SPECIAL REPORT: Top 25 Directors

Creativity's annual accounting of the best directors in the business.

By Published on .

Some of the directors here may be relatively new to commercials but already have made a significant creative dent in the advertising scene. Others are veterans who continue to surprise us with each new spot. Altogether, their ingenuity, innovation and vision made the last twelve months of spot-watching a worthwhile visual feast, for which we deem them deserving of a seat at the top. Plus, an all-star list of masters in 10 key categories

Adidas "Wake Up Call"
Lance Acord
Park Pictures

Director/DP Lance Acord is the rare visualist who doesn't just stop at creating eye candy. While his cinematography remains the work of a photographic master, as a director, Acord has proven himself a bonafide storyteller, uniting Muhammad Ali and current day athletic phenoms in the "Impossible is Nothing" campaign for adidas, TBWA/Chiat/Day and 180/Amsterdam, which will roll out more spots over the coming months. Beyond that, the breathtaking "Wake Up Call" was nothing short of a mini masterpiece, following in the stirring footsteps of Nike's "Before." He also gets props for the melancholy moodiness his photography brought to director Sofia Coppola's hit Lost in Translation.

Mountain Dew "Sled"
Sam Bayer

The relentless Sam Bayer was in top form this year, adding the latest outrageous installment to his Mountain Dew oeuvre on "Sled," featuring an Iditarod-like race in which participants included a dog driving a sled pulled by humans teased by a dangling Dew. Bayer continued to tap his funny bone on spots for Pepsi — featuring those young online music thieves — and AOL, and showed off his painterly roots on the video-like anthem spot for the AT&T "&" campaign.

Bacardi "Yacht"
Brian Beletic

Bacardi and cola never tasted so good, until Brian Beletic got his hands on them. Davidandgoliath's '70s detective show spoofs, starring a pair of lascivious nitwit dicks, are one of the latest highlights from this Dallas-born MTV promo department alum, known for bringing unexpected bizarreness and humor to commercials for Virgin Mobile, Levi's, and Ikea (the one featuring the toddler and the vibrator). Beletic, currently underway on a new Sprint launch, also just exposed some dirty mouths for Orbit gum and channeled his clips roots on a rockin' NBA campaign for ESPN, out of W+K/N.Y. featuring The Black Eyed Peas.

Miller "Dominoes"
Fredrik Bond

An avid cinephile who used to line up his collection of videos like dominoes when he was young, Swedish native Fredrik Bond went on to do the same with actors, on the rollicking "Dominoes" for Miller Lite. He also brought us HP's whimsical "Il Postino," shot a slew of soccer jockstars for Nike, and is now onto a campaign for SBC, out of GSD&M. Prior to joining MJZ from Harry Nash more than a year ago, he was already a megastar in Europe, thanks to his impressive collection of quirky, well-told tales for clients like adidas, Monster.com, VW and Wrangler.

American Express "Tiger Shack"
Bryan Buckley
Hungry Man

The accomplished Bryan Buckley brought cinema to the small screen when he orchestrated a slapstick homage to Caddy Shack for American Express, featuring an uncharacteristically unnerved Tiger Woods. He hit the Super Bowl with Derek Jeter for Major League Baseball and a mysterious chuckler for Chevy, featuring kids with soap stuffed in their mouths. Other notables from his year's prolific output include the outrageously easy phone convos for SBC, Archers' magnificent man-fest out of Mother/London, and JWT/N.Y.'s Lipton Cup-a-Soup campaign with those irritating office drones.

PS2 "Mountain"
Frank Budgen
Gorgeous/Anonymous Content

Since directing the Grand Prix-winning "Tag" and the fabulous "Streaker" for Nike, the venerable Frank Budgen returned to U.S. turf with the poignant "Next Shift" for HP, featuring nostalgic childhood playthings who make a somber morning commute to Times Square's Toys R' Us. Out of London, he also displayed truly monumental efforts for PlayStation 2, on the multiaward-winning Cannes contender "Mountain."

Powerade "LeBron Practice"
Bob Industries

After taking a sabbatical to work on their feature Little Miss Sunshine, which has yet to go into production, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have been back with a vengeance on the commercials scene. Known for their changeling-like versatility and fluency in effects, the duo most recently took the colorful iPod dancers onto the street, psyching out an unknowing passerby. They also shot some Fender-bending musician kids for HP, "documented" Lebron James making some mean hoops for Powerade, and directed a hilarious round of spots for Toyota starring old school Nascar great Darryl Waltrip.

Nike "Gamebreakers"
David Fincher
Anonymous Content

The elusive David Fincher's presence in commercials has been highly palpable in the past year, thanks to visual marvels for the futuristically fashionable Xelibri, starring the fatties sausaged into gorgeous models' skins, and a dynamic duo for Nike: the morphing masterpiece "Speedchain" and the videogame-inspired "Gamebreakers," all of which also happened to land him this year's coveted DGA honor. Since then, he added his technical savvy and flair to HP, which features a man seemingly outfitted in ever-changing threads.

Washington Mutual "Geoffrey"
Craig Gillespie
Aussie native and former creative Craig Gillespie knows a few things about laughs — and banking, apparently, as evident in his longstanding tenure on the hilarious Washington Mutual campaign, which has showered us with wacky characters who cluelessly go about their business thanks to the great financial service they get. He also continued the chuckles on Citibank, as in one spot featuring a guy who wrestles himself away from an unwise purchase. Gillespie also brought comedic polish to sheet metal, on subtle laffers for Saturn, Porsche, and Honda.

Stereogram "Walkie Talkie Man"
Michel Gondry

Michel Gondry remains among the untouchables of this business, his tireless imagination surpassing boundaries most people don't even know exist. His spots for Levi's (featuring lusty mermaids and rodent-headed thieves), Smirnoff and Earthlink shepherded viewers into bizarrely watchable wonderlands, as do his mesmerizing breakthrough clips for The White Stripes, Bjork, and the recent lo-fi looking yarn for Stereogram's "Walkie Talkie Man." This year, Gondry also proved his rep on the big screen with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which realized a perfect poignant harmony between his effects savvy and idiosyncratic point of view, and hopefully, mitigated any effects from critics' lackluster response to his first feature Human Nature.

CareerBuilder.com "Teller"

When they first started out, we thought the Happy guys ran the dangerous risk of cornering themselves into some kind of vomitorium, since some of their early breakout work consisted of a PSA with a dude who barfs up his lung and Wrigley's "Dog Breath," featuring another guy who upchucks a mutt. Since then, however, former Ground Zero colleagues Guy Shelmerdine and Richard Farmer have broadened and matured their efforts to such an impressive level that they easily hold down a spot among the best of the bunch. Whacked out fare, of course, is in no short supply, thanks to the canoodling clutter and frightened furniture on recent spots for Ikea, the flabby Adonises of Fray Bentos, and ‘70s crime parody for the U.K.'s Chicago Town Pizza. On the flip side, the Happys, currently prepping for Bacardi, also show they can behave, on deftly restrained outings for Ad Council and those creepy Teen AIDS PSA's.

Altoids "Traveling Curiousities"
Scott Hicks
Independent Media

"Cinema is not an intellectual medium, it's an emotional one," Scott Hicks told Creativity earlier this year. Indeed, the seasoned features director seems to have a tight reign on our heartstrings. His spots have the capacity to excite or wring sympathy from even the most callous viewer, thanks to his meticulous attention to detail and his priestly patience with talent. Such is clear on the new classic "Big Race" for Hummer, Goodby's AT&T Wireless campaign, his splendid sideshow thrills for Altoids, and the sniffle-inducing "Dog Trilogy" for Mastercard, which follows lost mutt Badger on his cross-country journey home. Hicks recently also directed Hollywood glam queens in spots for Revlon, bringing his deft touch to a typically underwhelming category.

TBS "Buttons"
Jim Jenkins
Hungry Man

It's not TV, it's Jenkins, is how one might describe how much this director's work rocks. His broadcast campaigns alone, most recently for Discovery Channel and for Publicis' huge rebranding effort for TBS, featuring phone operators passing judgment on what's funny, are truly the stuff of great filmmaking — highly watchable, well shot and challenging. Humor is indeed one of Jenkins' fortes, as in the Amex spot he directed featuring Martin Scorsese, but his recent efforts for BMW, Champion and Heineken are hard evidence that his storytelling shines, whether he aims to bust a gut or not.

Johnnie Walker "Fish"
Daniel Kleinman

Daniel Kleinman has built a name out of achieving the impossible on screen. Since the outrageous Gold Lion-winning "Bear" for John West, via his lens we've seen Aqua People leap through the ocean with the ease of Flipper for Johnnie Walker and a newborn shoot out of a womb to become a man en route to his grave, for XBox. Of late, the skillful director beefed up his already meaty reel imagining a Renault as an ornery family pet and turning women on — very visibly — for Lynx.

The Ad Council "Dummy"
Errol Morris

The accomplished Errol Morris earned his first Oscar in February, for The Fog of War, and he continues to reap praise galore at adfests as well, thanks to his continued excellence on the landmark Miller High Life campaign. When he wasn't swamped doing publicity for his film, he also found time to shoot more moving work for SBC, Ad Council, featuring the dummies posing as kids, and the Nike "More Fast Out There" campaign, featuring unlikely athletic heroes.

Burger King "Vest"
Rocky Morton

Rocky Morton relentlessly keeps us in stitches, topping himself each year with increasingly twisted turns. We thought the goons of Mike's Hard Lemonade were good, but he brought his freshest, maybe dirtiest, surprise yet in 2004, on the chicken-suited subordinate from Crispin's "Have it Your Way" revival. To boot, he masterminded the geezer brawl from Frito-Lay's Superbowl spot, mocumentarized for Comedy Central and carved out some weird, dramatic worlds for Honda and Etrade.

Starbucks "Glen"
Noam Murro
Biscuit Filmworks

While Saturn and Got Milk? practically crazy-glued the venerable Noam Murro to the map, he continued his winning stride most recently with hilarious work on Starbucks out of Fallon/N.Y., for which he resurrected ‘80s rock studs Survivor in a slapstick serenade to sleepy office schlubs. He also continued to feed Whiskas' inner beasts, showcased more Real Men of Genius for Bud Light, and orchestrated gorgeous, filmic tales for HBO's "Water Cooler" campaign and VW.

HP "Restore"
Rupert Sanders
Omaha Pictures

Rupert Sanders kicked off the year with the elegant and painterly "Restore" for HP, which seems to channel the Old Masters. A former protege of Tony Kaye, Sanders has no doubt established a rock solid rep in his young career, thanks to broad-ranging talents that move from big production spectacles for Guinness and Lloyd to quietly restrained fervor of Nike "Pull-Up." This year, he completed his own short, D-Minus, starring Terminator 2's Robert Patrick, organized a soccer studfest for adidas, took the wheel behind on a Pac Man homage for Saturn, and just wrapped an around-the-world campaign for Barclay's.

American Legacy "1200"
Baker Smith

2003's DGA honoree Baker Smith continued on his comedic roll this year. Most notably, he returned to Coors with "Wingdog," the canine follow-up to "Wingman," cranked out smart comedy for IFC and VW, and directed the bitchin' "Girlfrend" for Toyota, featuring the woman whose vengeance on her beau and his truck backfires in a major way. Beyond that, he riproared through campaigns for Citibank, Dairy Queen, New York Lottery, and Bass Ale. Smith also shows true flair for more serious subjects, as seen in his work for the Truth campaign, including the second round of the "Crazy World" series, and an upcoming campaign for the Air Force, out of GSD&M.

Citi "Chassis"
Kevin Thomas
Thomas/Thomas Films

Kevin Thomas slammed onto the U.S. commercials scene seemingly out of nowhere, when he directed Fallon's ridiculously funny Citi "Identity Theft" campaign. The former U.K. creative also treated the U.S. to more insane stuff for Eclipse gum, Bud Light, and Mother/N.Y.'s NBA Finals campaign. In Europe, his hysterics had been in order for Comviq and Electrolux, but the laughs show just one side of this truly multi-dimensional director. He recently displayed big film boldness for Carling beer, via a massive city-wide soccer fest in the streets of Glasgow. Past exploits include an unforgettable PSA that made real the hard facts of male violence toward women, as well as a painterly visual stunner for Orange.

FedEx "Drama"
Frank Todaro
Moxie Pictures

Frank Todaro, who last winter uprooted from longtime shop @radical.media to go to Moxie Pictures, proved as sharp as ever this year. He took on BBDO/N.Y.'s new "Relax, It's Fedex" campaign and continued the client's lustrous legacy with smart, well-executed laughs. Same goes for his understated humor on the Ad Council's fat-finding PSA's, in which citizens stumble upon random blubber blobs, and on more slapstick scenarios featuring nonsensical folks who get in harm's way, for United Healthcare.

Dodge "Monkey on Your Back"

The perennially talented pranksters of Traktor have continued on their merry way, injecting their weird brain juice into all kinds of smart, fun work. After shooting that strapping dude in Levi's who tames a car, they had boxes pose as cars for Saturn and Velcroed a chimp to a shopper's back for a Dodge Superbowl spot. The Swedes also doused us with beer, or some semblance of, on the Miller Lite campaign, in which pub-goers realize they can't taste their brew, and when they brought sports to unexpected places for Amstel Light. Despite the departure of teammate Ulf Johannson last fall, the boys are still at it, having wrapped, among other things, a big Olympic spot for Nike, another round for Heineken and more wacky work for Mountain Dew, featuring those dastardly spies from Mad magazine.

Volkswagen "Rewire"
Malcolm Venville
Anonymous Content

Malcolm Venville shot to A-list level last year, thanks to the barebones elegance he demonstrated on VW "Squares" and the spare but warmly executed "Best Friends" for Honda. Beyond that, the photographer-turned director has also brought his sophisticated simplicity to spots for Mastercard, UPS, the U.K.'s National Health Service, and VW's "Rewire." Venville this year also starts in on the feature Perception, a supernatural thriller about a robbery gone eerily awry.

ESPN "Coach"
Stacy Wall

Stacy Wall made a name for himself in yuksterism first as a creative director on such iconic campaigns as Nike's "Lil' Penny" and ESPN's Sportscenter. Now that he's gone from thinking up ideas to directing them, funny still remains a big chunk of his business. He recently directed a shunned king of beers for MGD and an office drone with a runaway arm for Computer Associates. Beyond laughs, Wall ranks with the best of visual storytellers, as seen in the rousing "Coach" anthem spot that launched ESPN's continuing "Without Sports" campaign and most recently, a superbly shot laffer for Velvet toilet paper, out of Fallon/London.

Absolut "Mulit"
Ivan Zacharias

The U.S. got a rare taste of Ivan Zacharias' excellence on his pair of slick Levi's thrillers and on Absolut's Bollywood extravaganza "Mulit." Since then, the Czech director, admittedly and wisely picky about his projects, has applied his artistry to U.K. Honda's "Taken for Granted,"which brings out the beauty of everyday objects. He also helmed spots for Stella, Smirnoff, and a gritty south-of-the-border charmer for Heineken, about a crafty young man who gets his stash of brew past some hard-assed checkpoint guards.

Armies of One
Kinka Usher, House of Usher
Joe Pytka, Pytka

The Next Wave
Vogel. Villar-rios, Believe Media
David Gordon Green, Chelsea Pictures
Neill Blomkamp, Spy Films

Welcome to America
Philippe Andre, Villains

The Stand-Ups
Martin Granger, Moxie Pictures
Tim Godsall, Biscuit Filmworks
Joe Public, HSI

Visceral Thrills
Ringan Ledwidge, Park Pictures
Johan Renck, HSI

The Go-to Guys
Nick Lewin, Crossroads
Phil Joanou, Villains
Erich Joiner, Tool
Rob Pritts, Backyard Productions
David Cornell, Headquarters

The Picassos
Frederic Planchon, Academy/Irene
Gerard de Thame, HSI
Andrew Douglas, Anonymous Content
Eric Ifergan, Believe Media
Floria Sigismondi, Believe Media

Beyond the :30
Haxan, Chelsea Pictures

The Rock Star
Mark Romanek, Anonymous Content

The Break-Away
Ulf Johansson, Smith & Jones

The Untouchables
(Lucky if we get thems)

Spike Jonze, MJZ
Jonathan Glazer, Academy

(This article appears in the June 2004 issue of Creativity.)

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