Mark Romanek

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Mark Romanek
Born (1959-09-18) September 18, 1959 (age 54)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Occupation Film director, film writer, music video director
Years active 1985–present
Notable work(s) Never Let Me Go, One Hour Photo
Spouse(s) Brigette McWilliams

Mark Romanek (born September 18, 1959) is an American filmmaker, whose directing work includes feature films, music videos and commercials.

He wrote and directed the 2002 film One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams, and Never Let Me Go, the latter adapted from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name. His most notable music videos include "Hurt" (Johnny Cash), "Closer" (Nine Inch Nails), "Criminal" (Fiona Apple), "Scream" (Michael & Janet Jackson) and "Bedtime Story" (Madonna). His music videos have garnered 20 MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Direction for Jay-Z's "99 Problems", and he has won three Grammy Awards for Best Short Form Music Video — more than any other director.


Romanek was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Shirlee and Marvin Romanek.[1] He credits seeing Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, at the age of nine, and again during its re-release in 1973, with inspiring him to become a film director.[2][3] Romanek experimented with Super 8 and 16mm film as a teenager while attending New Trier East, a progressive public high school north of Chicago that offered a four-year film production and theory program. At New Trier, Romanek studied first with Kevin Dole, a local filmmaker who was already creating a form of music video on his own in the mid-1970s; and then with Peter Kingsbury, a filmmaker who had studied with experimentalists Owen Land, John Luther Schofill and Stan Brakhage at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Both teachers had studied at SAIC and they exposed students to works by significant figures of the American avant-garde cinema such as Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Owen Land and Paul Sharits. Romanek subsequently attended Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, and graduated from its Roy H. Park School of Communications with a degree in cinema and photography.

Romanek served as 2nd assistant director for Brian De Palma on Home Movies, an autobiographical film De Palma conceived as an exercise for his students at Sarah Lawrence College (having returned to his alma mater after the shooting of The Fury as an instructor of film production). On set, Romanek met Keith Gordon, playing De Palma's alter ego.

Gordon remembers Romanek's entrance into film production:

He released his first film, Static, in 1986. It was co-written with and starred Keith Gordon as a man who claimed he had invented a television set capable of showing a live picture of Heaven; Amanda Plummer also starred. The film achieved something of a cult following in London and led to his first job at the helm of a music video for the British new wave group, The The (who featured on the soundtrack for Static), in 1986.

Music video career[edit]

After a few years writing screenplays, Romanek decided to focus on music videos and signed on with Satellite Films, a boutique division of Steve Golin's Propaganda Films. His subsequent work has come to be regarded as among the best of the medium. He has worked with many top-selling recording artists from different genres of popular music, and his videos have been given credit for making stars out of some.

One of his notable videos was for the Nine Inch Nails song "Closer". Its critical acclaim was only matched by its critical controversy, many accusing the video as being disturbing, demonic and demented (a big reason why the video was so popular among fans). Romanek would again work with Nine Inch Nails for the song "The Perfect Drug".

Romanek was given his first Grammy Award for Best Short Form Video in 1996 for "Scream", a collaboration between the pop superstar siblings Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. The video, which cost $7 million to make, is cited as one of the most expensive ever made. Romanek won his second Grammy two years later, again with Janet Jackson, for her video "Got 'Til It's Gone".

In 2002, Romanek shot a video for Audioslave's "Cochise" in which the band performed in the midst of a prolonged pyrotechnic display of the intensity usually seen only during fireworks finales. The explosions were so loud during the night shoot in the San Fernando Valley that local police and fire departments received hundreds of calls from residents who feared that a terrorist attack was underway.[citation needed]

Romanek's 2002 music video for country music icon Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" has been hailed by many critics and fans alike as the most personal and moving music video ever made. The song expresses self-loathing and the futility of worldly accomplishments; this content took on a new poignancy when sung by Cash near the end of his life, quietly performing in his memorabilia-filled home, with shots of the flood-ravaged "House of Cash" museum and archival shots of a younger, cockier Cash edited in. The video was nominated for seven VMAs, winning one for cinematography, and also won Romanek his third Grammy.

Other Romanek videos that have received accolades and awards include the VMA winners "Free Your Mind" (En Vogue), "Are You Gonna Go My Way" (Lenny Kravitz), "Rain" (Madonna), "Devil's Haircut" (Beck), "99 Problems" (Jay-Z) and "Criminal" (Fiona Apple). Many others have also received nominations. In 1997, Romanek received the VMA Video Vanguard Award for his contribution to the medium. Two of Romanek's music videos, "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails, and "Bedtime Story" by Madonna, have been made part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

More recently in 2013, Romanek directed Jay-Z's performance art video for the song “Picasso Baby” which aired on HBO on Friday, August 2, 2013. The video was shot inside the Pace Gallery in New York and it featured a bunch of personalities from the world of art including Marina Abramović whose 2010 performance art work - "The Artist is Present" inspired the video.[4][5] This marked Romanek's first music video in 8 years, his last being Coldplay's video for Speed of Sound back in 2005.

Romanek has since directed the music video for Taylor Swift's lead single "Shake It Off" from her fifth studio album 1989. The music video was premiered during a live stream on August 18, 2014.

Feature films[edit]

In 2002, Romanek wrote and directed his second full-length feature movie, One Hour Photo, with Robin Williams in the lead role as a department store photo processor who becomes obsessed with a family through their snapshots. One Hour Photo proved to be only a moderate hit, but still established Romanek as a respected movie director. Rumors spread that the studio, Fox Searchlight, had forced changes on Romanek that seriously altered the film from how he had intended it. He has disclaimed this story, however, stating that there never was a "director's cut" of One Hour Photo and that studio did not exercise any editorial control. In 2005, Romanek was scheduled to direct Tom Hanks in a film adaptation of the book, A Cold Case but the project languished in development hell. In December 2005, it was announced that he would direct A Million Little Pieces, the film adaptation of the book of the same name but due to events regarding the authenticity of the book's content, it has also become a subject of speculation as to whether the film will indeed be made or not.

On February 8, 2007 he signed on to direct The Wolfman, but dropped out. The film was directed by Joe Johnston.

Romanek's third feature was the 2010 British dystopian drama Never Let Me Go starring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley. It was produced by Alex Garland, who also wrote the screenplay.

In October 2011, Romanek was planning on taking over the director's chair from Ron Howard on the film adaptation of Dan Brown's bestselling Robert Langdon novel, The Lost Symbol.[6] However, the film was eventually scrapped in favor of making Brown's fourth Langdon novel, Inferno into a feature film instead- reuniting the franchise's star Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard.


Feature films[edit]


Music videos[edit]

Year Artist Song Title MTV Video Music Awards
1986 The The "Sweet Bird of Truth"
1989 Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians "Madonna of the Wasps"
"One Long Pair of Eyes"
Miki Howard "Love Under New Management"
1990 "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)"
En Vogue "You Don't Have To Worry"
1991 De La Soul "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)"
ABC "Love Conquers All"
1992 Keith Richards "Wicked As It Seems"
Definition of Sound "Moira Jane's Café"
Teenage Fanclub "What You Do To Me"
k.d. lang "Constant Craving" 1 Win

2 Nominations

En Vogue "Free Your Mind" 3 Wins

5 Nominations

1993 Lenny Kravitz "Are You Gonna Go My Way" 1 Win

1 Nomination

  • Best Art Direction - Nigel Phelps
David Bowie "Jump They Say"
"Black Tie White Noise"
Madonna "Rain" 2 Wins
  • Best Cinematography - Harris Savides
  • Best Art Direction - Jan Peter Flack
Lenny Kravitz "Is There Any Love In Your Heart"
1994 Iggy Pop "Beside You"
Nine Inch Nails "Closer" 2 Nominations
G. Love & Special Sauce "Cold Beverage"
1995 Madonna "Bedtime Story"
R.E.M. "Strange Currencies"
Michael Jackson "Scream" (feat. Janet Jackson) 3 Wins

8 Nominations

1996 Sonic Youth "Little Trouble Girl"
Eels "Novocaine For the Soul" 2 Nominations
Weezer "El Scorcho"
Beck "Devils Haircut" 2 Wins
1997 Nine Inch Nails "The Perfect Drug" 5 Nominations
Fiona Apple "Criminal" 1 Win

1 Nomination

Janet Jackson "Got 'Til It's Gone" (feat. Q-Tip & Joni Mitchell)
1998 Lenny Kravitz "If You Can't Say No"
1999 Macy Gray "Do Something" 1 Win

1 Nomination

"I Try" (Second Version) 1 Win

1 Nomination

2000 The Wallflowers "Sleepwalker"
2001 Mick Jagger "God Gave Me Everything"
2002 No Doubt "Hella Good"
Audioslave "Cochise"
2003 Johnny Cash "Hurt" 1 Win

5 Nominations

Red Hot Chili Peppers "Can't Stop"
Linkin Park "Faint"
2004 Jay-Z "99 Problems" 4 Wins

2 Nominations

2005 Coldplay "Speed of Sound" 4 Nominations
2013 Jay-Z "Picasso Baby"
2014 U2 "Invisible"
Taylor Swift "Shake It Off"
U2 "Summer Nights"

Further reading[edit]

  • Henry Keazor, Thorsten Wübbena: Video Thrills The Radio Star. Musikvideos: Geschichte, Themen, Analysen. Bielefeld 2005, p. 335ss., p. 344ss.
  • "`(...) an unforgettable emotional impact´ - Jay-Z/Mark Romanek: `99 Problems´", in: Klaus Herding/Antje Krause Wahl (Eds.), Wie sich Gefühle Ausdruck verschaffen - Emotionen in Nahsicht, Taunusstein: Driesen 2007, p. 321 - 342


  1. ^ "Ithaca College Quarterly, 2003/No. 1". 2003-04-28. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ [2][dead link]
  4. ^ Buchanan, Kyle (2014-08-19). "The Inside Story of Jay Z’s ‘Picasso Baby’ Video". Vulture. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  5. ^ JAY Z's Life+Times (2013-08-02). "JAY Z "Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film" - YouTube". Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  6. ^ Fleming, Mike (October 19, 2011). "Mark Romanek Frontrunner for Sony's 'The Lost Symbol'". Deadline. 

External links[edit]