Are VMA Winners DANIELS the Franchise Film Directors of Tomorrow?

By  · Published on August 25th, 2014

Are VMA Winners DANIELS the Franchise Film Directors of Tomorrow?

DANIELS/Channel 101

Last night, amidst the butts and the FEMINISM and the important message from Miley Cyrus, the VMAs bestowed its latest award for Best Direction to DANIELS, aka Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, for helming the Lil Jon and DJ Snake music video for “Turn Down For What.” You didn’t miss that part of the show, because this category isn’t millennial-friendly enough for the telecast (nor was the one given to Oscar-nominated art director Anastasia Masaro), but somewhere in the night there were some Moonman statues given to a duo that might just be the franchise film directors of the future.

In winning the award, Kwan and Scheinert follow in the footsteps of such notable directors as David Fincher (The Social Network), Spike Jonze (Her), Adam Yauch (Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!), Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror), Jake Scott (Welcome to the Rileys), Samuel Bayer (Nightmare on Elm Street), Steve Barron (the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine). Also among the past winners are Marc Webb and Francis Lawrence, directors of the Amazing Spider-Man and Hunger Games franchises, respectively.

Most of those filmmakers were multi-nominees in the category at the VMAs, and a couple are multi-winners. This was only DANIELS’ first nomination for directing (they were previously nominated in the Best Editing category in 2011, for “Simple Math” by Manchester Orchestra), yet they’ve been making videos for years, for clients including Passion Pit, Tenacious D, The Shins and Chromeo. And they’ve directed a number of hilarious shorts and just recently were part of the Sundance Institute’s Director’s Lab for a potential first feature titled Swiss Army Man.

I think they show the potential of being the next Jonze given their interest in dark and immature comedy and their “passion for technology and innovation in independent filmmaking,” as Sundance and HP recognized in honoring them with a fellowship this year. DANIELS’ videos also involve clever stunts (SXSW winner “My Machines” for Battles) or comprehensive narratives (“Don’t Stop” for Foster the People, starring Gabourey Sidibe) or both, as in the case of “Turn Down For What,” which is like a sex-based parody of The Raid.

Watch that below, followed by some of DANIELS’ other work that shows they have the goods to take on some weird superhero or action fantasy film series down the road.

Next up is a 2012 short they made together titled Pockets, and it’s perfectly done even if it doesn’t indicate these guys are particularly good actors’ directors. The film is about a guy who attempt to pickpocket someone, only to find out violently that the would-be mark is some sort of evil magician using wormholes in pockets on clothing and other objects. This is the sort of thing that works as a great calling card for Hollywood producers, some of whom probably would even consider the chance of stretching the premise into a feature-length work. Hopefully that’s not the case, and not just because it’d just be like Jumper but narrower in scope. And while I think I could see this Pocketman as a villain in a superhero movie, he’d likely be too easily defeated since most superheroes don’t have pockets in their costumes – at least they don’t look like they carry anything in them if they do.

The following music video earned the duo a Grammy nomination last year, and it’s maybe the closet thing to evidence that they’re the guys to helm a Weekend at Bernies reboot. Produced for Foster the People’s “Houdini,” it starts off with the band being killed while making their music video, and then someone gets the bright idea to turn them into puppets in order to finish the video and then also keep the trick going for live shows. Actually, this seems like a precursor to their Bernies-like Sundance project, Swiss Army Man, which is about a man who befriends a dead guy in the woods and proceeds to travel home with the body as his road trip companion.

Throw both of those together and you have a 2011 short entitled Puppets, one of the many early works in which Kwan and Scheinert star. And movie geeks should love it, just as they love anything involving a metaphor for moviemaking. Also, the film is proof that they’re the perfect guys for the inevitable remake of Jonze’s Being John Malkovich where the entry point to Malkovich is his butthole.

At one point in Puppets, it’s revealed that Kwan and Scheinert have been operating puppets of each other. That’s obviously an indication that they should make the next body swap comedy – especially if it’s a more-surreal remake of Face/Off. Further proof comes in the one-minute short from 2010 titled Swingers. Which I guess is a super duper loose remake of Swingers? At least it stars Kwan as Jon Favreau and Scheinert as Vince Vaughn, and in the end they have a kind of body swap for the computer-generated age. After watching, check out Tides of the Heart, because their Vimeo page says it’s “like a sequel,” though it’s not really. But it’s really short, too.

Finally, here’s the golden ticket, the short that should be adapted into a feature film franchise: Fast. Because who doesn’t want to watch multiple movies starring Charlyne Yi as a superhero or villain with the deadly power of speed? Scheinert has sole directing credit, while Kwan is listed as handling cinematography and special effects.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.