Creative: The Music Man

Director Dave Meyers is an MTV star; now, he wants to conquer the commerical world.

It was really only a half-hour meeting, but it changed my life,” says Dave Meyers, talking about how he fell into the music-video industry after meeting director Gus Van Sant. “I just bumped into him at a screening [of To Die For]. He told me videos were a great way to get into directing.”

Now, eight years later, 30-year-old Meyers has just picked up a Video of the Year prize at the MTV Video Music Awards and launched a music video division at, and he’s branching out into commercial directing.

“We looked at a lot of video directors, and nobody came close to the style and humor he has,” says copywriter Daniel Chu of TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, who tapped Meyers for the Kmart Joe Boxer spot “Jimmy and Jenny,” which broke in April. “Everyone either took themselves too seriously, or their stuff was too corny. Dave gets comfortable in the story, then his visual vocabulary expands.”

That style, described by co-proprietor Jon Kamen as “incredible eye candy,” also attracted the attention of TBWA\C\D in Playa del Rey, Calif., which hired Meyers for an Apple iPod campaign that launched earlier this month. Like most of his commercial-directing projects so far—Meyers also shot a 2000 Pringles campaign from Grey—the three iPod spots have a music-video look. The black silhouettes of people holding white iPods against bright backgrounds seen in the print work come to life in the commercials, with each dancing and grooving to a different track.

Meyers himself recommended the Black Eyed Peas track “Hey Mama” for one spot, and he brought in the choreographer, Hi-Hat. “[Meyers] was great in that he knew the best choreographers, knew the dancers and knew a lot about the music,” says co-creative director Duncan Milner. Meyers brought an enthusiastic energy to the set, Milner says, grabbing art director Susan Alinsangan and asking her to dance and getting Hi-Hat to teach him the latest hip-hop moves.

Adds co-creative director Eric Grunbaum: “He had strong opinions, but he was game for trying new dance moves and taking input from us.”

Of course, what Berkeley, Calif., native Meyers really wants to do is direct feature films. While working on music-driven projects is “exhilarating,” he says, “my first passion is storytelling and emotion. I try to put narratives in commercials and videos when I’m given the opportunity.”

A film production and philosophy major at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Meyers worked on a few short films before following Van Sant’s advice. He debuted on MTV in 1997 with a video for the Whoridas’ “Big Ballin’,” working under the radar until he landed the directing gig on Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” in 1999. Since then, Meyers has been a top TRL presence with videos for A-listers such as Britney Spears (“Lucky,” “Boys”), Dido (“Thank You”) and Céline Dion (“I’m Alive”).

Infused with bright colors, his videos seem to inhabit their own universe, mixing fantasy and reality. Directing videos “remains a great zone for people to learn how to shoot—it’s very forgiving of mistakes, and young directors find their voices there,” says Meyers, who won his Video of the Year award in August for Missy Elliott’s “Work It,” which creates a surreal world for the bee-covered hip-hop star, who dances without the constraints of gravity.

But for Meyers, possibilities within the music-video genre have narrowed. “There are conceptual themes you have to stay within,” he says, and he feels that “the industry itself never evolved to the place I was evolving creatively.”

Compared with the music-video world, in the commercial industry, “you’re surrounded by a group of people who don’t want it done fast and cheap, they want it done extremely well,” says Meyers, who signed with in July 2002. He likes the range that commercial directing offers. “You can do comedy spots, big epics, brand-building spots and fun music spots like iPod,” he says. “It’s a whole new breadth of diversity.”

Commercially, Meyers aspires to follow the career path of onetime video directors Spike Jonze (a “phenomenal visualist”) and Dante Ariola, and also admires David Fincher and Michael Bay, who started out in videos and commercials. His idol is Steven Spielberg. “He’s always pushing the limit creatively and visually, but he never upstages the emotion or story,” Meyers explains. “That’s something I feel pretty passionate about.”

Meyers has directed one feature—1999’s quickly forgotten Foolish, the story of a standup comic, starring Eddie Griffin and Master P—and is evaluating scripts for two independent movies he’d like to direct. “I’m wavering between the two,” he says. “One is a kids movie, one’s a corrupt-cop movie. I try to keep things very different.” In the meantime, he’s committed to the division he’s establishing at, which had resisted forming a music-video department for a long time, preferring to keep the focus on commercials.

“An auteur like Dave—with his background and experience and desire—it made a lot of sense for us to organize the initiative,” explains Kamen, who says Meyers’ video work “always has a magical quality. It has story, technique, character. It certainly stands out.”

Meyers sees a clear need for a division that produces videos but also offers music expertise for commercials. For the dance-heavy “Jimmy and Jenny” spot, the creatives wanted Timbaland to do the track. But, Meyers says, “the agency couldn’t even find Timbaland.” Meyers arranged an introduction, and the hip-hop producer agreed to the job.

“An intermediary is needed to have a successful relationship between advertisers and musicians,” says Meyers. While the division is focusing solely on music videos for now, the plan is to sign directors who will be “groomed for commercials,” he says.

Meyers says his ideal mix would be to direct commercials 90 percent of the time and spend the rest doing videos for favorite artists such as Elliott. He’s just wrapped videos for Ludacris and Nelly, and has been shooting a Hummer commercial out of Modernista! in Italy and Los Angeles. That spot, in which a Hummer that appears to be driving down a coastal highway turns out to be on a boat, is not music driven, an important point to Meyers.

“It’s more conceptual and less about, ‘Hey, I’m that music-video guy,’ ” he says. “It’s an important marker getting people to understand I’m more than just music.” Meyers says he’s inspired by the success of onetime music-video directors like David Fincher and Michael Bay, who parlayed their MTV exposure into commercial work and then into Hollywood success. Before he made a splash with Se7en, Fincher directed videos for Madonna and the Wallflowers, while Pearl Harbor director Bay once shot Aerosmith and Meat Loaf videos. Then came directors like Spike Jonze (Adaptation) and Michel Gondry, who has two features due out next year. Who’s up next? Here are four well-established video directors on the cusp of something bigger.

Benny Boom, 32 HSI, Los Angeles

Videos: Ja Rule, “Clap Back”; Nelly/Kelly Rowland, “Dilemma”

Commercial work: A Reebok spot that broke in March from Arnell Group in New York, showing Foot Locker customers watching rapper Fabolous. A Jolly Rancher spot that broke this spring out of Ogilvy & Mather in New York in which teens break-dance. Boom is in this year’s Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase.

Brendan and Emmett Malloy, 29 and 31 RSA Productions, Los Angeles

Videos: Avril Lavigne, “Complicated”; Metallica, “St. Anger”

Commercial work: The Heineken spot “Rooftop,” via New Yorks agencies Publicis and Vigilante, in which two twentysomethings poke fun at the making of a stereotypical beer commercial.

Joseph Kahn, 31 HSI, Los Angeles

Videos: Eminem, “Without Me”; Moby, “We Are All Made of Stars”

Commercial work: Just shot a Vodafone campaign out of Publicis in Paris that stars Milla Jovovich and a Fox Sports Nascar spot from Cliff Freeman and Partners in New York. Both break in December.

StyleWar (an 11-person Swedish collective) Smuggler, Los Angeles

Videos: Junior Senior, “Boy Meets Girl”; Moby, “Sunday”

Commercial work: Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s new Ikea campaign, which broke last month, including spots in which speedy ghostlike figures change around furniture in a room. A Nike co-op spot with Foot Locker out of AKA Advertising in New York that’s set to break in December.