Tusk Directs Breakthrough Spots for Harper Wilde and Liquid Death

The duo's on a creative roll

The directing duo known as Tusk—Kerry Furrh and Olivia Mitchell—helped create some of the boldest work to emerge during the long, hot summer of 2023. Their efforts range from "Rules for Being a Lady," an empowering commercial for Harper Wilde bras, and "F**k Whoever Started This Shit," an uproarious (and somewhat NSFW) mini-musical hyping Liquid Death.

The Harper Wilde commercial features audio about etiquette, which sounds like it was pulled straight from one of those instructional videos made in the 1950s telling women how to behave. The clip cleverly pairs this track with footage of a modern-day garden party attended by free-spirited women of all shapes, sizes and ages, who gleefully strip down to their underwear.

The Liquid Death campaign addresses brand criticism with OTT humor, depicting haters as Puritans who burn a can of LD's "satanic" water at the stake.

"We want to poke fun at the gravity of the world while lifting up the weird kids," Mitchell says.

She and Furrh, who identify as queer and use the pronouns she/her, met when they were students at the University of Southern California. They quickly formed a creative and life partnership that has flourished for over a decade.

The duo first made a splash with Girl Band. The short film, written and directed with fellow USC student Cailin Lowry, screened at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and was sold to Freeform.

Tusk has also helmed music videos for artists like Alessia Cara, Camila Cabello and Tate McRae. Their latest, for Karin Ann's "A Stranger With My Face," broke two weeks ago. Set in the 1950s and tapping into Tusk's fascination with vintage Hollywood, the narrative casts the Slovakian pop star as an assistant to a queer matinee idol whose real job is to spy for studio bosses. Gus Kenworthy and Ashley Moore also star.

Here, Mitchell and Furrh, repped by London Alley, explore their creative chemistry and thank the folks who championed their careers.

MUSE: How did you come up with the name Tusk?

Mitchell: Our agent was like, you can't go by Kerry and Olivia. That doesn't sound good. You need a name. So, we started using Tusk in 2019. It was short, simple and gender neutral. Tusk feels strong. It's also kind of funny because you think about an animal. And also the USC marching band always covered "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac, and we met at USC. So, we're like, okay, there's enough reason. [The USC crew played on the original song in 1979.]

Furrh: It started with the fact that we liked the sound, and then we kind of created the reasons to use it.

Tell me about the thinking behind the Liquid Death music video with the Puritans burning the a can at the stake. It's so perfect for our times. 

Mitchell: We got on a call with them, and we're like, "You're going to give this to us as a single bid. You're not going to regret it. Just watch!" And then they called us the next day, and they were like, "Okay, we like your treatment."

Furrh: They came to us with a concept. It started as a one-line thing about the Puritans, but it wasn't a witch burning at the stake. We did a brainstorm session, and then we went off and wrote a script, and we did a couple drafts. It was a real collaboration.

The lead Puritan woman was great casting. She could dance and still seem convincingly uptight.

Mitchell: We care a lot about the casting. I think it's a lot of what makes our work good. And Julie Lucido, the lady you mentioned who played the lead Puritan, was somebody that I had marked in a folder a few projects ago because she applied to be in a different short film we were writing. I remember being like, "You've got to watch her tape." And we watched her tape together. We were like, "She is really good." But that project hasn't been made yet. So we filed her, and then this came up.

Furrh: It was a really interesting casting process. It was a dance project, so for their casting tape, they had to learn part of a dance. But the other part that we had everyone do for the acting element, and also just to see what their instincts were, was to beat up a bottle of water. It was pretty consistent. We got a lot of the same thing. But Julie's [beating up a bottle of water] was so different. She just came in with really creative ways to torture this bottle.

Mitchell: She didn't feel ashamed, and that's a big thing. 

Furrh: She committed 100 percent, and that was what was funny about it.

How do you two work together as directors? 

Mitchell: We write together, and then on set, she is…

Furrh: I do the shot list, schedule, way more technical stuff. I'm always with the DP.

Mitchell: She knows every detail of every technical thing. She's our leader on set.

Furrh: But Olivia's really good with people. She's the one who's dealing with the client and managing the actors.

Mitchell: I like to hype the actors when she's really deep in thought and can't respond to them. I'm usually the one sliding in and being like, "That looks great!" I'm a bit of an energy doctor.

Furrh: Olivia's also this sort of emotion check on things. I'm thinking about the composition, and she'll come in and be like, "But where’s the emotion here?"

Just talking to you, I can see how supportive you are of each other.

Mitchell: I feel like I'm fostering this genius. I feel like Kerry has these insights that are really so wise and smart. She doesn't have an ego. She has this genuine joy in creating that's very playful. 

You also appear to make your casts comfortable. You can see the joy on the faces of the performers in the Harper Wilde spot. Was everyone a professional actor?

Furrh: One of them was a friend of ours, and they're a pastry chef, and we just like them and think that they're really funny. And so they submitted a tape, and then ended up getting cast in it. You don't have a ton of control with commercials because it has to go past the client. But they were really aligned. I think especially the creative director was very aligned in terms of who we wanted, and that we wanted it to feel like it wasn't just a bunch of models ... it felt like it was a more diverse group of people.

Mitchell: One's an inspirational speaker, one's a pastry chef. Then there's some professionals in there, too. It is always nice when you blend the two. The joy on set comes through even stronger with newer people who are just so inspired to be there. 

Furrh: We could tell a lot from the tapes [potential cast members submitted for consideration]. We did a different approach with the tapes where we asked this question to everyone, and it was interesting to get the answer. We asked, What was their first experience with a bra, and how would they have changed it? Every person who submitted said that their first experience with a bra was terrible. We watched probably hundreds of tapes, and not a single person said they had a good experience with their first bra.

The Harper Wilde and Liquid Death spots are so different but both are so uniquely Tusk.

Furrh: I think that what they both have in common—and it's something that we've been striving for and something we've been pitching for a really long time–is this self-awareness that you're making an advertisement and being on the side of the consumer rather than trying to trick the consumer.

Do you have any dream clients in the ad world?

Furrh: Women's soccer. We both played soccer growing up. People are putting money into it now, and we just made a short film about soccer. To do a Nike campaign for women's soccer would be huge.

Mitchell: And beer! We want to do a beer campaign. That would be so much fun. 

Is there anyone in the advertising or production industry who has been a mentor or championed your work?

Mitchell: Cookie Walukas is the queer fairy godmother of L.A. Also, she happens to be our beloved producer on a lot of Tusk’s projects. We call her our fairy godmother because she really champions us as people, helps us with our emotions, understands our human existence in addition to our work existence. She's been there for some of our hardest projects. And Luke Anderson, an EP at London Alley, has also championed us. He isn't afraid to put us in any room, and he leads by example with how to project confidence in an industry that shakes a lot of queers/women to overthink themselves to a debilitating level. Cookie and Luke try to help us pull out our truest voices in moments of uncertainty, rather than impressing a voice upon us—if that makes sense. They dust off our spirits.

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