When it comes to directing music videos, Nigel Dick can be called indisputably prolific. In fact, his 250th video, Staind's "For You," hit MTV last month, which may make him the outright King of Clips. "We tried to verify if it was the most of anyone, but it's rather unverifiable," says the late-fortysomething Dick. "The chief contenders for the title would appear to be Russell Mulcahy and Wayne Isham, but nobody really knows for sure. If I am the most prolific, it's a dubious pleasure."
Not that Dick has any problem with what's become the bread and butter of his career. "Music video as a genre has many wonderful things about it," he says. "You can experiment in all kinds of different ways, which in a dramatic piece would interfere with the storytelling. Anything goes, by and large, which is a lot of fun. Of course, the downside of that is everybody's hoping that you'll reinvent the wheel every week. It's difficult to keep up that pace, but you still try."
If he's not regularly reinventing the wheel, that wheel is sure as hell turning round and round. And along the way, Dick has helmed more than his share of big hits for big names: Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine; Britney Spears' "Oops! . . . I Did it Again" and "Baby One More Time"; Oasis' "Wonderwall"; Cher's "Believe" - the list is endless. In the purely market-driven world of music videos, quality, of course, is hard-pressed to keep pace with quantity. "I'd be a liar if I said that everything I'd done is brilliant," he admits, "but it's all so subjective. People will say to me, for instance, 'I love all the R.E.M. videos,' and eventually what you discover is they just love R.E.M. Many videos are made for a particular point in an artist's career and for a particular segment of the market, and when they're viewed retrospectively they may seem like a bizarre choice. In that respect, they're just like commercials, in that you're bracketing a certain age group."
Speaking of commercials, Dick, who works out of A Band Apart, is looking to do a lot more of them. His music video-heavy reel features only two Sears spots (one starring the Backstreet Boys) an Hispanic-market Pepsi spot and some music-driven Entertainment Tonight promos. Not that Dick is any stranger to commercials; a Brit-turned-Los Angeleno, he was a founding member of the late, great Propaganda in 1986, and was making spots even before that. But he was making videos even before that, in the pre-MTV era. Dick studied architecture at Bath University, but drifted into a producing career in the U.K. at Stiff Records and Polygram around 1982, where videos were shown on Top of the Pops. "In those days the entire crew was six people," he recalls. "I was doing wardrobe, location, producing, PA, art direction and craft service, so I learned pretty fast." In the freewheeling atmosphere of the time, it was a logical step to direct. "I would just throw it out there and try to make it as good as I possibly could. I had a very understanding DP." But by 1985, Dick had carved a place for himself in the rapidly expanding music video universe, with Band Aid's charity-smash, "Do They Know it's Christmas?" and the raging hits "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Shout," for Tears for Fears.
While he's since become a music video institution, "I haven't got a niche, which frequently confuses people," he notes. "They say, 'I don't get it. What is it that you do?' " The fact is, he does just about everything, except hip-hop. Dick himself is a guitarist and songwriter with three indie-label albums out (see nigeldick.com for details). "It's all music, and if you do the same kind of artist over and over again, inevitably you'll get into a rut," he believes. "You have to approach different bands from different perspectives. What works for Britney does not work for Fuel. Bands have different strengths. There's what they want to do as a group and what they're capable of doing as actors or artists. I work to suit that."
But does all this eclecticism blur his personal signature? Does he have a discernible visual style? "I would leave other people to make that conclusion. I like to think I have in my quiver a number of visual styles that I can employ to shoot any situation. Whether it's wide lenses for something comedic, or long lenses and Ridley Scott-style backlighting for something dramatic or beautiful, it's important to understand how technique can help to tell the story differently."
Speaking of storytelling, "I want to spend more time with commercials than I've ever done before," Dick says. He's got a Sierra Mist campaign, from Dallas Hispanic-market shop Dieste & Partners, about to break, but again, it's music-driven dance sequences. "I don't want to make only commercials that are music-based," Dick insists. "I think I have a facility for dialogue and for comedy," but it's the usual ad story: "You'll only get whatever's already on your reel." Nevertheless, he adds, "I'm aggressively pursuing dialogue work now; the kinds of things that will allow me to break out of my particular mold." The same goes for features; Dick says he was close to signing on to a project last year, and is presently thumbing through a stack of scripts.
As for music videos, one has to wonder, is longevity an issue? Do young bands prefer young directors? "Who knows what people are saying behind my back," he muses. "Certainly Wayne [Isham] and myself would seem to be pushing the envelope. But we're still doing the work - and ultimately, you're as good as your work. "