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The Directors: Mike Matthews

The Directors 135 Add to collection

2AM Films director on making belly rumbling work, working with worldwide brands and being truly passionate about food

The Directors: Mike Matthews

Mike is renowned for his hunger and thirst inducing food and drink spots. His unique style can be best described as crafted, unpretentious, delicious imperfection. He directed the award-winning television series ‘Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals’, ‘Two Greedy Italians’ with Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, and ‘Nigella Kitchen’.

Mike’s talent extends to performance which beyond actors includes a diverse bunch of celebrities; Liv Tyler, Mark Ronson, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz, Mary Berry, Mary McCartney, Gok Wan, Rob Brydon & Dave Grohl. He loves to work hard and loves a laugh.


LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Mike> I absolutely love scripts that are open to interpretation and give you the freedom to come up with foodie concepts and recipe ideas. I discovered recently that when I get people to hear music I’ve DJ’d, or included in a film, it’s like I’ve invited them up to my bedroom aged 17 and we are raiding my record collection together. Similarly, when I get to design recipes and come up with food concepts, it’s like I’m hosting a massive dinner party and everyone’s invited to try all my favourite food. Sometimes you get a product which in itself isn’t that photogenic - but by integrating it into an amazing recipe, you can transport it to another world and give people loads of inspiration. 


LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Mike> Because my commercials are all based around food - I try to make them look and feel like an expensive coffee table book - simple, clean and belly rumbling. But that said, I always approach treatment in exactly the same way… Think about all the ideas but before I commit pen to paper. Clean the house from top to bottom. Eat my body weight in hummus. Jog. Drink tea. More hummus. Look for some crisps. And then finally crack on and get it written five minutes before the absolute deadline. Once I’m in the swing of it, the hoovering can stop and I’m all good to go but I’m a terrible procrastinator. I hate to repeat myself so I’m always looking to find new and different ways of articulating my ideas and it sometimes takes me a while to get into the vibe. I love the power of language and putting a treatment together brings me a lot of joy - eventually - after the angst of getting started. 

I pretty much always write my own treatments, and then I’ve got a gang of different treatment researchers who source the images and help do the layout. It’s definitely a collaboration and I absolutely love the moment the first draft of the treatment comes together, all laid out - ready to begin a process of interrogation, dissection, tweaks, amends, swaps, and fine tuning. And then after several rounds getting to that point of ‘yes that’s it, this is good, no this is really good now’ and you send it off, you start cleaning again to distract yourself from the suspense, waiting to see if the agency love it as much as you do… It’s an excellent opportunity to clear out the shed.


LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

Mike> I work on brands all over the world so it’s rare that I really don’t know the actual product but I always try to get as much info on what I’m potentially going to be showcasing. I’ll always look at previous ads and try to work out where they position themselves in the market. But I try not to over-analyse previous campaigns in terms of look and feel. I always suspect when I do that, that my work won’t feel like mine - or it will seem derivative. So wherever possible - the only major product research I like to do is eat. Life’s tough.

LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Mike> It’s really hard to pinpoint this answer down to one role because I genuinely believe this job is all about relationships - Quite literally…. I’m about to marry my production designer… Of course - the DOP is my biggest ally on set.  My look is quite hand-held and immersive but naturalistic - and I prefer to work with like-minded DOPs who can harness my vibe, but at the same time bring something different so that the work and the portfolio is constantly evolving.  But just in case I’m allowed to say more than one, then Food Stylist is also a person I spend loads of my time with. I’m absolutely hands on when it comes to the food. I get VERY excited by a courgette slice and I like to be involved with all stages of the food so it’s good to work with people who don’t mind me sticking my nose in and getting overly excited by the colourful spectrum of a spicy rub.


LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Mike> Foooooooooooooood. Shot like you’ve cooked it yourself. Embrace the burnt bits and the wobbly bits and the gnarly crispy edges that have gone that little bit over. And have a giggle. I love offbeat humour in a script, shot beautifully and always feeling very real.


LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

Mike> When you get known as a food director, it’s assumed you’re all about the table top and the close-up and not about the person. But I love filming people and working with people and getting a performance out of them. 

Oh and the other thing people think is that you can’t eat what we shoot (because of all the weird stuff we put on it to make it look better on camera). And admittedly, we have used the occasional tampon to make a plate of pasta that little bit more steamy. But I come from a world of TV chef greats where the food we see on camera is always eaten and enjoyed.  And that principle stays with me, but just watch out for any hot little white strings hidden under some deliciously steamy penne. 

LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Mike> I totally believe that collaboration is a 360 thing and once you’ve signed up to a job or are pitching for a job, you just want to give your best ideas. I don’t hold back, I just want it to be the best it can be - there will always be another good idea; the best thing is to make the idea work best for each particular job even if sometimes your ideas get taken on by someone else.


LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?

Mike> We shouldn’t even need to have this conversation. It’s an absolute yes and I would love to mentor anyone who felt my skills were worth sharing with. The only reason I’m doing what I’m now doing is because people gave me opportunities before I was ready or fully trained.  So yes totally up for helping anyone who is up for it.  Although I would insist on regular chats about Kate Bush and Corrie in between takes.


LBB> Aside from commercials do you work in any other areas of the media? If so please tell us about any recent projects and how does it differ to commercials production?

Mike> I’ve been directing TV shows for about 20 years now - and most recently I directed ‘Mary McCartney Serves It Up!’, loads of really delicious plant-based recipes, created and made by Mary McCartney along with some absolutely amazing guests including Sir Paul McCartney, Stella McCartney, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon.

The main difference between shooting food TV and commercials is down to the storyboard. In commercials, we know exactly what we’re shooting, how we’re shooting it, when and for how long - have we got time to do another take? Can we improve on what we’ve just done? Is there time to spin the camera and give it another angle? With a TV shoot, it tends to be more improvised, you move on a lot more and it’s less about the precision of the moment, and more about the feeling and vibe that you can create with your talent and space.

I think they both give you different skills and inspirations so I love the fact that I’m still doing both.

LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?

Mike> I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that remote shooting is not my favourite form of film making. I recently had a remote Phantom shoot in Vietnam which lasted so long, my partner went to bed, woke up and went to bed again in the time that I was filming for one day’s technical food shoot. But that said, the last two years have been so hellish for so many people, this has been a creative way of keeping the work flowing and I equally loved the fact that I didn’t need to leave my flat to be able to direct this job over 6000 miles away. Incredible really. But in terms of technology, I love to shoot plentifully and quite quickly so as long as it isn’t to the detriment of being able to shoot the way I like to shoot, then I’m always interested in discovering new ways of shooting.

LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?

Mike> KNORR - RICH FLAVOURS

I still get excited when she opens that cupboard door. It feels fresh, cinematic, I love the music and it just feels like a rich, cohesive piece. 

SHEBEKINSKIYE - PASTA DISASTERS

This is my most recent work and I absolutely loved the script as soon as I read it. The premise was to come up with a series of vignettes involving pasta fails and terrible recipes and heinous crimes committed to pasta. It was really fun working out how much molten chocolate to pour on a pasta tower although I did feel a bit guilty when a member of the food stylist’s team had been glue gunning pasta to the tower for so many hours, they said it reminded them of Stockholm syndrome and they were actually starting to enjoy the experience. 

JAMIE OLIVER - WOOLWORTHS 

I’ve been directing Jamie for years - both TV and commercials - and this montage is a culmination of a year’s work between Jamie and Australian supermarket, Woolworths. This film is basically the story of my life. Good food, good times.  

LAPHROAIG - 200 YEARS

I love working with people and chatting and finding ways of telling off beat witty stories and this was a great opportunity to showcase some fabulous people from the island of Islay where the whisky is produced. It’s witty, odd, the dialogue is divisive and I love that cow’s horn just as they say something a bit naughty. Still makes me chuckle and I’d love to do more works like this.

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2AM, Tue, 01 Mar 2022 10:38:31 GMT