He doesn't suffer fools or scripts gladly. "There are times when I receive seven or eight scripts a day and I don't want to do any of them," he says without the slightest hint of arrogance. "I've been involved in some disasters in the past, and I'm more and more careful about what I choose to do. What I'm looking for, and there aren't many of them about, are strong, simple ideas-preferably with a subtext-that allow me cinematic freedom and don't get overpolitical. I don't want to sit around and light corn flakes all day. I like atmosphere in commercials, things with filmic value. But you have to believe in them. If there's a fucking ludicrous plot point, then I don't want to know. I run away. It's got to have a soul, and this is a fairly soulless business."
Glazer's reel of commercials and music videos is resonant, emotive and visually compelling. A mesmerizing, chiaroscuro slow-motion trailer park ballet for Radiohead's "Street Spirit"-which got to No. 4 on the British charts largely thanks to Glazer's visceral efforts-segues into a Felliniesque spot for Carling Premier lager before progressing to an arresting commercial for Caffrey's Irish bitter, intercutting shots of a New York bar scene with nostalgic yet unsentimental scenes of a fondly remembered Ireland. Apparently, at least, there's a distinct lack of postproduction trickery.
Apart from the Radiohead clip, Glazer has made videos for two other high-profile British bands, Blur and the trip-hoppers Massive Attack, both of them borrowing images from David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick. "I think Kubrick is the unrivalled master of atmospheric cinema," says Glazer. "The Blur video was conceived as a kind of homage to him." (It's like "A Clockwork Orange" without the bowler hats.)
"As with commercials, I only make videos for bands I want to work with," he says. "There's no point in tossing off some nothing video that's so safe it wouldn't raise any eyebrows. I haven't made a penny from the videos I've done-they cost around $150,000 each-but I'll carry on making them because they're like an enema. They represent liberation, and they're so much more relaxed than commercials. Also, I love music."
According to Jerry Green, exec creative director at McCann-Erickson/London, who worked with Glazer on a three-spot quasi-documentary AT&T campaign, "He's a driven director, constantly questioning whether what he's shooting is interesting enough. He's intense about every frame. The set isn't relaxed when he's shooting-not that it's nasty, either-but he's dead keen to do the best work he can possibly do. There's a strange disparity between the way he appears-with his long hair he looks like a hippie who should be living on a California beach-and his totally cerebral manner. My only argument with him is that he supports Arsenal and I support Tottenham."
Soccer preferences aside, Glazer is personable, articulate, candid, almost faux-naif. "The best commercials directors aren't doing it for money," he says. "They're choosy about what they do. If you want longevity in this business, you can't say, 'Oh, I'll just knock this one off.' You have to want to do it. But the higher I get in this industry, the more pressurized it becomes."
Not that Glazer is worried about the immediate future. He recently shot a 15-minute short in Scotland, "a simple but powerful idea," as he puts it, which he wrote himself (Glazer also doesn't suffer from false
modesty), and which he hopes will be noticed at filmfestivals, and he just made a commercial for Club Med and Bartle Bogle Hegarty which he regards as "a great character-led filmic idea. It's my first global commercial in nearly two years." The no-dialogue Club Med :60, shot in New York and backed with the theme song from "Midnight Cowboy," features a slightly crazy, carefree young guy whose every attempt to be friendly with strangers is met with fear and suspicion. The supers at the end ask: "Is he mad? Or is everyone else?"
Speaking of the madness of others, Glazer hates the idea of being pigeonholed. "If you're a good director, then you're good at comedy, dialogue and visuals," he insists. "People who work in commercials, films and videos understand the importance of all those mediums. Directors like Ridley Scott and David Fincher don't give up commercials because they've directed successful films. It's not a question of graduating from one medium to another."
As it happens, Glazer almost made a feature, a thriller he wrote called "The Metal Forest," which was to have starred James Belushi and Jennifer Jason Leigh. "It was an American formulaic movie, frankly pandering to the American market, and it came within three weeks of happening," he says. "Then it all collapsed. It was a baptism by fire. It's taught me to be much more careful about what I get involved with in the future. I've now written a screenplay that is very English and very parochial, though it isn't a period piece. I think Americans are very interested in what's happening in London at the moment-in movies, fashion and art."
Glazer attended art school in Middlesex, near London, and then took a degree in theater design at Trent University. He did not do too much designing; "I started directing plays my friends were designing because I'd always wanted to direct. In the end, I made a 20-minute film adapted from a J.D. Salinger short story. I had only 20 minutes of film stock, so it had to be one take per shot. From those kind of limitations good things can emerge, but in fact it was awful, a salutary lesson in how not to make a film."
On graduating, he directed some plays at the Edinburgh Festival, and then got involved with a "crook," making corporate videos designed to sell homes to pensioners. Realizing this wasn't his metier, he started cutting film trailers before moving on to direct TV station IDs and title sequences. Frustrated, he approached Nick Morris, a producer with the London-based Academy production company, with the idea of making commercials. Morris told him bluntly, "I could name another 50 directors who do the kind of thing you do. Go away and make something that is you."
Glazer duly went away and turned out a bleak, unnerving and tightly choreographed view of a schizophrenic in a padded cell, appropriately titled "Mad," which is now the closer on his reel. It was sufficiently him to land him a job at Academy, and he was also hired by the Bandit production company in France to make two 20-second spots for Peugeot. From there, his career in Britain took off.
Apart from wanting to make a feature, Glazer would like to shoot commercials in the States, where he's been talking "quite heavily" to Propaganda Films. He has yet to make his first bona fide dialogue job; "I've shot people speaking [in the AT&T campaign, for example], but not two people talking together. I don't regard it as a problem; if a great dialogue script comes along, I'd love to do it." In the meantime, Glazer is preparing to direct a spot for Reebok that combines his "two greatest passions-football and filmmaking."
Above all, Glazer loves craft in commercials; he admires Tony Kaye, Vaughan & Anthea and Tarsem for their sense of visual pizzazz. "I always like directors who are trying to do something courageous," he says. In fact, Steve Henry of Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, who has worked with Glazer on a weird and dreamy Mazda spot, says, "The only debate I've had with him was over a shot that I felt was too much Tony Kaye. And that's exactly what the reviewer in Campaign said."
And it's Henry who also sums up the extraordinary rise of Jonathan Glazer most