Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Behind the Work: How Kinopravda Poured Absurdity into Hormel’s Chilli Cheese Dip

Production Company
New York, USA
The collective - including director Daphne Samaras and head of art Aron Filkey - tell LBB how they tapped into a chaotic sense of joy for their latest campaign

Is there anything quite so frustrating as a pot of dip sat tantalisingly beyond your reach? In an eye-catching recent campaign for Hormel Chili, frustration morphs into celebration with an absurdist and hilarious twist. In reaching out for a taste of chilli cheese dip, characters find their arms magically extending, intertwining, and ultimately dancing as they dunk into a delicious bowl of said dip. 

Bringing this memorable campaign from BBDO Minneapolis to life was the directing collective Kinopravda, repped here by the boutique production company Imposter. 

To go behind the scenes of the ad and discover how it all came together, LBB spoke to Kinopravda, including director Daphne Samaras and head of art Aron Filkey…

Above: A group of game-watching friends vie using elongated arms for a taste of Hormel’s chili cheese dip in the brand’s latest spot. 

LBB> The ad is brilliantly weird and wonderful - how closely aligned is the finished film to your original vision? 

Kinopravda> Thanks! This was truly a fun one to make - starting right from the pitching process. We got the vibe of the creatives from the first moment we talked (shout out to Taylor, Peter, Brit and Mat!!!) - they had a very clear, fun script ready for us and we felt liberated to make the most out of their concept. 

We always dream about making crazy ideas like this happen. During a commercial process so many different needs have to align, and keeping all of them in mind while making something special can be challenging at times. Amazingly enough, in this case the final result is pretty much exactly what we described in our treatment!

LBB> The last time we spoke to you guys, you mentioned that you enjoyed scripts which leave a lot of ‘freedom to play’. Was that the case with this one, and how did that process play out if so? 

Daphne Samaras> The script was pretty clear this time, so what we were playing with was how we could build up the story in a super visual way and squeeze as much as possible into our 15 seconds. This was a super fun challenge for us! 

For example, we needed a shot where we show one of our heroes’ arms growing in order to reach the dip. I had an idea for this shot where the arm is expanding as the hand moves towards the dip - which is in front of the camera - while it is pulling backwards. To executive this, we rigged the camera to a table with the product with a hand model hidden under it, and then while this camera-product-hand rig traveled backwards, an extra long arm with the same fabric as the hero’s shirt (that has somehow been hidden behind the sofa) extended along with the movement of the rig with puppeteers moving the arm - so it would go against the law of gravity and have a life of its own! On a creative level, these types of things really excite me. I also liked how it was basically a packshot the entire time, which is client-friendly, but also something very visual, unexpected and special! 

The agency [BBDO Minneapolis] also made the process super smooth for us. Whenever we had a random idea (like a cheese-themed manicure), they were there to talk it through, and since their aim was to make this as fun and detailed as possible we were able to add a bunch of new elements along the way.

Above: A mock-up of the team’s ‘cheese-themed manicure’. 

Aron Filkey> Working with analog trickery allows us room for even more inspiration, even right before we film a scene. Since we built the long arms physically in space, we were able to interact with them while shooting. Viri’s (the actress in red) moves while sitting waving her arms like an octopus came up on the shoot day. These are the things which are hard to anticipate before you see and feel the materials in real life.

Above: A series of images taken from behind the scenes. 

LBB> There’s a wild and unpredictable energy to watching this ad. As directors, what steps do you take to make sure that effect shows up on-screen? 

Kinopravda> We knew in advance this would be a quick, fast-paced edit, and that we would need to ensure a smooth and easy read so that the viewer would get the idea in a glimpse. Kinopravda always makes animatics, edited with the music, to see the rhythm and timing of the film. This really helps us understand how much time each scene must take, what angles will be effective, and how the piece will all fit together. 

These animatics tend to evolve during prep - starting with found images and footage, then later we add location scout photos, storyboard frames, and other things as we get them. Since this was only a one-day shoot, we rehearsed quite a bit with our cast in advance. We recorded the rehearsals and then integrated those into our animatic before the shoot. So, by the time the shoot day came around, we already knew what would work best!

Daphne> I actually shot an animatic while writing the treatment, just to be sure that everything that I promised would fit into the 15 seconds we had. I was in Athens, having just started a course to level up my Greek, and was running out of time. So I asked my dear classmates (that I had known for exactly two days at this point - huge Thanks to Liz, Shaun and Marybeth!) to help me record it - They were kind enough to do this for me, as you can see below: 

Above: Daphne’s classmates helped the director plan out the shoot whilst studying in Athens.

And here is a much later version with our actual cast, using some of the material we shot at different rehearsals: 

Above: A film made using material shot from different rehearsals for the ad. 

LBB> What can you tell us about the casting process? Were there any particular qualities that you guys were looking for? 

Daphne> Yes! OMG, casting was SO much fun for this! 

We looked for people that were natural, genuine, expressive, and worked well together in a group. We were looking for different dance skills as well, like voguing, but in general we wanted to have a variety - we thought it would be more fun if they were not all professional dancers, but rather looked for people that were comfortable in their bodies and had something special about them, their expressions or their movements.

We couldn’t be happier with our final selections! Bigup to Viri, Javier, Gabriel, Irene and Oscar! They were the best!

Imagine a whole day of callbacks with a bunch of super talented people doing their craziest moves, pretending their hands were growing to unnatural lengths, with facial expressions to match. It was hilarious!

LBB> Am I right in saying that the music for this ad is custom-made? Either way, how do you find the process of directing to the beat of a soundtrack like that? 

Kinopravda> Kinopravda has quite a lot of choreography-based work, so working to rhythm or a choreography feels very natural to us. We always prefer when the music is ready before the shoot so we can use it for the animatic, keep it in mind for timing of the shots, and be inspired. We really like the process of rehearsals where we focus on the actors and find moves that are ‘them’! We find this soundtrack fun and think it makes our film pretty memorable, too.

LBB> That second-to-last shot where we see the arms twisting and winding through the living room and kitchen is brilliantly chaotic. What did that look like before the effects were added, and what were your instructions to the cast?!  

Kinopravda> The entire long arm effect was practical. Aron made a precise visual diagram for how the final scene should look, and we built that on camera!  We had 40 meters of each colored arm that we positioned in our space - basically like a sculpture. There are only a couple of post production touch-ups in the commercial, so what you see is pretty much what it looked like on set. We shot the moving arms in separate plates, with puppeteers moving them. We like working with analog trickery because you have the freedom to improvise on-set. Building things practically allows us to engage more with the project during the pre-production process and leaves more paths to discover new ideas.

Above: Aron’s initial diagram for the final shot is a perfect match for what we see on-screen. 

LBB> What was the most difficult part of this project, and how did you overcome it? 

Daphne> The most difficult part was to narrow down all of our ideas and squeeze in as much as we could into 15 seconds. With the help of the animatics and rehearsals, I think we managed to succeed!

Aron> The most difficult part for me was communicating our vision - the length of arms and curving textured materials in exact colors and styles - to the local art department and puppeteer team. Describing such surreal images can sometimes be challenging, and I feel it’s only possible to overcome if you draw sketches and make proper mockups of each scene. Communicating visually is the most universal language of all.

LBB> If you had your time again, would you do anything differently? And if so, why? 

Daphne> We were shooting in Mexico City, so the only regret I have is that I didn’t eat more chili-mangoes. All jokes aside, my only regret is that this wasn’t a longer ad where we could expand the arms and include more details from our incredibly talented actors. We could have had more twirling and twisting, and more focus on our heroes' experiences - but maybe in the sequel!

Aron> Time is always the enemy when working on such complex ideas. Testing and working even more days with our master puppeteers would have been beneficial to make things even smoother and more seamless.

LBB> Finally, what’s your favourite memory from working on this project?

Daphne> This was just such a fun project not only because of the crazy script, but also because of the whole crew who seemed to be equally excited. Thanks to some brilliant work from Story [a production and service company based in Mexico City] we had so much fun testing everything, and everyone was super engaged. It was our first time shooting in Mexico - what an absolute blast! 

Aron> Mexico city is a very special place in general. Shooting with local talent in that amazing city was very inspiring! They made sure we got all the things we needed, and everyone was very welcoming and warm hearted.

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