Director, VFX artist, musician, meme master... Mike Dahlquist (AKA Mike Diva) is certainly a multi-talented maestro. And if that’s not enough, he also runs his own YouTube channel, which touts a whopping 616,951 subscribers (at the time of writing) and combined video views of over 117 million.
Some of you may recall his hilarious Japanese Donald Trump commercial from last year (remember when it was funny to pretend he’d be president?), while others may be more familiar with his meme-tastic shorts (our personal faves are dog_meme.avi and Kazoo Kid – Trap Remix). But recently, Mike’s been making waves with his off-kilter ads for the likes of Mobile Strike and Halo Top.
LBB’s Liam Smith sat down with Diva to find out what inspires him creatively, how he got into making these crazy videos, and how he convinced Halo Top CEO Justin Woolverton to ‘Eat the Ice Cream’.
LBB> So how did you get into filmmaking? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Mike Diva> Yeah, essentially I got into it in high school. I never really played video games or anything else like that, so I had to create my own fun. Videos were my way of doing that and then I started uploading stuff onto YouTube when it first came out. My first video was Sexy Sax Man, and from there I just sort of kept going. It’s been a fun ride.
LBB> It’s funny that you didn’t really play video games, because there seems to be a kind of ‘80s retro gaming style to a lot of your videos. So where do you find the inspiration for your videos?
MD> I guess a lot of old ‘80s movies. I don’t really play video games, I don’t really watch anime but a lot of my stuff is very much influenced by the art of video games and anime. It’s interesting how little of that stuff I actually consume. So really a lot of my influence comes from music. I’m really interested in music so that’s why I wanted to do music videos originally. I guess what really inspires me the most is really good music videos. Works from Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, The Daniels, that’s what inspires me the most. I love music so much, I feel like making the visuals for it, to me, is the most fun. But unfortunately the music video industry is in a difficult space right now because not many people really care about music videos.
LBB> You’re a musician yourself aren’t you?
MD> Yeah I used to make a lot more music and do more crazy electropunk stuff, but really I haven’t had much time to do any music these days because of my videos. I think that having a certain musicality to the way that I edit stuff, my past musical experience, being in several bands, playing piano, cello, has really helped me a lot in the editing.
LBB> Like, you get the rhythm of the edit for a music video right?
MD> Right, exactly.
LBB> So last year during the 2016 election you made the Japanese Donald Trump video that went viral. Were you expecting that video to get as much traction as it did? What inspired you to make it?
MD> Everyone was making these anti-Trump videos, and I thought it’d be really funny to do the opposite and do one that was overwhelmingly positive, just to kind of fuck with people. I thought it was really funny to do something pro Trump. It’s not as funny anymore… Now it’s kinda spooky. Especially at the end of the video when he’s destroying the world. Now it’s like, oh my God, he’s actually taking steps towards doing that shit. But at the time, the idea of him being president was really hilarious.
LBB> Then you followed that up with the Hillary Clinton video that you did with Super Deluxe. Did they come to you to collaborate on that?
MD> They wanted to work with me on stuff and I came up with that idea. I didn’t have the budget to do it myself for my channel, so I gave it to them because I knew I’d need to hire a Hillary Clinton impersonator, fly her out here… It’s funny because I really don’t get into politics that much but it was such a weird election it was hard not to, you know? And Hillary Clinton is such a dorky character.
LBB> So on to Halo Top, am I right in that the brand approached you specifically for the ad?
MD> Yeah the Halo Top CEO Justin [Woolverton] happens to be a fan of my work. He wanted to do something crazy and attention grabbing, and he basically said to me that they already had enough commercials that were kind of normal regular ads. And he wanted me to do something wild. So yeah he let me go nuts on it.
LBB> So you got free rein on the script? It’s so strange because it’s not the kind of script a client would usually agree to.
MD> Oh no definitely not. That’s why I had to go to him in person to pitch it to him.
LBB> Did he take much convincing?
MD> A little bit, yeah. It was one of those things where at first he was like, “okaaaay…” but then slowly came around and by the end of the meeting he was into the idea. But it was one of those things where I had to meet up with him in person and pitch to him because on paper - like, had I just emailed him the concept art - he would’ve thought I was a crazy person. So yeah, I had to convince him in real life.
LBB> And the music, the creepy chanting, was that something you worked on?
MD> Yeah, so originally it was going to be Mr Sandman by The Chordettes, but it was very expensive. So me and my brother just ended up writing the song. It turned out really fun, I’m actually really glad that we ended up having to do that because it was a really interesting challenge to write something from that time period. We’d both never done anything like that before, you know, I’ve done a lot of electropunk crap, he’s done a lot of… well pretty much every style of music but that. And because we wrote it we were able to work in all sorts of really fun, ominous stuff in the lyrics that tell you more about the world of the commercial.
LBB> So you recently signed to Lord Danger, is that right?
MD> Yeah, but I’ve been working with Lord Danger for the past three or four years.
LBB> And what drew you to the company?
MD> One of the reasons I joined was Josh (EP), he’s done so much for me. He’s produced a lot of pilots for me pro bono, just because he believes in me or whatever. So finally this year, he’s actually making money off of me. But yeah I owe him a lot, and that’s part of the reason why I’m with Lord Danger, because he’s so great to work with.
LBB> So what other projects that you’ve worked on – commercial or otherwise – are you particularly proud of?
MD> Commercials are my favourite things I’ve done. But these Metro commercials coming up for the LA Metro system are really something else. I was able to make music with my brother and writing music is really, really fun for me and I don’t get to do it much anymore. I also got to make three different music videos in three different styles which was a blast. So yeah, that’s probably the project I’ve been most excited about in a long time. They’re really fun. Really fucking crazy.