Josh Forbes is a Los Angeles-based director who specialises in the bizarre, sincere, and horrific. He has amassed over a billion views with music videos for artists such as Meghan Trainor, Carly Rae Jepsen, Jojo Siwa, The Fray, Sara Bareilles and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” which garnered him a VMA nom.
His commercial work is a combination of dry wit and over-the-top visuals. He has directed spots for the likes of McDonalds, Carl’s Jr., and State Farm. His latest collaboration with John Legend and Headspace kicked off the Super Bowl.
He is currently wrapping up his second feature film, a dark comedy called Destroy All Neighbors starring Jonah Ray and Alex Winter. He is also currently working on a feature-length documentary about the comedian Gallagher called Smash which features Gilbert Gottfried, Howie Mandel, and, of course, the Insane Clown Posse. When he’s not scheming of ways to take over the Critters franchise he’s obsessively collecting board games.
The ad/music video from my childhood that stays with me…
Josh> Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”!
I grew up during the “Satanic Panic” of the ‘80s and was warned of the dangers of all things spooky. So when I found out that Michael Jackson made a music video that was basically a horror movie, I did everything I could to find it. And boy did it deliver!
John Landis’s music video burned out every synapse in my young brain, and I've been chasing that dragon ever since.
My friend Nate had a tape of the “making of”, and we must have watched that thing dozens of times. Seeing Landis like a kid in a candy shop, I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life. Oh man, and Rick Baker’s makeup!
There's no greater music video. Except, of course, the Indian knockoff.
The ad/music video/game/web platform that made me want to get into the industry…
Josh> It's hard to pinpoint one specific piece of work, but I'd have to say that Spike Jonze’s music video for Daft Punk’s Around the World really exploded what it meant to make a music video. It's about a dog man with a broken arm who has a boombox that he can't turn off.
The song dips in and out to make room for the dialogue, which absolutely floored me! The story it told was so fascinating. It was both over-the-top and grounded at the same time. Sure it's a guy who looks like a cheap McGruff The Crime Dog costume, but he's just trying to find love in the big city. That combination of the fantastical and the mundane is something I strive for in my work.
The creative work (film/album/game/ad/album/book/poem etc) that I keep revisiting…
Josh> I've been listening to the band Why?'s album Alopecia almost exclusively for weeks. I don't really know why, but it scratches an itch that no other musician can reach. It's a really weird, but perfect, blend of hip hop, indie rock, and minimalist soundscapes with a dash of toy piano tossed in for good measure.
Which sounds pretentious but is anything but. His lyrics are painfully funny poetic observations about the most inane details, but the way he assembles them creates a mental collage that constantly unfolds and refolds like cosmic origami.
I mean where else are you going to get lyrics like
“Playing The Wall at singles bingo
Did anyone hear me cry there?
Through a toilet-stall divider”?
My first professional project…
Josh> The first thing I made with someone else’s money was a music video for the band The Submarines. Up until then, everything I had directed was either paid for by myself or split with the band.
Our budget was $5,000, which was more money than I had ever had in my whole life.
Not knowing any better, we spread that money out over a week of shooting. A friend built a massive cutaway submarine set in the back of an aquarium store. We pulled every favour we could, and it's still one of the videos I'm proudest of. Inspired by Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, we leaned into a handmade aesthetic that, in my opinion, still holds up.
The piece of work (ad/music video/ platform…) that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like that…
Josh> I once shot a music video for one of my favourite artists of all time, Conor Oberst’s side project Desaparecidos. It was based on a totally insane idea Conor had about a woman who orders a pizza that starts talking to her and gets her pregnant…and then she gives birth to a toy slot machine. Yeah…it was weird. We had an all-star cast: Kate Micucci, DJ Douggpound, Nathan Barnett, and Waymond Lee from Workaholics. The budget was next to nothing so I had to take a chance on a DP I had never worked with.
Two terrible things happened that day.
One of the grips accidentally shattered a massive plate glass window
The DP’s camera overheated and we lost our footage entirely
I still have nightmares about that one.
The piece of work (ad/music video/ platform…) that still makes me jealous…
Josh> The Skittles ads of the late 2000’s!
"The Skittles Touch" -- Best Skittles commercial ever!!
Skittles are still awesome (HELLO SKITTLES!) but when those ads first started coming out, they were better than anything. Better than any movie, music video, painting, skyscraper. Better than the Roman Empire. In my mind, it doesn’t get better than the Skittles Leak spot, where a plumber attaches a tiny man to the ceiling to eat dripping Skittles. Or the Skittles Beard where a guy’s massive beard steals Skittles during a job interview. Back then, I worked at an agency as a copywriter for a candy brand. Whenever we got into a big argument about strategy I was like “Guys! Skittles just did a spot where a guy touches people and they turn to Skittles. We’re overthinking this!” Kuntz and Maguire were my John and Paul.
The creative project that changed my career…
Josh> My first “big time” professional project was the music video for “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles. This was the first major label big-budget video, and I’m frankly still shocked that they went with my treatment. The song is (not-so) secretly about her sticking it to the record label. They wanted a love song, so she gave them a monster hit in the form of a non-love song.
My pitch was that she’s a tiny person stuck in an antique machine. She’s forced to play music for anyone who drops in a quarter. And it’s only when she decides to break the machine by jamming its gears with a giant coin that she's able to find true happiness.
That video opened a lot of doors, and I’ll forever be indebted to Sara and the folks at Epic Records.
The work that I’m proudest of…
Josh> The work I'm currently most proud of is a feature I just directed called Destroy All Neighbors. It's a horror/comedy that's coming out in January on Shudder, AMC’s horror streamer. The film stars Jonah Ray (Mystery Science Theater 3000), Alex Winter (Bill and Ted), Thomas Lennon (Reno 911), and a bunch of other amazing folks. I’d like to think that there’s a little bit of me in everything I direct, but this film is 100% pure Josh Forbes. It’s stylish, twisted, weird, hilarious, and surprisingly sweet. We got to work with a ton of practical FX, and it was both the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever worked on.
I was involved in this and it makes me cringe…
Josh> I got asked to do a music video for Playboy Playmate turned reality star Kendra Wilkinson. The song was called “Lost in Space”, and they wanted me to recreate a scene from the classic TV show Lost In Space. Turns out, the guy who owned her show also had the rights to Lost in Space.
The catch was they wanted to film the entire process for her reality show. So while we were shooting, I had a camera crew shooting me. Their producer would tell me to amp up the conflict and yell at Kendra. So I’d go into her dressing room and yell at her for not being ready and then I’d have to come back in and give her actual direction. It was totally insane. I did get to work with my buddy Adam Egypt Mortimer and B-9 the robot though. So that’s cool.
The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…
Josh> I had the opportunity to co-direct some spots (with Rupert Cresswell) for The Sims that were a complete blast from beginning to end. The agency was surprisingly open to our crazy ideas, and we were able to push the concept in some really fun directions. We were able to shoot with a motion control camera so we could have our star appear in different spots around the room. From start to finish it was a pure delight. It felt like being a kid making movies with your friends. But this time with a two-ton giant robot camera that could easily knock your head off.