September 18, 1959 |
Chicago, Illinois, U.S
|Occupation||Music video director, film director|
He wrote and directed the critically acclaimed 2002 film One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams, and the acclaimed Never Let Me Go. His most notable music videos include "Hurt" (Johnny Cash), "Closer" (Nine Inch Nails), "Criminal" (Fiona Apple), "Scream" (Michael & Janet Jackson), "Bedtime Story" (Madonna), and "Jump They Say" (David Bowie). His music videos have garnered 20 MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Direction for Jay-Z's "99 Problems" in 2004. He has also 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. 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. 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:
|“||Yeah, I actually met a lot of people who became important in my life, but Mark being one of the people who was really huge. Mark wasn't even officially one of the students in the class. Mark was kind of like me – he was a film geek. He was from Chicago. And he had followed Brian around on the set of The Fury (1978) and gotten a job as like a production assistant on that movie. And when he heard that Brian was doing this project, he basically contacted him and said, 'Listen, can I come to New York and basically be like one of the students, even though I'm not technically in the class?' And Brian said, “Fine.” So Mark became the second-assistant director on the film.
"And he and I just hit it off pretty quickly. We had a similar passion for Stanley Kubrick. He showed me his short films, which I thought were really good and showed a lot of visual flair. We just laughed a lot and kind of became good friends really quickly."
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 
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.
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.
Feature films 
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.
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.
Feature films 
Music videos 
Further reading 
- 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
- "Ben Stiller is Hearing The Voices".
- Fleming, Mike (October 19, 2011). "Mark Romanek Frontrunner for Sony's 'The Lost Symbol'". Deadline.
- Mark Romanek official website
- Mark Romanek at the Internet Movie Database
- Tribute to Mark Romanek's Music Video Career
- Mark Romanek Interview about the making of Nine Inch Nails Video "Closer"
- Johnny Cash's "Hurt" Delves Into Life of Former Hell-Raiser, MTV VMA Lens Recap
- Jay-Z Has The Guts To Get "Shot," Rick Rubin Demands To Look Cool, MTV VMA Lens Recap. Describes the concept of Mark Romanek's first hip-hop video, Jay-Z's "99 Problems."
- Artist Series: Mark Romanek, An interview with Romanek in short-film format by Hillman Curtis.