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Darren Aronofsky directed this Kohl’s ad starring J-Lo

The weirdest ads made by your favourite filmmakers

Everybody needs to pay the bills – for directors that might mean surrendering creative control to a brand and making films you might not normally make

For indie filmmakers with bills to pay, directing an advert is a lucrative excuse to mastermind an expensive short movie and flex some creative muscles. A 30-second clip of a rapping orange juice carton may sell the value of Vitamin C, but, if done with flair, it advertises the director’s visual aesthetic. Anyway, they all do it, it’s just the game. Wes Anderson once made an American Express ad and, dry as that sounds, it’s actually pretty cool.

Apart from selling out, staining a CV and losing artistic control to corporations, there’s really no downside to directing ads. Whatever happens, they always end up online, sometimes to the director’s embarrassment, sometimes not. Occasionally they make sense, like Refn and Gucci. And then there are some that are probably just for the zeroes on the cheque. 

DARREN ARONOFSKY & J-LO’S CLOTHES

Jennifer Lopez gave us Google Images, which is something to be grateful for, but the Aronofsky-directed commercial for her Kohl’s fashion line is distinctly half-hearted in its tribute to big musical numbers. Shot in between Black Swan and Noah, the 30-second clip is closer to Dancing With the Stars than anything from the director’s usually daring oeuvre. At no point does J-Lo sprout wings and turn into a swan. Disappointing. To paraphrase “Jenny From the Block”: Aronofsky’s bank account used to have a little; now it has a lot. 

KEN LOACH & MCDONALD’S

McDonald’s has lousy food and even lousier ethics. Still, they hold some indie cred, and not just because Pusha T wrote the “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle. In 1990, one of the restaurant’s more social-realist commercials came from Ken Loach. Yes, the same Ken Loach who’s an established left-winger and has a new film attacking benefits cuts. In the ad, a couple shift from shoe-shopping to ordering a Big Mac – completely sober, too. Just as everyone regrets a post-pub trip to McDonald’s, Loach himself is still wracked with guilt. “It sits really badly on my conscience,” he admitted last month. Probably why he directed McLibel in 1997.

BEN WHEATLEY & GO COMPARE

Whether you liked High-Rise or not, it’s refreshing for a new release to be so divisive. That’s less true with the Go Compare commercials, a string of unfunny skits that united a nation in streaming TV shows solely to skip the ad breaks. Ben Wheatley’s contribution is lensed by his regular cinematographer, Laurie Rose, and involves a real dog attached to a fake dog – perhaps the one that died in Sightseers. It’s an area in which Wheatley is fairly prolific: check out (or stay away from) his Pot Noodle advert that could equally belong to a JG Ballard novel.

LARS VON TRIER & A TABLOID NEWSPAPER

Lars von Trier may still be boycotting the press, but in 1986 he supported journalism enough to shoot a NSFW advert for a Danish newspaper famous for its own version of Page 3 girls. The steamy clip, which was promptly banned from TV, depicts a sauna of naked men who discover they’re a peephole away from a sauna of naked women. With its erection-based punchline and shameless full-frontal nudity, it could be an outtake from Nymphomaniac – if there was a scene where Shia LaBeouf personally recommended his favourite tabloid to Stacy Martin, that is.

DAVID LYNCH & A PREGNANCY TEST

In a spot that could be paired with the fake soap opera from Twin Peaks, Lynch’s Clear Blue Easy ad involves a Laura Palmer doppelganger waiting for her pregnancy test to turn either blue or pink. For reasons unexplained, she does it all staring at a mirror, as if starring in her own drama, and in her imagination the numbers of clock face turn to “YES” and “NO” – a piece of Lynch weirdness, maybe, or an endorsement for hallucinogens to prepare for the dramatic news of learning you’re giving birth to the Eraserhead baby.

THE COEN BROTHERS & A TAX FIRM

The Coens said yes to a tax preparation company in return for, presumably, money – or perhaps a free evaluation. On paper, it sounds more disposable than Intolerable Cruelty. Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly a Coen brothers joint, almost to the point of self-parody. Their depiction of office life is straight from The Hudsucker Proxy, the creaking footsteps is a signature shot from all their movies, and the core joke of Kafkaesque accountancy reappears two years later in Inside Llewyn Davis. Sadly, there’s no mysterious suitcase, ransom or decrying of money as the root of all evil.

BENNETT MILLER & TOILET PAPER

As the director of Moneyball, Bennett Miller comprehends the financial imperative of accepting small, steady jobs. His Quilted Northern loo roll ads are essentially comic skits, each featuring a depressed bathroom accessory soliloquising about the horrors of living next to a toilet: “Smash me. Dear God, smash me into a million pieces.” It’s possible Miller was in it for artistic purposes (and a lifetime’s supply of toilet paper), as the results are darker than Foxcatcher. At least, according to irate YouTube commenters whose complaints include: “After watching these sick commercials, I guarantee I will never purchase another Northern product as long as I live.”

INGMAR BERGMAN & SOAP

When the Swedish film industry went on strike in 1951, Bergman turned to Bris for extra income and conjured up nine fantasy sequences that tangentially involve soap. Bringing along Gunnar Fischer, his eventual DP for The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, Bergman dreams big with black-and-white elegance. There’s a caged bacteria fist-fighting a soap sud, a commercial about shooting a commercial, and a parody of 3D cinema in which a burlesque dancer demonstrates how to use a shower. In Bergman’s words: “The primary reason I wanted to make the commercials was that I was given free rein with money and I could do exactly what I wanted.”

JEAN-LUC GODARD & AFTERSHAVE

Godard’s 60s output may as well have been cigarette commercials, and in 1971 the anti-capitalist filmmaker unexpectedly went more direct with a commercial for Schick. Following a traditional Godard trajectory, it portrays two attractive people (including Weekend’s Juliet Berto) who slink out of bed to yell at each other for a bit. In the background, a radio news bullet runs at length, as it does in Made in USA, except the news story concerns Palestine and sparks a lover’s spat that’s somehow solved by aftershave. Even if Godard was in it for the francs, he did so by sneaking politics on to TV screens.

AKI KAURISMÄKI & A JAPANESE PRODUCT

Though all his films are kinda the same, Aki Kaurismäki still ranks among the greatest directors working today. The Finnish auteur’s work is more distinctive than Wes Anderson’s, and it all exists in a deadpan world only he could create. His Japanese commercials are no exception. They’re set in the type of rock’n’roll bar present in all his films and feature his regular actors who all of a sudden speak Japanese. In another spot, starring Matti Pellonpää, there’s a Leningrad Cowboys cameo in the background for an extra Kaurismäki touch. The product? According to translations, it’s an oil-absorbent polymer that prevents water pollution – something environmentalists and cinephiles alike can surely appreciate.