The typical video food tutorial, circa 2017, is a damn predictable thing. Inevitably shot from above—bird's-eye-view style—these videos are unlikely to be mistaken for great works of cinema.
But David Ma, a food stylist and filmmaker, may change all that. In his video series called Food Films , Ma channels some of the greatest filmmakers of our generation and imagines how they might put together a recipe tutorial. So if you've ever wondered how Quentin Tarantino might throw together a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, wonder no more: It's predictably violent and magnificent (and unexpectedly cool).
We decided we had to learn more about Ma and his mini-masterpieces, so we asked him a few questions about how he got started and what he hopes to create with this series of food videos.
MUNCHIES: How would you describe your Food Films series and how did it come about? David Ma: The Food Films series are recipe videos reimagined in the style of famous directors. The idea came when I was on Instagram one night scrolling through recipe videos. So many were shot overhead, with hyper-lapsed footage and all-too-familiar stock music tracks. As a director, I'm always looking for unexpected ways to shoot food and I thought it'd be funny to imagine how these would look if a big Hollywood director approached them. I also loved the challenge of taking a kitchen countertop and shooting it as if it were a big film lot, with explosions, pyrotechnics and zero-gravity pancakes.
Do you have experience doing more traditional recipe videos?
Before I became a director in the food space, I got my start as a food stylist. It not only taught me how different food looks on screen than it does in front of us, but showed me how much of a diva it can be under hot lights, sitting on set for more than a few minutes. I had done traditional recipe videos when I first started directing, but now will usually only take on recipe videos that allow for some creative freedom to make the overall look more stylized and sexy. .
How did you come up with the themes and style for each of the videos?
The theme and style for each video lean heavily into one of the director's films—Kill Bill, Gravity, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Transformers. When it came to pairing the director and the recipe, I looked at how the recipe lent itself to the director's particular style.
For example, with Tarantino we knew we wanted a lot of visceral knife cuts and blood splatter, so tomatoes and marinara sauce worked well. For Michael Bay, we were playing into Transformers, and my prop stylist found this oversized, robotic-looking waffle iron. With Wes Anderson, we chose the simplest treat that we could do an over-the-top, meticulous treatment for. I mean, who needs a recipe for a s'more?
How did you capture each director's work so well?
With each director, I probably spent a week straight just watching their most famous films and noting the way they composed shots, color composition, their classic "tropes", etc. Then I took the recipe steps and looked at how we could bring that director's classic signatures and apply them to each video, whether it was shooting a tall stack of waffles from below to make them feel gigantic ( à la Michael Bay) or shooting a slow pan up of a bloody, violent aftermath as Tarantino would.
What do you hope people will take away from your Food Films ?
My goal with Food Films is to add a little fun to food and to let people look at food videos from a different perspective. Treating the three ingredients in a s'more like a cast of quirky characters in a Wes Anderson film lets people appreciate them in a way they may not have before, when making a [simple] graham cracker sandwich of chocolate and marshmallow. My mentor has always told me to create the kind of work I want to get paid to make one day. So ultimately, I hope I get to create more videos in the food space that are more stylized and unexpected for the category.
Do you think there's any sort of practical element to these videos? Would anybody actually be able to use the videos to make a dish?
Maybe. The steps are all there, but like most recipe videos, I think they're more for people to watch and be entertained.
Was there any one video you shot that was particularly difficult to put together?
The Wes Anderson video was by far the the most challenging—and daunting. I worked closely with my art director and prop stylist, Melissa Stammer, in the pre-production process to determine the right color palate, propping, wardrobe of our hand models and typography. We overnighted 100 cake boxes and ribbons, ran to Ikea to purchase white shelves, and constructed a completely original backdrop for the set. The food styling had to be just as unique, so we ordered dozens of custom square marshmallows in our exact color palate as well as chocolate bars that we printed custom package designs for. All departments from art and video to culinary worked closely together so we could approach each shot's composition with a meticulous eye.
There are currently four videos in the series. How many more do you plan to release and what directors will you tackle?
We've already begun storyboarding the next few films. I don't want to give too much away, but we're doing ones for Christopher Nolan, Alfred Hitchcock, Tim Burton, and a couple others. Woody Allen would probably be a pretty tough one to pay homage to via food, just because his work is so dialogue-heavy. But it would make for a pretty interesting, neurotic recipe video!
Thanks for speaking with us, David.