"I hate to do just one kind of work," the 40-year-old Brit says simply. That's one reason he's been racking up the frequent flyer miles crossing the Atlantic to shoot commercials in the U.S. for the likes of Boston beer and Sprite. In fact, until recently, this native Londoner lived in Los Angeles, where his excitement about being asked to shoot rock videos gradually turned to mild displeasure. "You get categorized in the United States," Morahan finds. "Badged." This particular act of pigeonholing had to do with his talent for directing hardrock acts. You wouldn't know it from his professorial looks, but Morahan can headbang with the best of 'em. As his reel began filling up with videos for Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Guns 'n' Roses, he decided he'd stumbled into a mixed blessing. "I can really shoot drummers and guitar players," he says with an edge of comical exasperation. "I started to feel like I was the director in Spinal Tap. It's a world that I've been through, a young man's game."
While he's now a 12-year veteran of music videos and not about to give up that business altogether, he has his sights set on a commercials career (he's represented by Paul Weiland in the U.K and by Propaganda in the U.S.) and, beyond that, on small-budget feature films. Morahan is set to direct The Guv'nor, a drama about British bareknuckle fighter Lenny McLean, as soon as he can secure financing. It's possible that images from Raging Bull will be playing in his mind during that shoot; he's a big Martin Scorsese fan.
So far, being a fugitive from music video prison has been a blast. "I get [spots] scripts from all over the world now," says Morahan with obvious satisfaction. "They all have different takes on things, different sensibilities, a sense of humor that differs from country to country. I get scripts from Scandinavia and France that are just crazy." Good crazy or bad crazy? "Good crazy, definitely. My point is, that whole mix keeps it fresh and interesting. The European work can be more eclectic and weird. The American work, by and large, is more corporate, there's more of a hard-sell culture there. But even that's gotten better in the past 10 years. The palette's become wider and more interesting. I'm quite pleased with most of the U.S. spots I've done."
Well, what's not to like? Morahan directed the Sprite "Trendy Little Place" commercial, in which maddeningly hip yuppie disco-goers are so concerned with their appearance -- the shot of a gaggle of young women with recent nosejobs is particularly memorable -- that there isn't a Sprite in the house; after all, "Image is nothing, thirst is everything," as the tag goes. Speaking of the bar scene, Morahan's reel also includes a Boston beer commercial which is, of all things, sweet and lovely, with a bickering couple turning conciliatory after a bartender (Elliot Gould) pours them each a glass of the Beantown brew.
Though his spot work is plenty good-looking, Morahan says he's "not a slave to the visual." He's noticed that "Even nicely shot commercials are often so cold. I was trained in the pre-digital era, so I have a grounding in what you might call organic filmmaking. There are too many buttonpushers around these days." By contrast, he'd like to think he goes for "storytelling and the human element."
As do quite a few of his relatives. Morahan's father, now 70, is a theater director whose version of The Importance of Being Earnest just opened on London's West End. His granddad was a production designer who worked with Alfred Hitchcock. He also has a sister who's an art director. "We're not very good at working for other people 9 to 5," Morahan-fils says with a shudder. "So thankfully, there was never the pressure to become a doctor or a lawyer." There was the pressure to look at movies, however: he remembers being dragged out of bed as a young boy to watch a late-night Marx Brothers film on TV.