Top Directors 2005

Our annual assessment of advertising's finest behind-the-lens talent.

By Published on .

A.G. Edwards "Nest Egg"
Lance Acord
Park Pictures

Fresh off of uniting historical and modern day athletic greats on adidas' "Impossible is Nothing" campaign out of TBWA/Chiat/Day and 180 Amsterdam, Lance Acord further broadened his oeuvre, bringing his documentary and talent skills to bear on Coca-Cola's girl-band reality campaign, a pair of Visa Olympic spots and charming b-ball moments for ESPN. His gorgeous visuals remained impeccable on spots for CVS and Cingular as well as on a perfectly quirky campaign for A.G. Edwards, featuring people literally caring for their nest eggs. Following his soulful shooting on Lost in Translation, Acord also recently wrapped cinematography on Sofia Coppola's upcoming film, Marie-Antoinette.

Heineken "Powers"
Dante Ariola

Dante Ariola unleashed his playfully dark sensibilities onto Levi's for BBH/N.Y., in a pair of spots featuring a mannequin and a young man on missions to retrieve their stolen denims. He also shot a huge dialog-driven campaign for Barclay's, featuring Donald Sutherland and Gary Oldman engaged in odd repartee. Most impressively, his artful aesthetics were frothing all over brew, when he continued Stella Artois' fine filmic tradition with a tale about a man whose loyalties to his porcine pal get put to the test. For the U.S., the 2004 DGA contender also brought a lighthearted twist to Publicis' Heineken work. One spot captured a world gone awry for beer drinkers after cases of Heini topple in an alley far, far away, and another features a legion of surly superheroes put to shame by an otherwise unaccomplished guy who makes Heineken out of a shoe. In the works is more for Levi's as well as a U.S.-based campaign for Barclay's.

GE "Model Miners"
Sam Bayer

Sam Bayer's not one to pull any punches when it comes to his productions -- his spots are big, bold and luscious bits of extravagance that bring thrills of all flavors to the commercials screen. Highlights of his year include Deutsch's "Digital Joy" for Microsoft/Intel, a fantastic parade of icons that unites cinema, music and memories; G.E.'s "Model Miners," featuring the hardworking coalminer babes and hunks; and most recently, BBDO/NY's introductory effort for new client Mitsubishi, which rolls out the Eclipse with sultry Asian flair.

Adidas "Unstoppable"
Brian Beletic

While he didn't lose any footing in the world of wacky humor and music videos (he continued his ongoing hilarity for Bacardi's screwball P.I.'s and earned an MVPA nod for Fat Boy Slim's "Don't Let the Man Get You Down"), Brian Beletic went on to truly elevate his game this year on adidas' "Unstoppable," which pits Tracy McGrady against a dandily dressed Lilliputian army. He chased that with a masterful effects job for Gatorade, in which parched athletes literally crumble out of thirst, and then went on to shoot a no less magnificent but more down-to-earth "one world" tale for Coca-Cola. On the horizon is also a huge branding campaign for Cablevision's Optimum line, out of Amalgamated.

Adidas "Gimme the Ball"
Fredrik Bond

Leave it to Fredrik Bond to take a wacky sci-fi spaghetti western scenario and turn it into a beautifully nuanced commercial treat. That's exactly what he did on a spot for British mobile company Three, featuring a Japanese cowboy duo's encounter with a giant glowing jellyfish that ultimately inspires them to bust out some poppin' dance moves. For adidas, the meticulous Swedish storyteller and 2004 DGA-nominee turned an everyday pickup soccer game into a fantastic Medieval scramble of epic proportions, with falcons, dogs and majestic steeds getting in on the action.

FedEx "Top Ten"
Bryan Buckley
Hungry Man

Not surprisingly, Bryan Buckley's comedic antics were in full swing this year. The Super Bowl mainstay orchestrated the simian extravaganza on for Careerbuilder, not to mention the well-endowed controversy for and Fedex's "perfect" big game spot. He also partnered with Crispin on a slew of Mini marvels, including the counterfeit campaign that featured both a spot and an 8-minute DVD showing Mini buffs how to detect the phonies. Across the Atlantic, he served up another hilarious round for Orange featuring a new series of movie mogul-actor tussles with Patrick Swayze, Sean Astin, and Vern Troyer.

VW "Independence Day"
Bob Industries

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the team behind the unforgettable "Pink Moon" VW spot as well as a host of seminal videos for The Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Smashing Pumpkins, continued their longstanding collaboration with Arnold and Volkswagen in the past year with more spots and a short film. The pair also showed the "effects of feel good fashion" for Old Navy and is currently in production on their upcoming feature, Little Miss Sunshine, about a family who travels cross- country to get their 8-year-old daughter to a beauty pageant.Coincidentally—or maybe not—they make the trek in a VW bus.

Toyota "Water Fleas"
Andrew Douglas
Anonymous Content

Andrew Douglas chalked up no short supply of achievements in the past year. After completing his artful indie documentary Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, which debuted last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, in 2005 he released his first big screen feature, the respectably reviewed remake of The Amityville Horror. On the commercials end, he earned his first DGA nomination, thanks to his fantastic and beautifully eerie executions for Barclay's, Price Waterhouse Coopers and Renault, as well as his long-running feel-good work for Microsoft's "Realizing Potential" campaign. Most recently, his touches fell elegantly into place on Toyota's "Water Fleas," out of Hakuhodo, Tokyo.

Burger King "Wake Up With the King"
Martin Granger
Moxie Pictures

The U.K.-born Canadian-raised talent has been on a non-stop directing streak in the U.S. with wall to wall peculiarities and ultra-finessed comedic performances. Most notably, there's his work for Burger King, for which he helped to realize the fabulously creepy big-headed King (who most recently faced off with another famously rubber noggin, Darth Vader) as well as an ongoing run of The Office-inspired comedy troupe antics. He also put Skittles through the genetic splicer in the outrageous "Sheep Boy," while his comedy played a more serious role when he put the sit-com into the anti-smoking PSA for American Legacy Foundation's "Truth" campaign.

Burger King "Wake Up With the King"

Thanks to former creatives Guy Shelmerdine and Richard Farmer, more familiarly known as Happy, the Brawny guy got surreally dreamy, in T.V. and cinema spots that showcase the ultra-masculine icon in skewed, over the top splendor. The duo also captured weird candyland characters in spots for M&Ms M'Azing and Skittles gum, after unleashing a superstud mannequin and frisky fly guy onto the party scene for Bacardi. The pair recently completed a number of projects for abroad, including for Orbit and Anadin painkiller, about a woman who literally juggles her packed schedule.

TBS "Ink"
Jim Jenkins
Hungry Man

Jim Jenkins remained in peak form with his masterful comedic skills. The 2004 DGA-nominee continued to devote impressively meticulous efforts to his broadcast work -- first for Publicis' TBS rebranding campaign, for which he engineered a Where's Waldo-like world of comedic detail and nuance; then on Discovery Channel's "Know More Than You Think" campaign. For TBWA/Chiat/Day, he continued to roll out the laughs on a dialog-driven campaign for Embassy Suites and the absurd instant classic, Nextel "Dance," featuring the deadpan office drones boogying to Salt n' Pepa.

PS2 "Golfers"
Daniel Kleinman
Kleinman Productions

Despite the production company flux that Daniel Kleinman has endured -- in 2003 his former shop Spectre joined forces with Spark to form Large, which sadly folded last year -- his career hasn't faltered one bit. The director remained the prolific and broadly-versed taleweaver, directing the unnerving "Ventriloquist," a filmic metaphor for abuse about a troubled puppet girl haunted by her ever-present abuser. He also shot the unlikely meeting of porn stars and golfers on the safari doc-inspired campaign for PlayStation 2, as well as the rampant wheeled furry beasts for BBH/N.Y.'s "Esuvee" PSA. Currently, he's working with the agency on its next round for Levi's.

Coke "I Wish"
Ringan Ledwidge
Park Pictures/Small Family Business

About a year ago, Ringan Ledwidge told Creativity that Levi's was perhaps the only brand he might want to try his hand at, having already directed for the likes of Nike, Guinness, VW, Coca-Cola, and adidas. He immediately went on to do just that, on a simple surfside spot that captures a quaint "pickup" moment between a rollerskating hottie and a bike-riding boy. That was one of two spots that earned Ledwidge double directing silvers at D&AD, the second being a touching tale for Axe, of all things, which unravels a one-night-stand scenario like a strip-tease in reverse.

Sharp "The Key"
Errol Morris
Moxie Pictures

It feels like the end of an era now that Errol Morris has made his final contributions to the long-running Miller High Life campaign, which, to our regret, Wieden retired this year. The accomplished Academy Award winner was hardly short of canvases, however, and went on to apply his unique offbeat cinema to W+K/N.Y.'s "More to See" campaign, an NCAA-themed spot for Amex and a 'round the world, 24-7 spot for Cisco Systems.

Burger King "Vest"
Rocky Morton

Every year, Rocky Morton seems to exceed his own bizarre extremes and turn out something more wonderfully twisted than we've ever seen from him before. In 2004, of course that would be the delightfully dirty Burger King "Subservient Chicken" campaign, executed with enough lo-fi weirdness to give us a slight twitch in our seats and exude Millennial cool. Same goes for his totally skewed spot for Starburst, featuring the lusty lad who skeeves out his beloved when he creates a candy bust of her -- and then proceeds to suck face with it. The comedic master proved that it's not all about the dark side, however, on tamer laffers for T-Mobile, Miller Lite, and Toyota.

Nike "Barefoot"
Noam Murro
Biscuit Filmworks

The architect of modern-day classics like Saturn's "Sheet Metal," and Got Milk's "Birthday" brought home the DGA award this year, after thrice contending for the honor, thanks to his work on Ebay's "Toy Boat," Starbucks' "Glen" and adidas' "Carry." Beyond that he was as prolific as ever, shooting a gritty docu-style series for Heineken, the altruistic "People are Good" anthem for eBay, Holiday Inn's whimsical "The Noses," Nike's barefoot homage to Chariots of Fire and spots for the new Wendy's launch out of McCann-Erickson. After pulling out of The Ring II, Murro reconvened his big screen efforts, signing on to direct a Warner Brothers remake of Strangers on a Train.

Milk "Trail Runner"
Rupert Sanders

"Let there be basketball," says the Creator in Rupert Sanders' dramatic contribution to adidas' excellent "Impossible is Nothing" campaign, "Made to Perfection," which brings cinematic girth to sports advertising. The director, who recently joined MJZ after his long stint at Omaha and Outsider, partnered with Goodby on graphically quirky work for Saturn, transforming drab suburbia into a real-life Pac Man game, and shot a spot for the "Got Milk?" campaign, about a man who comes face to face with his elderly self.

New Belgium Brewing "Tinkerer"
Jake Scott

Jake Scott knows how to subtly stir emotion, as evident in his spots for New Belgium's Fat Tire beer, which approaches the category with intimate, indie-film touches. The director also brought inspired poignance to Nike's "Magnet," featuring Lance Armstrong as a cycling pied piper. When he turns it up a notch, however, he does so with verve, as on adidas' "Improvisation," in which the Detroit Pistons' Chauncey Billups overcomes a literal full-court press.

Miller "Downpour"
Baker Smith
Harvest Films

After his fine showing at the awards shows last year thanks to his stellar work on Toyota's "Girlfriend" and "Truth," the ever sharp and ever smart Baker Smith continued to keep us in stitches with the Dairy Queen diehards who go to extreme measures to get their fix of frosty treats. He also shot one of the latest in Miller Lite's campaign of deprived brew drinkers, who this time seem to think that beer falls from the sky, as well as the latest installment of the U.K.'s Axe campaign, featuring sweet-smelling studs who come up with new ways to "Get More."

Nextel "The Build"

This year we welcome to the list Swedish collective Stylewar, former Creativity directors to watch, known for getting their hands into every nook and cranny of a production. Given their eye-opening work for Ikea, it could have been easy to imagine their stylistic inclinations getting pigeonholed into some kind of shape-shifter category, but in the last year they proved to be not just a one-trick directing pony, via their stunners for Nextel, featuring a construction site teeming with ant-like workers and an office literally buzzing with busy suits. Stripped of obvious effects work, however, Stylewar's skillful storytelling emerges unscathed, as evident on their gorgeously foot-fixated turn for Nike. Member Filip Engstrom also shot one of the most memorable entries in this year's Sony "Dreams" lineup, about an ambitious toy plane pilot who saves Christmas.

Nike "Masks"

Now in the midst of finishing up his self-financed feature The Fall, visual master Tarsem hurtled back onto the U.S. commercials scene with Nike's audacious "Masks" spot, carving out some artfully scary specimens in an ultra-stylized interpretation of the "game face." He also shot the would-be Super Bowl spot for Lincoln that got pulled just before the big game, about a priest who lusts after a parishioner's truck. Overseas, he continued his run of Pepsi spectaculars, on spots featuring Beyonce and J. Lo as martial arts mistresses as well as on a mind-boggling athletic studfest for Pepsi Brazil, about what possibly could be the sexiest sports hybrid ever -- surf-soccer.

U.N. Mine Action "Kick Off"
Kevin Thomas
Thomas Thomas Films

Last September, Kevin Thomas capped off a string of great work in the States when he strolled down the Hollywood red carpet with the commercials Emmy for the "Outfit" spot, from Fallon's award-winning Citi "Identity Theft" campaign. His comedic run in the States continued with a new campaign for the client, featuring bank customers who get rigamoroled by anthropomorphized voice answering systems. Humor being just one facet of the director's palette, Thomas also brought his visual and dramatic storytelling chops beautifully into play for Land Rover and a harrowing landmines PSA for the United Nations that realized the horrors of landmines on an unlikely turf. Next up, he's onto a round of work for American Express.

Mountain Dew "Helicopter"

Ever beloved for their demented approaches on comedic classics ranging from the Jukka Brothers to Fox Sports, the Traktor vets have branched out quite diversely in the past few years. In '04 they deftly crossed over to feel good work for Mastercard and big musical-inspired spots for Aquafina. Meanwhile, the laughs remained bountiful as the Swedes traversed a wide swath of humorous terrain. Most notably, they dimensionalized Mad Magazine's "Spy vs Spy" guys in a pair of ambiguously effected, superfresh spots for Mountain Dew. They also directed comedy troupe silliness in a new Sierra Mist campaign as well as Miller Lite's Unbeerman-like cads. Overseas they masterminded Smirnoff's wacky post-mortem adventure, about a dead man who lives on as a diamond, as well as spots for Pot Noodles featuring some oddly packin' horn carriers.

Nike "Orange + Green"
Malcolm Venville
Anonymous Content

Malcolm Venville's quiet ways always manage to have maximum impact, as evidenced in his stunning showcase work for Volkswagen and Honda. The photographer-turned-director, who's currently working on a pair of features projects, most recently lent his gorgeous visual sensibilities to a Nintendo campaign and the clutter-bustingly spare spots for Nike ID. Beyond that, he showed off his storytelling/dialog skills on roadtrip moments for the VW Phaeton and Touraeg.

Dr Pepper "Anything for Love"
Stacy Wall
Epoch Films

As one of the industry's most successful creative-turned-directors, Stacy Wall has managed to achieve that perfect mix of gut-busting comedy and luscious visual storytelling, with a body of excellent work spread over clients like Miller, Volkswagen, ESPN, UPS and SBC. Most recently he spearheaded laughs on new spots for T-Mobile and skillfully steered the comedy on potentially cheesy song-based scenarios for Dr Pepper: a girl tranforms a dating snoozefest via a classic Muppets melody; another spot, set to Meatloaf's "Anything for Love," features a whipped dude who'll do whatever it takes for his gal, except of course, relinquish his Dr P.

Stella Artois "Bench"
Frank Budgen, Gorgeous/Anonymous Content 2004 Grand Prix winner Frank Budgen might have already filled his commercials quota for this year, having shot two dazzlers for Mercedes and Stella Artois. The former elevates the spot to truly visceral art form: a dreamy, sometimes Francis Bacon-esque pastiche of images eerily captures the frustration of 9-5 office rat life, then climaxes to illustrate the open-space bliss of the driving getaway. The latter takes on an equally art-minded bent for Stella Artois, an old school black and white non-talkie about a crew's odd game of Russian roulette with a killer, or at least life-changing, bottle of brew.

Michel Gondry, Partizan Michel Gondry's wildly imaginative head, we're fortunate, once in a while happens to dip into the advertising realm. The influential dreamer behind seminal clips (The White Stripes and Bjork) and spots (Levi's) has also realized a fertile field in features with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Now wrapping his self-written film The Science of Sleep, he'll soon move on to the feature Master of Space and Time.

David Fincher, Anonymous Content When David Fincher makes an appearance in spots, we know it, on his huge techno-fantastic spectacles like Nike's "Speed Chain" and "Gamebreakers" as well as HP's "Constant Change." The director is now working on his upcoming feature Benjamin Buttons, starring Brad Pitt, whom he also shot pulling off a smooth escape from frenzied paparazzi, for Heineken.

Spike Jonze, MJZ After Ikea "Lamp," we wondered when and if we'd see any more advertising brilliance from Spike Jonze, but he's roared back onto the scene with the most stunning spot we've seen all year, for adidas' One shoe, a commercials tour de force reminiscent of his surreal silver screen accomplishments. Next up, we'll see him showcase his comedic chops on a Y&R/Chicago Miller campaign that takes the piss out of brew ads, starring animals giving self-conscious thespian confessions.

Ivan Zacharias, Smuggler/Stink Ivan Zacharias' rare commercials outings are always well worth the wait. This year the former DP/documentary filmmaker behind gorgeous productions for Absolut ("Mulit") and Smirnoff ("Matrioshka") added another beverage-based stunner with-his tale of betrayal for Stella Artois, about a fighter pilot in hiding who gets snitched on by a brew-loyal bartender. He also erected a weird world where car crashes, bodies on fire, motorcycle jumps are the norm, to show "over the top protection," for Rexona deodorant.

Jonathan Glazer, Academy Jonathan Glazer, the mind behind commercials masterpieces (Guinness' "Surfer," Levi's "Odyssey") recently stepped back into spots with a new addition to his long line of stunning Stella work, on a spot featuring clergymen engaging in some on-ice mischief. Following the big screen success of Sexy Beast and Birth, he's onto directing Robert DeNiro in a remake of the Japanese film Chaos.

Starbucks "Hank"
Tom Kuntz, MJZ Kuntz & Maguire would have taken a place in our top 25, had team half Mike Maguire stuck around for just a little bit. The pair proved as sharp as ever, most notably with their hilarious campaigns for Virgin Mobile, which included the simple A capella phone convos as well as one of out top spots of 2004,"Chrismahanukwanzukah." Their final team triumphs were a wacky campaign featuring Tanqueray spokesdandy, Tony Sinclair, and a surreal series for Now that Maguire has returned to the agency side as an ACD at Goodby, the solo gig looks super-promising for Kuntz, who just directed a respectably funny follow-up to Starbucks "Glen," featuring a guy named Hank who gets stalked by sports diehards.

Ulf Johansson, Smith & Jones Flying solo, former Traktorite Ulf Johansson has continued to ace A-level work, including the startling athletic role-reversal for Nike's "What If" and the thrill-filled "Michael Vick Experience." He also helped to launch Skittles onto its new path of downplayed weirdness, for TBWA/Chiat/Day/N.Y.

Nicolai Fuglsig, MJZ Cample Doyle Dye CD Walter Campbell didn't hesitate to predict that Nicolai Fuglsig, like Jonathan Glazer and Tony Kaye, was destined for features. That's not hard to see from his reel, full of big, cinematic turns for Mercedes, Carling and Fox Sports -- with more coming for adidas. All are the result of his meticulous method of plotting out his shoots in miniature, like a general mapping a plan of attack.

Dave Meyers, Dave Meyers' commercials career has played catchup to his reputation in clips, where he remains one of the masters. Since directing Apple's iPod launch, he's segued his chops to Nike's "Chamber of Fear," the NFL Network, and Sony's PSP. Meyers also showed emotional skill on ESPN's intimate athletic playoff promos.

GE "Tower"
Joe Pytka, Pytka and Kinka Usher, House of Usher Joe Pytka and Kinka Usher already have secured Superman status in the annals of advertising history, but they ceaselessly continue to impress us with their impeccably crafted A-rate films.

Haxan, Chelsea Pictures Haxan just might be the new directing pioneers, having brought their multi-dimensional storytelling skills to campaigns like W+K/N.Y.'s "Beta 7" for Sega, and most recently McKinney's "The Art of the Heist" for Audi.

Smith & Foulkes, NexusProof that animation directors shouldn't be underestimated, this team is behind Honda's magnificent "Grrrr," which could prove to be the granddaddy at this year's awards fests.

David Shane, Hungry Man David Shane's reel is funny, for sure (check out Dell's 6-fingered Clay and spots for BC SPCA). But what stands out most are the impeccable, dead-on perfomances that make it that way--and the true skill it takes to capture them.

HP "Francois II"
Francois Vogel, Tool Perhaps more "artiste" than advertising maven, Francois Vogel's work is as much eye candy as it is food for thought, apparent in his mind-boggling stunners for HP.

Bruno Aveillan, Quad USA/Believe It's hard not to be swept up by Bruno Aveillan's gorgeous images, from his earlier mythological magic for Thermasilk to his recent turns for MGD and Lexus.

Frank Todaro, Moxie Pictures and Joe Public, HSI With their massive contributions to commercials comedy, Frank Todaro and Joe Public may be known for pure funny business, but a closer look at their work shows an ever-increasing depth that's not to be taken for granted.

Suthon Petchsuwan, Matching/TWC and Keith Rose, Velocity, S.A. The impressive work of these directors manages to touch hearts and stir excitement in a universal way.

Mark Romanek, Anonymous Content Mark Romanek is one of those rare talents both creatives and directors cite as a creative idol for his masterful clips work. He's recently been stirring up more magic in the spots world, for ESPN, Mastercard and Saturn.

Most Popular
In this article: