Marty Thomas: 1958 – 2019

MTV Director

A successful director for MTV, Marty Thomas got his start at age 11 by getting too authentic in Las Vegas.

Courtesy Photo

A successful director for MTV, Marty Thomas got his start at age 11 by getting too authentic in Las Vegas.

Marty Thomas passed away peacefully in his sleep on January 30. It is incongruous a person so full of life should have left us so quietly. Those who knew Marty and those lucky enough to have had the pleasure and honor to work with him might have predicted a much more grand, theatrical end ​— ​and loud ​— ​and funny somehow. Marty would have known how to wrap all those elements together and pull it off. He had a certain genius for detail during his career as a feature film and music video director, seeing a lighting nuance to dramatically enhance a scene, a clue to elevate a performance, a vision to make whatever moment was happening large and excellent. It’s what made him sought after by recording artists Eazy-E, Tupac, MC Ren, Above the Law, Kokane, Akwid, Skee-Lo, Erika Jayne ​— ​the list goes on and on. They all wanted something different. Something that touched genius. They wanted Marty Thomas. We all did. We still do.

Marty’s sister, Lisa Thomas, puts it best: Marty “had a huge heart with the ability to truly reach people, an extraordinary talent of connecting with people and people to each other through his humor and creativity. It was uncanny at how he could open and warm people’s hearts no matter who they were, regardless of age, gender, race, nationality, or socioeconomic standing. He approached complete strangers when walking on the street or eating out or standing in line at the grocery store, generating laughter among strangers where there would otherwise be silence and indifference.”

In an interview with Kyle Eustice published at HiphopDX, Skee-Lo described working with Marty on the video for his worldwide hit “I Wish” in 1995. Newly signed with Scotti Bros., Skee-Lo met with Marty to develop the video; they got to know each other and discussed Skee-Lo’s favorite movie at the time, Forrest Gump: “The record label presented me three directors to choose from and, if memory recalls, I chose the one director fresh out of film school ​— ​director Marty Thomas. … We’re both natural comedians, but he went as far as to include the Forrest Gump film in the underlining ‘I Wish’ story. … We shot the ‘I Wish’ video in Los Angeles, The Jungles and Leimert Park. I remember having to make peace with the local gangs who sweated us the entire video shoot, but they also brought their kids to take pictures with me as soon as we were done. Marty and I made history together. And although he’s worked with legendary artists before me, he’s always credited the ‘I Wish’ video as the launch of his film career.”

From an early age, Marty wanted to be a filmmaker, and he started off in spectacular fashion at age 11. Armed with a Super 8 movie camera, he and his friends staged a heist in front of the Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas. Their cap guns and fake blood proved a little too real, and before they knew it, half the Las Vegas police department showed up with sirens blazing to close down the entire Las Vegas strip and investigate. Marty was always proud to have been arrested not for stealing or drugs but for making a movie.

To say Marty was larger than life would be a clichéd understatement. More like larger than life times 10 … or 20. He was a marvel at blending meticulous planning with improvisation. Surprise was often a valuable tool in his repertoire. Once, at a meeting in a restaurant with a very serious potential client, Marty broke the ice by spontaneously and expertly “clown sneezing” french fries across the table. I remember everyone’s jaws dropping as we waited out what seemed a very long pause. The french fries turned out to be a brilliant move. Laughter broke out, and we got the contract.

When we were putting together our thriller/horror movie for Lionsgate, one of the necessary tasks was to come up with unique and creative ways to kill people. This would be normal conversation in the confines of our office huddled around the computer ​— ​not so normal while obliviously walking up Carpinteria Avenue surrounded by hundreds of tourists. After reveling in great detail how we would kill off two of our teen characters, we looked up to see a crowd of very concerned faces staring at us. I smiled: “It’s for a movie.” I turned to Marty to back me up. Marty fell silent, stepped back, stared at me, and walked away. We laughed about that experience for a long time.

“My brother accomplished much in his career as an MTV director,” Lisa noted. “He was truly one of the kindest souls to others, offering internships to bright unknowns and providing opportunities with his guidance and creativity.” Marty would guest lecture at Dos Pueblos High School’s drama department, speaking about his career, giving insights and recommendations. He volunteered with Día de los Muertos Carpinteria Festival, codirecting two promotional videos. After adopting two rescue cats, when he died, he was embarking on a movie about a rescue dog.

Marty is survived by his loving family: his parents, Sunni and Ray; his sister, Lisa; and his amazing wife, Shelise. He has left us way too soon, his presence too large to contemplate the void he’s leaving behind.

I will miss him greatly. He truly was one of a kind … times 10 … or 20.