Wake The Town
Stuck in Motion
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

Matias & Mathias on Directing Irish Spring’s Cleanliness-Obsessed Cult Super Bowl Ad


Epoch Films’ directing duo go behind the scenes on their folk-horror Super Bowl spot, discussing hiking up mountains for ‘70s-style shots, a raft made of gym lockers and The Wicker Man and Midsommar comparisons, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Matias & Mathias on Directing Irish Spring’s Cleanliness-Obsessed Cult Super Bowl Ad

Matias Rygh and Mathias Eriksen met in high school and have been making films together for the past fifteen years. The duo’s work has earned them awards at Cannes Lions, Epica and Eurobest. They made their debut in the U.S. market in 2020 with their spots for Old Spice through Wieden+Kennedy Portland.

Now working with Epoch Films’ production team, Matias & Mathias have directed one of the most surprising and talked-about Super Bowl spots of 2022, with soap company Irish Spring’s unnerving, folk-horror ad: ‘Welcome to Irish Spring’. Involving a demonic talking rabbit, a dissemblingly friendly cult of clean-freaks and an idyllic mountain-paradise setting, the directors played with misdirection and horror movie tropes to produce a frightening - yet funny - ad with a big ‘70s spirit. 

Speaking with LBB’s Ben Conway, the director pair discuss what making a Super Bowl ad means to two Scandinavians, working with talented production designers on the extravagant sets and costumes and using a megaphone to direct the cast over the sound of waterfalls.

LBB> When were you approached to work on Irish Spring’s Super Bowl ad? And how involved were you in pre-production/creative?

Matias and Mathias> We first saw the script at the end of October, 974 emails-with-the words-“Irish Spring”-in-them-ago. So the process was fairly normal, in the sense that we were shooting about six weeks later. All the important beats and the pitch-perfect copywriting was in there already, but the story became more of a journey than a single scene once we started seeing all these incredible locations that The Lift was sending. We ended up shooting it across three places that were all quite far apart because we couldn’t pick just one. The bathing station/contraption was another element that we needed to figure out early, we explored devices like The Cucking Stool, but it didn’t feel appropriate for a Super Bowl audience.

LBB> What was your initial reaction to the creative concept and script? Did you know it was going to be a great ad instantly?

Matias and Mathias> Our initial reaction was that it felt sort of serendipitous because we had just watched the original Wicker Man by Robin Hardy for the first time and loved it so much. That really informed our take on it and we thought it could be really great if we could get the tone of it right.

LBB> Can we address the Midsommar comparisons quickly? 

Matias and Mathias> We actually talked more about The Wicker Man but of course, Midsommar came up as well. Those two are fairly similar in a lot of respects, but the Midsommar-y colour palette for the costumes was unavoidable when showing a cult obsessed with cleanliness. 

LBB> How do you feel when you’re working on a Super Bowl spot? Is it just another day in the office for you?

Matias and Mathias> We were really excited to be working with the creatives Jason Kreher, Max Stinson and Derrick Ho because the process was so fun and open and we all seemed to respond to the same ideas. The Super Bowl aspect of it was a bit abstract for us as Scandinavians, but when one of our parents asked if we thought Donald Trump might see the commercial it definitely made us laugh a little extra.

LBB> How was the production process? Where did you shoot?

Matias and Mathias> It was shot in a few different places, all about two and a half hours outside of Mexico City where we got to work with our favourite people from The Lift and local producer Fuad Abed. We were there for about five weeks in total and it was our fourth trip there last year - we can’t get enough! It’s our favourite place. Some of the creatives and a few people from Irish Spring tuned in remotely, but that seems to be fairly standard these days.

LBB> Was the dark humour fun to work with? What was the experience like of directing the actors with this tone of project? The protagonist’s facial expressions are particularly great!

Matias and Mathias> We don’t really distinguish between ‘normal’ humour and dark humour, but we do get a kick out of playing with misdirection and genre tropes. In this instance, the genre we were playing with was folk horror which was something we’d never done before and that was really exciting. Darcey who plays The Stinky Stranger is a very experienced actor and directing him was very simple. Sometimes we would have to remind him to put on more mosquito repellant so his legs wouldn’t be covered with bites, but the whole cast including the extras really seemed to get what we were going for. It was a lot of fun.

LBB> The set and the costumes are a really engaging aspect of the spot - who worked on these and how much did you collaborate with them?

Matias and Mathias> We worked with a production designer named Philip Messina who is one of the funniest people we’ve ever met. He designed the sets for the Hunger Games trilogy and some of our favourite Soderbergh movies so we were in very capable hands. Shout out also to Emilia Devila who is a young production designer that worked very closely with Phil. 

The big piece they built is of course the ritualistic bath construction, but even the shore that the hero arrives at required a lot of hours to get it so green and idyllic. The costumes were designed by Viviana López Rothfuss and her team who all worked very hard to make it feel so cohesive and thoughtful. The outfit for a character named Sniffer Man came out of our discussions with them as we wanted a balaclava that only had a hole for the nose and not the eyes and we think that turned out really well.

LBB> How was the talking rabbit created? And how is it directing a scene around a character that has no voice until post-production?

Matias and Mathias> The rabbit itself is real, although VFX wizard Tim Davies and his team from Kevin did do a wonderful job of making it speak by replacing its face with a CG model. The little girl holding it and the rabbit seemed to form a bond so it was quite straightforward in terms of just making sure it didn’t move around too much. The hard part was finding the right voice for it in post and we tried out a lot of different bunny “personalities” before hitting on the right one.

LBB> What are some of your favourite shots from the project - how did you produce them? Feel free to go into as much detail as you like!

Matias and Mathias> We really like this zoom shot that’s in the extended version where we all had to hike up a mountain to shoot the actors descending a different mountain on the other side of the valley. Maybe it’s because it took so much effort to get this one image, but it just feels like something out of Aguirre, Wrath of God or Fitzcarraldo. At least the process of doing it felt like that. Very physical and ‘70s. Big and really stupid at the same time, which is something we seem to gravitate towards.

LBB> The intensity builds until the protagonist’s ‘transformation’ - what techniques did you use to build tension and change the tone? 

Matias and Mathias> This is the sort of thing that you spend a lot of time theorising about in advance, but when you’re shooting, under normal circumstances, everyone on set seems to feel what is working or not so the tonal shifts naturally fall into place a lot of the time. But in this instance, the waterfalls were so loud that we had to communicate with the actors through a megaphone which makes it hard to be subtle. That said, we did try to cover ourselves in a few different ways in terms of shooting shorter lines and the tempo of the acting so that we could play around with it in the edit and make sure the transitions would be quick enough.

LBB> How closely did you work on the editing and post-production process? What direction did you give to the editor(s)? And how does the edit and sound/music add to the spot

Matias and Mathias> Katie Turinski and Zaldy Lopez were the editors and we remember it being really solid even from the first cuts they showed us. The editing discussions were very detail-oriented very early, which is always a good sign. It took some brain power to get the balance between the music and the sound design right because you’re moving between three big scenes in 45 seconds for a sequence that in a movie might be more like five minutes. So there was a lot of exploration happening to navigate between the shifts in mood and atmosphere while still keeping things propulsive and cohesive.

LBB> What was the most difficult challenge you faced on this project and how did you overcome it?

Matias and Mathias> An unexpected challenge was to make viewers understand that the raft The Stinky Man drifts in on is actually built from old gym lockers strung together with a rope. We never really overcame it, it seems, because no one seems to have noticed - which in a sense might give us some closure. Maybe it doesn’t matter. It’s just a Stinky Man on a raft.

LBB> Anything to add?

Thank you for these thoughtful questions and very glad to hear you enjoyed the spot.

view more - Behind the Work
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.
Epoch Films, Thu, 17 Feb 2022 17:24:00 GMT