The film charts the remarkable rise of Mattress Mick and his wingman Paul Kelly.
Dublin-born director Colm Quinn had no idea that a chance meeting in his native city would result in his debut feature documentary, the hilarious, heartwarming and hopeful Mattress Men.
The story of Michael Flynn, the owner of Mattress Mick bedstore, and his creative partner Paul Kelly, the film charts the men’s tempestuous relationship – and their videos, which became viral sensations thanks to their low-budget special effects, hilariously high concepts and amateur rapping.
“At the outset, I just met Paul Kelly randomly, walking up Pearse Street one night,” explains Quinn, “and Paul is in the habit of talking to passersby and bringing up Mattress Mick at every opportunity! And I was one of those randomers: he offered to show me where the Mattress Mick videos get made. So we wandered down, me wondering what I was getting myself into, and I saw this ramshackle studio with a green screen.”
Even though Quinn was familiar with the wildly inventive Mattress Mick videos, it was the human story behind the madness that drew him in.
“Paul started telling me about himself,” says the director. “What got me was: I saw a picture stuck up on the wall of a house he hoped to one day get for his missus and kids. That was the goal of everything he was doing: all these silly videos were about him pursuing this goal. And when you’re looking for a subject for an observational documentary, you’re looking for someone with a goal, with obstacles in their way, and interesting relationships. It was that contrast; the reality of the recession and austerity that was going on outside the shop, and these surreal fantastical videos that were happening inside, and how they came together in the interest of boosting sales in a mattress shop.”
Paul’s story resonated for Quinn, who grew up in Finglas during the recession of the ’80s and whose parents were both in the arts. “There was that same parallel,” he observes, “of trying to do something creative when everybody’s skint. I really admired that.”
Quinn eventually spent three years with Mick and Paul, exploring their their unique relationship as well as their personal struggle to survive the recession and boost sales in the shop. Mick and Paul’s interactions tap into so many themes; the desire for success and recognition, the pressure men put on themselves to provide for their family, and the relationship between business and technology in the age of viral videos. Both men end up seeming very vulnerable – did they resist opening up so much in front of the cameras?
“Yeah, initially of course,” reveals Quinn. “I think it’s only natural that when you’re making a documentary they’re always afraid about how they come across, and how the boundaries are set. But I think over the course of the film, trust was built, and it was only after that trust was built that they became more vulnerable. I think the lads became aware that the film was about surviving economically difficult times as much as it was about Mattress Mick. You have to be careful with that, because you’re faced with this responsibility to them. But Paul realised that allowing his story to be told could benefit other people watching, and allow a conversation to begin about the struggles they’re facing. Likewise, Mick knew his story was a bigger tale about overcoming failure. I just hope the film does their story justice.”
While Mick and Paul were struggling to survive the recession, the economic situation was tough for documentary filmmakers, and Quinn and his crew felt the pinch over the course of the three year shoot.
“We’re all working as freelancers,” says Quinn. “We’re as at the mercy of economic forces as anyone else, and there is that fear that no funding will come in. I think the first year, essentially, ran on my curiosity about these really good guys making these mad videos. But then it became clearer that the film could speak to wider experiences of the recession. But yeah, the recession was affecting our process too. Documentary making is hard, and the budgets are tiny. Observational filmmaking is probably the most brutal form of it too.”
Quinn’s hard work has paid off, however, and Mattress Men is receiving critical acclaim, and resonating with audiences at international film festivals.
“We screened in Toronto this year and it was absolutely fascinating to hear the reaction,” says Quinn, “and see that the humour and emotion transcends borders. One of the themes that really struck people outside of Ireland was this sense of reinvention. Both Paul and Mick have undergone a huge change – Mick in the sense that he has taken on this mad persona in order to fuel interest in his business. And on the other hand there’s Paul, who had lost a bunch of jobs in quick succession and taught himself these brand new storytelling and filmmaking skills. Them meeting by chance allowed them both to undergo a huge transformation, which is really hopeful I think.”
Mattress Men is in cinemas from October 7.