When Taylor Swift announced she had three surprises as part of her epic livestream, there was one little detail that may have gotten lost in the shuffle: her video for “Shake It Off” was directed by none other than Mark Romanek.
Wait, who? For those versed in movie ephemera, and music video history, Romanek’s involvement in “Shake It Off” is nearly as exciting as the announcement of her new album, “1989.” But for those not in the know, here’s a little primer on why Romanek matters – and how he made “Shake It Off” look so darn good.
Though Romanek would later be best known for his work on music videos, he actually started with a love of film created by multiple viewings of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey…” Which makes sense, given his focus on sparse, stark settings (like the soundstage in “Shake It Off”) and emphasis on shocks of color.
Though he got some street cred working with fabled thriller director Brian de Palma, Romanek’s first feature was weirdo sci-fi film “Static” in 1985, starring Amanda Plummer. This led directly to his first music video gig for British New Wave group The The, who featured on the soundtrack for the film.
“One Hour Photo” (2002)
After almost two decades of creating iconic music videos for Nine Inch Nails (“Closer”), Janet and Michael Jackson (“Scream,” which once again showed off his “2001” influence), Jay-Z (“99 Problems”) and way more, Romanek once again returned to his first love, film.
The movie was a thriller in the de Palma mode, starring Robin Williams as a photo developer at a pharmacy who becomes obsessed with a family through their pictures. The movie was critically acclaimed, but it was a good long while until he would hit movie theaters again.
“Never Let Me Go” (2010)
After fizzled projects with Tom Hanks, a feature film adaptation of the controversial “A Million Little Pieces,” and “The Wolfman” – later directed by Joe Johnston – led nowhere, Romanek returned to his sci-fi roots with the Alex Garland scripted feature “Never Let Me Go.”
“Locke & Key” (2011)
The next year, Romanek directed a pilot for the television adaptation of the critically acclaimed comic book series “Locke & Key,” and though the pilot was scrapped – the series is now being adapted for the movies, instead – it again shows where Romanek’s strengths lie.
Set in a snowy Maine community, the director again pulled on Kubrick (think “The Shining”) to create a grainy, quiet feeling for the pilot, with moments of shocking horror. Color pops out due to ’70s, vintage Spielberg inspired fashions. It’s a combination of everything Romanek had worked on until this point: Kubrick, de Palma, and his own style mixing to create something special that will sadly never be seen by 95% of the public viewing audience (we saw a small screening a few years back at San Diego Comic-Con).
Though it’s far from definite, Romanek’s next film project may follow up on the scrapped “Locke & Key” in a very direct way, as he’s rumored to be taking the chair for the “Shining” prequel, “Overlook Hotel.” Whether he follows through – or just directs more Taylor Swift videos – only time will tell. Either way, here’s hoping he forgets all the haters and shakes it off.