The Work That Made Me in association withLBB

The Work That Made Me: Mike Matthews

Production Company
Brooklyn, USA
The REVERSE director reflects on the strong nostalgia for the commercials of his youth and the life-changing affect Jamie Oliver had on his life
Mike Matthews is passionate about all things edible. He loves every blip, every sizzle. He seeks new ways and exciting opportunities to make food feel utterly delicious and totally moreish.

His love of performance is also second to none and Mike always strives to find humour and energy in his leading artists.

As well as having a wealth of commercials and promos under his belt, he is also the director of international TV hits - Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals, Comfort Food, Nigella Kitchen, The Two Greedy Italians, Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain and Save with Jamie Oliver.

Recent Clients include Coca-Cola, Knorr, Lipton, Moulinex, Woolworths Australia, Smart Energy GB, Bertolli, President's Choice, Laphroaig, and Asda. His work with international agencies and broadcasters include adam&eveDDB, MullenLowe, AMV BBDO, VCCP, Leo Burnett, M&C Saatchi, Publicis, BBC and Channel 4.

Get to know Mike through the work that made him.

The ad from my childhood that stays with me…

As a kid of the ‘70s, the telly was always on. I watched soaps, comedy, horror films – anything I wasn’t supposed to watch – and thank goodness we couldn’t skip the ads because this advert was the BEST one EVER. It’s mental. The song is brilliant. The design is brilliant. The food looks terrible. It’s perfect! I’m still slightly sad that I never got my own mini martian with that demonic smile slicing its head in half, but my big sister tells me I always used to smell of tinned spaghetti hoops, and I’m sure I would have eaten them with Smash. Back then, we only had one choice of lettuce – and I certainly didn’t try avocados until Tony Blair was on the news. Smash was big in our homes. In fact, I’ve recently rediscovered it. I now use it with my roasted potatoes. Trust me, it’s transformational. Par-boiled King Edwards potatoes, drained and steamed. A little chuff in the pan to give them more texture. Scatter with Smash so they’re nicely coated. Then tip them onto a really hot roasting tray, filled with oil, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. Roast for about 45 minutes, turning halfway. Thanks to those fabulous martians, you will have the best Sunday dinner “extra-crunch” you could ever hope for.

The work that made me want to get into the industry…

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a TV show in the UK, hosted by Chris Tarrant. It was all about funny, controversial, ridiculous, and sometimes shocking adverts from around the world. It was on quite late, but because the whole family enjoyed it, my parents didn’t notice I should have been in bed hours ago. I was about 13, so I’m sure anything involving condoms was a particular favourite, but what I loved was that this supposedly polite, well-behaved, conformist industry would give us products that could occasionally be really shocking and totally subversive – or just bloody funny like the Cinzano films with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins.  

The creative work that I keep revisiting…

Whenever I get a bit lost or bored or stressed out, I have a book that I regularly plunder for giggles. It’s called ‘Mens Sana in Thingummy Doodah’ by Victoria Wood – the greatest comedian and writer on this planet. It’s a collection of six standalone short scripts by Wood that were turned into a BBC TV series starring her and her chums Julie Walters, Celia Imrie, Anne Reid, and other brilliant actors. I have probably read it 30 times. I guess it’s impossible to like if you don’t understand the silly British references. However, if you’ve got a penchant for vintage Coronation Street, look great in a wipeable pacamac, and wouldn’t turn your nose up at a semi-warm bowl of Bird custard, I think you’ll love it. 

My first professional project…

I’ve been working in TV since around 2000, but I moved into advertising in 2014. My first gig was for President’s Choice in Canada. It was so exciting. TV is always busy, dramatic, fun, and surprising, but the scale at which I was working on this relatively small shoot for a President’s Choice ad was poles apart from what I’d previously experienced in television. Having the opportunity to storyboard every frame was a revelation to me. I thought it was absolutely brilliant – and to be flown to the incredible city of Toronto to shoot this was a total adventure. I very soon moved on to a huge campaign for British supermarket Asda, which got very exciting when we managed to get the rights to use the music of Marc Bolan and voiceover by Hollywood star Luke Evans. I bloody love my job.

The piece of work that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*…

Anything Brexit (aaaargh, I’ve said it) related. There’s a lot of it out there. No thanks. Makes my blood boil every time I hear that dreaded word.

The piece of work that still makes me jealous…

As a food director, of course, Lurpak ranks up there as a benchmark for all great and tasty films. They finally mixed the genres in a format that looked delicious AND cinematic. There was a confidence and humour in it that had been missing in previous food spots. They were utterly compelling and special. Now, everyone wants to replicate them, which totally misses the point of what made the Lurpak ads so great: they were so different (well, they were also great because they were, indeed, awesome!). But nothing can beat the originals – wonderful filmmaking made so distinct by the talent of the late, great Rutger Hauer.

The creative project that changed my career…

Working with Jamie Oliver was the turning point in my career. Up until that point, I had been making the occasional food series for British television, along with several fashion series. When Jamie and I started collaborating in 2010, we began with the series 'Jamie’s Great Britain', and then quickly created the massive hit, “Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals.” I had recently directed a food series with Neneh Cherry, so I asked her if we could use her seminal late ‘80s single 'Buffalo Stance' in the series.  A few conversations later, it became the defining signature tune for this brilliant show. I’ve always tried not to repeat myself creatively, and each of the Jamie series has its own visual identity. I’m particularly proud of “Jamie’s Comfort Food,” which was filmed in 2014. We took the pace down a bit and brought in some beautiful music and incredible recipes that I still make now. That curried fish pie! Oh, crikey. Delish.

The work that I’m proudest of…

I am a very excitable person, so normally whatever I’m working on right now is THE BEST THING EVER. The minute I get into the grade, or find a perfect piece of music - when it all comes together - that’s what gets me excited, so I must throw caution to my easily influenced, biased nature. But if I had to single out a specific piece of work in my advertising life, I’d say “Laphroaig - The Poets” is my favourite film.

It was a fantastic brief. We were to cast six poets from both the UK and the US. Each would come into our studio and have 30 minutes to taste this divisive, unlabelled whisky. They had no idea what it was they were about to taste, but if you’ve got any experience with Laphroaig, you know it’s not an insignificant, passive little tipple. You really do either love it or hate it – and the brand relishes in that dichotomy. These wordsmiths were then to compose a poem based on their experience tasting the drink. Miraculously, still relatively sober, everyone offered their poetic opinions quite beautifully. In one version of the edit, Kev Palmer, who cut the film, created a cacophony of words and phrases -- about 26 layers of audio – with everyone speaking over each other, until all you’re left with is the most hypnotic mind-blowing soundscape of people talking all at once before cutting to silence. I wanted it to climax like The Beatles’ “Day in the Life,” which he did superbly. After much deliberation, we ended up going in a different direction, but this is a compelling and dramatic film that looks beautiful and celebrates such a brilliant brand in all of its wonderful oddness.

The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…

I’m happy to say I get to work on a lot of exciting projects. And as a total foodie who loves to cook and definitely loves to eat, the idea of shooting food for a living is a total joy. I recently made a film for a Swiss brand called Migros Migusto. Normally, I leave the food styling to my brilliant teams of food stylists, but on this particular project, I got to work directly with the food, alongside my colleague and fellow stylist Christian Splettstosser.

Ordinarily, my world of food embraces the realness of home cooking, so this was a super-refreshing opportunity to try something different; tweezers, three hours on a single shot, and absolute attention to detail. We created four unique mandalas out of the ingredients of different recipes. We toasted pine nuts to seven grades of beige. That was a treat.

Oh! And I found a funny-looking cashew nut when I was filming the Green Curry.

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