Directors - McG: Whiz

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His real name is Joseph McGinty Nichol. "My uncle was Joe and my grandpa was Joe, so since the day I was born they called me McG - it's from my mother's maiden name," he explains. "It was kinda weird when I started doing videos, everyone thought it was a hip-hop thing." But it's not a hip-hop thing, though he's done some rap videos. At this point, it's a film juggernaut thing. McG is only 30, he's from Kalamazoo, Mich., and he never studied filmmaking, he was a psychology major at UC/Irvine. His first feature was the star-studded Charlie's Angels, which, he cheerfully notes, "has grossed around $270 million worldwide and it's still going." He also directs commercials and music videos out of L.A.'s A Band Apart, and his new Coors Light campaign, for FCB/Chicago, stars the unstudly David Spade as a guy who can't even get a beer, never mind a girl. "David's a friend of mine, and we went in, shot a series of spots and had a great time," McG breezily notes. So how'd he get to this particular pinnacle in what amounts to a career blink? The usual combination of luck and determination. "Everything I've ever done in my career was in the interest of getting to the place of making a feature," he says. "I'm just a film fanatic." But McG doesn't come off as maniacally driven, success-obsessed or even slightly overbearing. He's, like, nice.

OK, the backstory: "I was always a still photographer as a kid," he notes, so he was film-savvy early on. Nor was he caged in Kalamazoo for long. He went to high school in Newport Beach, Calif., and more important, he was good buds with Mark McGrath, lead hunk of Sugar Ray. Around '93, he shot a video for the yet-to-be-signed band. "I shot it on 35mm, borrowed equipment, stole locations, it was all guerrilla-style, but they got a record deal off the video," McG recalls. And he had his foot in the MTV door. Besides his Sugar Ray auteur gig (he even produced their first record), he shot a lot of early Korn and Cypress Hill clips and went on to direct hits for the likes of Smashmouth, BareNaked Ladies, the Offspring, Everclear and many others. Stylistically, his music videos are bright, bouncy and colorful - kinda like the man himself. "I'm attracted to bands that are willing to have fun and not be so brooding and ultimately negative," he says. "I always like to look on the bright side. I'm very much influenced by the filmic look of Hype Williams and the ideas and content of Spike Jonze."

So McG kept making videos, gradually got into commercials and started looking at feature possibilities. "I got a lot of bottom-of-the-barrel scripts. Then I heard about Charlie's Angels and I knew Drew Barrymore was involved. I thought maybe if I could meet her something good would happen. I didn't know Drew, but I knew about her. I knew she liked rock, I knew she liked to have a good time. She canceled on me like six or seven times, then she finally agreed to meet, you could tell it was begrudgingly, but we just started talking, we got more and more enthusiastic, more and more into it until an hour into the meeting we were just jumping up and down on the couch, ripping our clothes off and screaming at the top of out lungs how much fun we're gonna have making this movie."She was ripping her clothes off? This guy must take a great meeting. "So Drew brought me into the fold. Her influence was most crucial. The studio didn't want me on the movie. I mean, it made no sense, I understand their point of view. But they took a chance." Now he's set to do Feature No. 2 - Dreadnought, another Sony project, with the producer of Gladiator. "It's a big-budget military action picture like The Hunt for Red October, but with battleships." OK, we're distinctly impressed. Offhand, McG can't think of anyone with a parallel career catapult. Michael Bay and David Fincher, he notes, put in years in commercials and music videos and rose to the top of those fields before they got big feature breaks.

As far as commercials go, McG has been making them since '97, and his reel boasts a very funny Major League Baseball spot about a guy who can't hit anything from a batting machine, as well as the hip hoedown called "Khaki Country," for the Gap. He has every intention of sticking with spots and videos despite the feature frenzy. "I just like shooting film," he says. "I don't want to go more than a month without shooting." Is he moving more toward comedy spots? "Not necessarily. I'm interested in anything I can bring a true point of view to. I love comedy, but I'd like to do, say, a car campaign that's very beauty-oriented." He's certainly relieved that his post-Angels ad work is "much more dialogue-intensive, more about storytelling. They're not based solely in music video style anymore."

Pondering the secret to his success, "I think I have a genuine enthusiasm for what I'm doing," McG offers. "I'm so thankful to be in a position where I can do what I've dreamt about doing. I'm appreciative of every moment I can do this, because I realize it can all be taken away in a flash." Jesus, he's humble, too.

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