Director Mark Romanek on making Kia's infectious dancing hamster ad: 'You don't see a lot of surrealism on television'

Mark Romanek is no stranger to making you dance in your seat when you’re watching MTV — or any other channel, for that matter. The director behind those infectious iPod commercials, including the colorful, rocking U2 “Vertigo” spot, had millions of VMA viewers (12.4 million, to be exact) grooving along with the now-famous trio of hip-hop-happy hamsters (and a group of equally skilled robots who couldn’t resist a catchy beat) in the latest Kia Soul ad which aired during the awards show last night.

Romanek’s other credits including film (Never Let Me Go, One Hour Photo) and, perhaps most notably, music videos (he’s behind such legendary videos as Michael Jackson’s “Scream”, Madonna’s “Bedtime Story”, Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”, Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”), and he tells EW he infused some of his prior work into this latest commercial. In addition suggesting that the look of the commercial be in a “very video game[-like] world,” Romanek, rather than relying solely on CGI, used real dancers to make the moves for the characters.

With the help of choreographers Rich & Tone, a group of “great dancers from the East and West coast” and computer animation, Romanek had the resources to bring the latest chapter of those jamming hamsters to the small screen. “The key was making the dance great,” said Romanek. Of course, they’d need a great song to dance to. Romanek explained that while there were a lot of choices for which song to use in the early stages, it was LFMAO’s chart-topping club smash “Party Rock Anthem” that became the obvious choice for what the hamsters and robots would dance to. “We all gravitated towards this one. It was the big song of the summer.”

So with a seasoned director, dancing hamsters and a hit song in place, the new Kia commercial, which Romanek thinks will “evolve the campaign,” became another catchy, if not slightly off-kilter, hit. As the VMA winner put it, “You don’t see a lot of surrealism on television, this [kind of commercial] amuses people.” Watch the full, surreal, body-moving clip here:

Romanek — who credits fellow directors like Spike Jonze for creating “beautiful pieces of short filmmaking” with his transcendent, storytelling commercials — says also he enjoys the opportunity of working on ads. “It’s an aesthetic puzzle to figure out [as a director],” he said. “It’s a luxury to work on [commercials]. You are given these enormous resources and you’re expected to use them, for your craft.”

It seems that in addition to the Kia and Apple ads, his catalog of classic music videos and his turns on the big screen, new doors are opening for the director all the time. Romanek tells EW that Disney has offered him a chance to step behind the camera for a live-action take on Cinderella. “There haven’t really been any in the traditional sense.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Romanek says of the possible upcoming venture. “I just went from making this adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s very sad Never Let Me Go to a commercial of a video game world with dancing hamsters. You can’t really get pigeonholed [as a director] with that.”

Read more:
‘Scream’ director Mark Romanek on Michael Jackson: An EW exclusive
VMAs 2011: The Winners, the Losers, and Lady Gaga
Super Bowl XLV: Best and worst commercials?

Comments (17 total) Add your comment
  • D

    Wow, i loved Never Let me Go and Cash’s Hurt and Jackson’s Scream videos are two classics, what a versatile director.

  • House of Stark

    I frakking love these hamsters…

  • Lyndsey

    “Hurt” is the most emotionally powerful music video I’ve ever seen…and this one was by far one of the cutest!!!

    • MAC

      Lemme guess, you became a Johnny Cash fan because of that song?

  • TR

    I’m all for surreal…but these hamsters car ads are a bit weird to me.
    I’m probably over thinking this.
    Perhaps their entire point is to get the ad noticed, in which case, they work.

    • Sandi

      Yeah, I think you
      are thinking too much. In the first one, just seeing hamsters driving washing machines and toasters was a hoot. Just damn funny. But this one! Notice the hip action on that one robot, the toe tapping, just funny again and very cool…I think.

  • Sandi

    YAY!!! Another great commercial. Now if I can just catch on my DVR to keep with the other hamsters. I just gotta buy that car this year!!!

  • TW

    I think the commercials are off the chain! Too funny! :). Great job!

  • patsy

    the hamsters need to make a workout video, so many people are dancing to the song when they come on, even old people!!!!

  • Patti

    I’d like to know if Mark is a fan of Weird Al. He has a song called “Attack of the Radioactive Hamsters from a Planet Near Mars”. I always think of it when I see these ads, because the song is about huge hamsters that are that way because “they got little too close to the microwave”. I kinda dig this ads.

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