How e.l.f. got Chris Olsen and Ian Paget to open up for its ‘Make Up Over Makeup’ series

Madwell’s Chris Sojka on creating a safe space for the famous exes to be their most vulnerable selves

Published On
May 19, 2023
Ian Paget and Chris Olsen applying makeup to each other

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Creating compelling, authentic influencer marketing is harder than it looks. So much work in the space feels transactional. And when you do come up with a concept that encourages actual vulnerability from the talent, they may be wary to embrace it.

e.l.f. cosmetics dealt with all this, and more, with its new series, “Make Up Over Makeup.” It’s an undeniably strong idea—getting culturally relevant pairs of people who’ve publicly butted heads in the past to reconcile (or at least try to) during a makeup session. But would it work?

Judging by the first episode, which dropped this week, the answer is a resounding yes. The nine-minute video, impressive both creatively and in terms of engagement, brought together famous exes Chris Olsen and Ian Paget to talk about their relationship—a reunion that had celebrity media buzzing and viewers enraptured (the YouTube comments are full of people wishing the video were longer).

See the clip below, directed with impressive intimacy by Chris Sojka, co-founder and chief creative officer of Madwell, the agency that came up with the series.


Sojka told Ad Age that the fundamental challenge at the core of the project was how to be both intimate yet removed during the filming process.

“We needed to be able to get very close in our framing, so the viewer could feel as if they were right there and pick up on all the emotion contained in an eye flutter, a quivering lip or the gentle touch used to apply foundation to another person,” he said. “But we also wanted to avoid encroaching on Chris and Ian. It’s nearly impossible not to go into performer mode when there’s literally a camera in your face. Also, you’d see those cameras and the people holding them every time we cut to a medium shot. This meant we needed to be both close and far away.” 

The solution was two long lenses, one each focused on Chris and Ian, with zoom capacity. “It allowed us to capture intimate moments without destroying the intimacy,” said Sojka. “It appears handheld but that’s because even the tiniest camera movement could be felt. Our central camera acted as a type of home base so we could move between the close-up shots in our edit, allowing for an emotional ebb and flow.”

A second challenge, Sojka added, was more emotional.

“These are two extremely talented performers publicly sharing something very real,” he said. “Our goal was to avoid any reality-TV type exploitation or dramatization, and instead capture this difficult, messy, funny, heart-wrenching and cathartic experience—for Chris and Ian as well as the audience that has lived vicariously through their love for one another. That meant it could not be planned or rehearsed. So there was lots of preparation to enable total improvisation once we started rolling.” 

Madwell’s producer and creative team discussed topics and focuses with Chris and Ian beforehand. The agency had a list of prompts and questions ready for the shoot day. But once they were shooting, things became more organic. 

“The moment they saw one another and started talking, it became clear that this was going to be a truly fluid dialogue,” Sojka said. “Our director of photography and I had talked about the importance of focusing on tiny movements and subtle reactions, treating this like a ballet of human expression. So I took off my headset connecting us and left her to direct the three camera operators and 1st ACs so I could simply listen to the dialogue and hopefully minimize my presence. When I provided a prompt it was designed to encourage further exploration of something that was glossed over, so they could linger on the topic and explore it more deeply, however uncomfortable. I’m lucky my team made those prompts because they guided me on where to focus.”

Behind the entire conversation, of course, is the e.l.f. brand—hiding in plain sight, the ultimate seamless integration of both product and brand.

“The premise, from the outset, was about how disarming putting makeup on someone else could be,” Sojka said. “The e.l.f. team understood how two people using their products in an inverted manner created an ironic effect. Applying makeup to someone else isn’t something we often do, and for that reason it creates a type of vulnerability for both parties that is automatically disarming. It looks like the application of a facade at first, but it is actually the dismantling of one. So the only requirement was to use the product authentically. Mess-ups and all. The outcome is a reflection of e.l.f.’s values—they make makeup so we can better express our true selves. And of course, since it’s two men on camera, e.l.f. Is making it very clear that they’re committed to products that transcend gender tropes.” 

“There was something magical aligning with Chris and Ian,” said Patrick O’Keefe, VP of integrated marketing communications at e.l.f. Beauty. “Not only are they e.l.f. kindred spirits with their irreverence, openness and ability to be authentically themselves, but they did it with love and kindness. It was very special to see them come together to connect and do each other’s makeup.”


May 19, 2023
Client :
e.l.f. Cosmetics
Agency :
CCO & Co-Founder :
Chris Sojka
Creative Director :
Mau Galvan
ACD Designer :
Alex Kaufman
ACD Copywriter :
Libby Dean
Copywriter :
Kaitlin Bowen
Designer :
Zenzile Sky Lark
SVP Client Services :
Gabriela Benitez
Account Director :
Keisy Bisono
VP Production :
Brigid McEntree
Senior Creative Producer :
Kyle Burt
VP Integrated Strategy :
Laura Bianchi
Strategy Director :
Briel Waxman
Social Strategist :
Madison Allen
Community Manager :
Mariah Bayne
Production :
Starfish by Madwell
Director :
Chris Sojka
Executive Producer :
Jenita Spirtovic
Producer :
Kyle Henke
Director of Photography :
Tanisha Moreno
1st AC :
Briana Monet
1st AC :
Amir Rose-Aminifu
1st AC :
Jairo Cruz
Additional Camera :
Sam Hicks
Additional Camera :
Ariana Hoshino
Production Designer :
Skye Prey
Set Dresser :
Ty Swafford
Gaffer :
Jose Hernandez
Hair and Make-up Artist :
Sarah Loranca
Production Coordinator :
Braden Marvin
Post Production :
Caption Designs
Editorial :
Curt Saeui
Editorial :
Matt Reynolds
Assistant Editor :
Karam Anthony
Color :
Strata Pictures
Colorist :
Jeremy Stebens
Audio :
Keith Nolan
Music :
Pickle Music
EP :
James Zavaleta
Producer :
Alea Jimenez
Assistant Producer :
Matt Kerr
Composer :
Godi Gaviria
Kory Marchisotto
VP Integrated Marketing Communications :
Patrick O'Keefe
Chief Brand Officer :
Laurie Lam
Chief Creative Officer :
Ashley Rosebrook
Director of Brand Marketing :
Brooklyn Boston
Sr. Manager Integrated Marketing Communications :
Alex Kaspar

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