Tell us about your first shoot.

Well, the first real shoot was for C+C Music Factory. I came out of design, working for a film design company called R. Greenberg & Associates. Had a print and advertising background. When I got the video and I found out it was genre dance music, I immediately looked at the fanzines. You know, how do they visualize this kind of stuff? There were all these great type designers that would do magazines like Face Magazine, Arena or Ray Gun and I was like, let’s use this very European print editorial and adapt it to film. You see in Europe, rap and hip hop were not about the streets. It was a fashion style…with the C&C videos we brought that perspective back to the USA.

Did you have a ritual preparing for that first shoot? Do you have any rituals now?

Directing is a mixture of symphony and jazz. Jazz, in terms of how you have to roll with the punches. Symphony, in that you have to walk in very, very organized. I believe I started a thing called Sticky Boards. I don’t use written shot lists. I want to look at images when I shoot. I would use spray mount and I would cut up all my storyboards and I would stick them on a board. We would visualize shots in terms of setups, coverage and masters and you would start to peel them off and rearrange them according to time and circumstance as we shot. A moveable board. Nobody did that at the time.

Was there a “best” part of your first shoot? An “ah-ha” moment?

Yes. When we do commercials we think of what we advertise as inanimate objects. When I got the job, they said, “Check out the band at Redzone. ”It was a dinky club in NY and they were literally performing on a ping-pong table, and a bunch of people were just walking by, nobody really paying attention. A week later I would shoot the music video. A week after it got released, I had a meeting at Electra Records at Times Square. We got stuck in traffic right in the square, and the windows of the cab were down – it was hot – and almost every car around us was playing “Gonna Make You Sweat”. You heard it coming out of stores, and we looked up at the Trinitron – back then they had the Sony Trinitron in Times Square – and it says, “You heard the music, now watch the video.  C+C Music Factory.” And it played right up there above Times Square. My producer yelled at the cab driver, and he said, “Stay!  Stay!  Stay!” And we were watching it, and there was a big traffic jam behind us in Times Square. Later that year I edited live footage of C&C playing the Budokan theatre in Asia in front of a massive crowd…From then on, I stopped thinking of products as inanimate objects. I thought of them in the same way that I thought of a band, like The Beatles. They start somewhere in Liverpool and a few years later, you see them on top of the world. People are involved in any aspect…not just who is on stage. I think of the product as a character, as something that lives and breathes.

Can you talk about the elements of your success?

When I started out, I had quick exposure, thanks to MTV. With music videos, we were shooting fifty shots or fifty lighting setups a day. Commercials did an average of ten. Commercials were for pussies and music videos were for men I thought… [laughs]  We did around five to eight music videos a month…crazy, a few years later, Ridley Scott called me to ask if I was interested in merging our companies. At first I thought it was a prank call, because I’m such a fan. Everything happened fairly fast. Then the new technologies started to emerge and the dot com companies were the new rock stars and they wanted that MTV look for themselves…videos became my calling card for commercials and my commercials became my calling card for movies.

What do you think about changing technologies and the state of the music video industry?

Everyone watches music videos on their tiny cellphones now, the record labels finally got what they always wanted.  All close-ups. You can see how viewing habits now are being dictated and changed by small screens Everything becomes a lock-off, front-lit, close-up.

Any career advice for young directors?

You go to film school hoping to get your first shot. You know exactly what your style and statement would be. When you finally get your first job and hopefully your first success, you have to do that again and again without repeating yourself or falling into patterns. You have to always keep on reinventing yourself. I had a meeting where they said, “Oh, we gave you the job because you’re the King of ‘White Cyc’.” And that’s when I knew I had to never make a ‘White Cyc’ video again.

What was your approach to the movies you chose to make?

For better or worse I approached movies like a marketing person. I asked myself, what’s the DNA in people’s blood?  What makes people want to dress like that character every Halloween?  What makes countless directors want to do prequels and sequels, or inspire rides at Universal Studios?  Why is that? And how can I upgrade the product?!. Commercial filmmakers are being used by Hollywood to polish up their old franchises…not a lot of room for individual style and ideas. There was a time when you had to make a small individual film and if it did really well you would get a shot at a big blockbuster. Today you need to make a big blockbuster in order to get a shot at a small individual film.

Can you tell us about your new film Backmask?

BACKMASK is the most fiercely independent thing I’ve ever done. BACKMASK has allowed me to fulfill my “auteur filmmaker” dream. The horror genre is great  because it has a fan base that really likes fantasy. It’s also one of the few genres that’s not star-driven. It’s actually director-driven. I got contacted by Steven Schneider who just came off his Paranormal Activity run and he said, if I give him a one-page treatment, and if he liked it, and I can shoot it for a certain budget, he could raise the money and give me creative freedom. “If we put a movie poster out that said… From the Producer of Paranormal Activity and the Director of Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre… we can sell that movie.”… it was financed that day.  We raised the money literally in eight hours at WME [William Morris Endeavor] all based on a original script that was written in just a few weeks. It was a very different experience from anything else that I’ve done before, soup to nuts.

What are your creative influences?

I admire the commercial directors of the “British Invasion” that came to the US just ten years before I did. Those directors embraced American commercials and genre movies and reinvented them. Parker, Lynne, the Scott’s. They did not think of soap opera as a valid form of drama and they brought a distinct style to the party. They were not inspired by TV or MTV but by classical paintings.


Marcus Nispel

Place of Birth

Frankfurt, Germany


Director / Tool