sega showcased his skills in producing eye-catching visuals and compelling narratives in an eye-popping, dark comic book style.
Known for his high-octane action sequences in the “Transformers” series, Michael Bay’s career took off in the advertising industry. His background in commercials is evident in his dynamic visual style and penchant for grand set pieces.
The fast cuts, sweeping camera movements, and penchant for spectacle seen in his films were all skills polished during his advertising days. He even went back to advertising to shoot a series of spots for Victoria’s Secret in the early 2010’s and the results were just as bombastic and ridiculous as you’d expect.
The director behind intense dramas like “Fatal Attraction” and “9 ½ Weeks,” started off in the world of English advertising. The commercials he directed, known for their stylish and sensual nature, offered a hint of what was to come in his cinematic ventures. His advertising background equipped him with an ability to convey deep emotions and tensions in a limited time frame.
Indeed, his techniques in making commercials were admired and copied by many major names in the film industry, with Lyne once stating: "I remember making this advertisement up in Yorkshire when I got a message that Stanley Kubrick had called. He'd seen an ad I'd made for milk in which I'd used a particular type of graduated filter. He wanted to know exactly which filter I'd used.”
Glazer, celebrated for his films "Under the Skin" and "Sexy Beast," was initially a prominent name in the world of commercials and music videos. His Guinness advertisement, "Surfer," was particularly memorable and won several awards, with many heralding it still as the greatest single advert of all time.
Glazer's ability to mesh visuals with evocative soundscapes, which was honed during his years in advertising, became a hallmark of his later cinematic work. However, many still point to his work in advertising as some of his finest and it’s honestly tough to argue!
The directors mentioned above used the advertising industry as a launchpad, learning to communicate effectively in mere minutes or even seconds. When they transitioned to the expansive canvas of film, they brought with them a unique blend of concision, innovation, and flair, which distinguished them in Hollywood's glittering panorama. As these directors have shown, advertising is not just about selling products, but can be the first step in telling larger-than-life stories on the silver screen.