Chris Cunningham’s film-making debut was a pop promo for the techno
band, Autechre, but his origins lie in special effects. He left his home
town of Cambridge when he was 17 and came to London to be a special
effects designer for films after a childhood spent developing his own
special effects in his garage.
Remarkably, 26-year-old Cunningham’s first job was at Pinewood Studios,
working on Hellraiser 2 with Clive Barker and, since then, he has never
It was while working for the director, Stanley Kubrick, that he realised
he was becoming more interested in visuals than special effects. ’I got
to a point where I had so many ideas. I had a burst of self-confidence
and approached Autechre in 1995 to film their pop promo. The ideas that
I come up with are relative to how much I like the music,’ he says.
Cunningham was approached in 1996 by Kinsman & Co to direct the National
Union of Students test commercial through Mustoe Merriman Herring Levy,
which was his debut commercial.
’I really love the discipline of directing commercials and being given a
proper, rigid brief. Most directors find it restricting but I don’t want
to do a director’s cut of 60 seconds and then an ad cut of 40 seconds.
You shouldn’t feel the need to do that,’ he says.
He was signed by RSA Films in April this year and has directed Saatchi &
Saatchi’s launch campaign for Xfm, promos for Aphex Twin and the
Auteurs, and is completing a commercial for ITV Sport. Although
Cunningham is going to continue directing pop videos, through RSA’s
Black Dog films, he hopes to concentrate on commercials.
His main fear, however, is being judged. His Xfm films may be indicative
of his dark, foreboding style but the last thing Cunningham wants is to
be pigeon-holed. ’People think my work is really sinister - but it’s
because that was the required style. If people start categorising me,
I’d be really fucked off and I’d probably give up directing,’ he says.