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Petco’s “Great Ones” video contest winners

Your best friend

Humanity’s best friend

Consider this; a dog is man’s best friend.  But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.  Ergo, David Bowie’s 1974 album “Diamond Dogs” is everyone’s best friend.  Unfortunately my entry about our BFF was rejected when I tried to submit it to Petco’s “Great Ones” video contest. Clearly the Petco judges were biased because they don’t sell album food.  Or maybe they’re just not totally insane like I obviously am.  Here are the two regular dog-themed videos that won first and second place.  The first one is actually a very sweet song about a dude and the pets he loves.  The second place entry was created by one of the biggest video contest winners of all time, Walt Arnett.  It is strange, to say the least.  It features features a rapping pug decked out in tiny bling and….oh holy shit wait a second!  A pug wearing bling; IT’S A REAL DIAMOND DOG!!!!!

First Place Winner.  Prize:  $50,000 + a $50K donation to Hunstville animal control:


Second Place Winner.  Prize:  $25,000 + a $25K donation to Kentuckiana Pug Rescue:


You’d have to be a FOOL not to enter Project ED’s April contests. LOLOLOLOL!


J’accuse, Monsieur loup!

Our long national nightmare is over.  The brutal and relentless winter of 2013-2014 has finally come to an end.  The dirty mountains of parking lot snow have all melted and grandmas across the U.S. can now unplug their heated birdbaths.  Spring is here.  And now that we can all go outside again, it’s time to start planning some warm weather shoots!

I’m going to guess that many of you haven’t picked up a video camera in at least 6 months.  The last video contest entry you shot was probably your Crash the Super Bowl submission, right?  You’re probably a little rusty right now so I suggest you ease back into the wold of video contests slowly.  And the perfect place to start is Project ED.  To enter a Project ED contest, all you have to do is shoot a video that defines one of several pre-selected words.  So you don’t have to read any commercial briefs and you don’t have to squeeze everything in to thirty seconds and you don’t need to use high-end, TV-quality gear.  A Project ED contest is just a fun excuse to go outside and film something.  The site’s got several great contests to choose from right now and you’ve got a few weeks left to create your submissions.  Here are their current April competitions:

Tricksters Video contest:  Top Prize:  $1,000

The Little Things GIF contest:  Top Prize:  $200

Beware the Jabberwock video contest:  Top Prize:  $1,500

Game On! GIF contest:  Top Prize:  $200

Back when I was a kid, I used to love the Muppet Show (wait, I guess I still do) and I remember in one episode they did their own Jabberwock sketch.  That scene blew my tiny little mind.  It was insanely creepy but I loved it.  I can still picture the Jabberwock’s severed, floating head cracking jokes.  The sketch is actually a great example of the kind of video Project ED wants for the “Beware the Jabberwock contest” since it tells the story of the Jabberwock using only the original poem in under two minutes.  Let’s see if I can find it on youtube.  Ah!  Here it is!

Oh my God, that’s still freaking awesome.  But let’s see if you can top it.  Good luck and happy galumphing!


Tongal honors their best and brightest at the first annual Tongie awards



The 2014 Tongie awards might just be remembered as the moment when “Commercial Contests” broke away from the rest of the ad world and became a full-fledged, independent industry.  Over the years, a few crowdsourcing sites (most notably, Mofilm) have thrown some pretty amazing parties for their members.  But Tongal’s first annual award ceremony was completely over-the-top and totally unprecedented.  It wasn’t just a party.  It was a statement.  The black tie event was held at the historic El Rey theater in the heart of Los Angeles.  Tongal flew in dozens of filmmakers from across North America and a few international members came all the way from Germany, Sweden, Argentina and Malaysia.  Close to 250 people were treated to dinner and drinks and the evening ended with a surprise performance by the Pointer Sisters. (They blew the roof off the place.)  But the awards ceremony itself was the main attraction.  The company honored the best Tongal videos of 2013 and awarded Tongies in 13 categories such as Best Comedy, Best Broadcast Spot, Best Animation and the Video of The Year.

The Tongies

A pair of (temporarily) abandoned Tongies

The message in all of this was pretty clear; the “independent” ad industry is real and successful and ready for the big time.  As a filmmaker, I’ve been invited to some really cool events but I can honestly say that The Tongie Awards was the best party I’ve ever been to.  (It just barely beats out my E.T.-themed 8th birthday party)  Anyone who walked past the El Rey theater that night must have thought we were all “professionals” from big name ad agencies.  But as far as I could see, there wasn’t a single “pro” in the house….at least not in the traditional sense.  The theater was filled with a new kind of creative; independent ad makers.  Tongal members earned more than five million dollars in 2013 and some Tongie nominees have “won” more than $100,000 each.  A few of them have seen their commercials broadcast on TV and one Tongler’s ad actually aired during the 2013 Super Bowl.  When I had a chance to mingle, I asked some of these producers if they had an agent or if they had applied to work for any big, established production companies or agencies.  I heard the same response over and over and over; “I don’t need to.”  The general sentiment was that “Tongal always has projects running so I don’t need an agent to find me work.  And I don’t need to work for someone else because my teammates and I can do everything ourselves.”

That attitude marks an extraordinary sea change.  Filmmakers used to spend decades paying their dues in the hopes that they could get an agent or a steady job.  But thanks to sites like Tongal, filmmakers can now skip those steps.  If you have decent equipment and a decent amount of talent, you can start earning money NOW.  Commercials created by independent ad makers, crowdsourcers, video contest filmmakers, spec producers, etc. have gotten so good that most viewers would never realize they were watching something that was shot by a group of friends for a few hundred bucks.  Here, check out these two TV commercials:

Both of those were created for Tongal contests and both have aired on TV.  The Oral-B promo won the Tongie for “Video of the Year” and the Hasbro ad won for “Best Broadcast Spot.”  And believe it not, the Hasbro ad was actually created by a teenager from a small town in Massachusetts.  The kid is barely out of high school but thanks to Tongal he already has a TV commercial under his belt.

Those two videos are just the tip of the iceberg.  If you’re in the mood two watch a bunch of really entertaining ads today, head here to see all the 2014 Tongie winners:  And if you weren’t able to attend the event yourself, scroll down to see what you missed.  Below are a bunch of cell phone pics I took plus a few official photos from Tongal….

photo courtesy of Tongal

Photo courtesy of Tongal

The presenter of the "Best Original Song Award" Gene Simmons (!) poses with Tongal's co-founders Mark Burell, James De Jullio and Rob Salvatore

The presenter of the “Best Original Song Award” Gene Simmons (!) poses with Tongal’s co-founders Mark Burell, James De Jullio and Rob Salvatore


I finally got to meet Justin and Marissa, the folks behind my favorite website,!  And the guy on the left is Jordan from the team, Side of Fries.


Tongie nominees Lucas Ridley and a a member of the North of Now team

Photo courtesy of Tongal

Photo courtesy of Tongal


Tongie winners, The Snap Brothers


My table-mates were a super cool brother and sister team, Tiffany and Armani.  Armani’s not scowling; I caught him mid-chew.


Tongal had their own carpets made for this event. That’s a baller move, son.


Tongie nominee Mean Low came all the way from Malaysia!


The teenage director of the Hasbro ad I posted, Charles Frank and
one of Tongal’s many friendly staff members.


That happy, bearded  guy in the middle is Tongal’s Senior VP of Product and the mastermind behind the Tongies, Caleb Light-Wills


The man with the Tongie might just be the best independent ad maker in the game, David Brasher.  I’ve been posting his work on VCN for years


The Pointer Sisters close out the show


Happy people getting their faces rocked off

And so that’s the story of the first annual Tongie awards.  Man, I’m glad I was there because if I had missed it I would have felt like a total idiot.  To my friends at Tongal I’ve got to say thank you for inviting me and congratulations on a job well done!


A peek inside Tongal’s Santa Monica headquarters

Greetings from sunny Santa Monica!  I’m in LA this week to cover Tongal’s first ever awards ceremony, the Tongies.  The big party is tonight but Tongal has already treated everybody to a whole slate of great events.  This afternoon they hosted an open house at their amazing HQ.  I have about an hour to kill before I have to put on my tux for tonight’s award ceremony so I thought I’d share a few of the blurry cell phone pics I took….

Tongal's office is a 10 minute walk away from the Santa Monica pier

Tongal’s office is a 10 minute walk away from the Santa Monica pier

I forgot to take a shot of the front of the building but here's the back

I forgot to take a shot of the front of the building but here’s the back







Behind the reception desk is a giant custom Lego wall!

Behind the reception desk is a giant custom Lego wall!


They’re all Lego maniacs over at Tongal



What do they watch in the Tongal chill out room?

What do they watch in the Tongal chill out room?

Winning Tongal videos, of course

Winning Tongal videos, of course

And now just for the heck of it, here's a yarn-bomb sighting on the Santa Monica Pier

And now just for the heck of it, here’s a yarn-bomb sighting on the Santa Monica Pier

I’ll be flying back to not-so-sunny Chicago on Friday so I’ll post a full recap of the Tongies next monday!


Yes, that Tesla ad really did cost $1,500

Tesla Motors doesn’t run commercials and they don’t have an ad agency.  But a group of “recent college grads” decided to create an ad for the electric car company on spec.  The founder of Tesla, Tony Stark Elon Musk announced on twitter that he loved the video and the company has been sharing it all over the web.  And though they haven’t actually paid for the work, Musk said he was confident that his company would “do something” with the producers soon.

“Modern Spaceship” has caused a little bit of a stir because the producers claim they only spent $1,500 on it.  On March 18th, Ad Age ran a story about the video’s low-budget origins.  Then a few days later, Ad Age posted a rebuttal to that story.  Nick Miede, the Associate Creative Director for the ad agency, Column Five declared that Modern’s Spaceship‘s $1,500 budget was an illusion:

I think outer space is pretty awesome. If you’re like me in this regard, you were probably blown away by Tesla’s “Modern Spaceship” spec ad created by Everdream Pictures — a production company founded by recent college grads — which takes us on a journey to the final frontier. You probably also read the headline-grabbing claim that the commercial cost just $1,500 to make. I work in the advertising industry, specializing in video production, and I’d say that price tag is out there with the space-traveling Tesla, orbiting far away from reality.

Miede goes on to say that a lot of very important expenses were left out of the budget:

What about the cost of developing the concept? Script? Storyboards? Pre-production logistics? Set Design? Visual effects? Day rates for the crew, talent and editor?

And what about all the gear they used to shoot the commercial?

I’ve noticed that Ad Age has a healthy bias against spec ads and commercial contests; maybe because the pros that visit see cheap spec labor as a threat.  It seems like a lot of “real” ad makers just can’t accept that a few friends can get together and make a decent commercial for 90% less than what they would charge.

If you read Miede’s entire article, it’s clear that he’s trying to hold the Tesla project up to HIS personal standards.  For instance, he wants to know how much the producers would have paid their set designer.  Well who the heck said that every production needs a set designer?  Modern Spaceship was shot in a living room and a garage.  One of the producers could have dressed each set in about 30 minutes.  And what about the equipment that was used?   The folks at Everdream said they already had all the gear they needed to produce this ad.  Mr. Miede seems offended that the producers wouldn’t include this expense in their final budget.  But why should they?  Unless you’re renting, the cost of your gear isn’t relevant to the process.  I just made myself some baked chicken for dinner.  I cooked the chicken for free and the food cost me about $9.  But I baked that chicken in an oven that’s worth $600.  So according to Ad Age, my dinner budget should be $609.

The author goes on to explain that he is concerned that low-budget spec ads give the false impression that professional ad makers (like him) are over-charging:

The $1,500 claim makes it sound as if this team found an incredibly cost-effective way to make beautifully produced video creative. It suggests that the industry could take a lesson from them and become more efficient. If this ad cost only a few bucks, then surely other brands can fetch a similar bang for their buck.

But they can’t, because there isn’t anything cost-effective about a $1,500 price tag that excludes the majority of production costs. This doesn’t lead to industry efficiency; it leads to industry confusion, which does a disservice to all of us.

I’m not trying to single out the Everdream team here.  But I am concerned that we have an industry-wide problem on our hands. If we don’t reverse this trend — if we continue to promote misleading figures — we’ll be making it that much harder to communicate the actual value of our creative and debunk the perceived cost myth.

This argument is totally bogus.  No reasonable person would watch Modern Spaceship and assume that the $1,500 price tag included an HD camera and an editing suite and no car company is going tell their agency that their next ad has to cost less than two grand.

Miede, like many in the advertising industry, is quick to attack high-quality/low-cost spec ads because they’re still trying to keep the low-budget, DIY culture from infecting their profession.  They still haven’t realized that not every project has to be a BIG, FREAKING DEAL.  If the sponsor just wants a fun or interesting video for the web, why does it need to cost tens of thousands of dollars?  Even if Modern Spaceship‘s budget included pay for the cast and crew, it would still be a relatively cheap production.  Maybe the producers didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars to hire a casting director or hold auditions because they already knew who they wanted to cast.  And instead of renting a car or a location, they just used a car and a location that they already had access too.  How many professional ad makers would borrow their dad’s car so they could shoot an ad for a client?  Not many.   Spec filmmakers know something that the pros haven’t realized yet; just because you CAN pay for something, it doesn’t mean you should.  There’s no shame in getting something for free.

Miede wrapped up his article by giving a back-handed compliment to the folks at EverDream.

Am I suggesting that there isn’t a great financial story about this Tesla commercial? No, I’m simply saying we should more clearly acknowledge the financial truth of the story. The Everdream team probably didn’t have a huge marketing budget to build up its client base, but it had something else — skills. What they lacked in financial equity, they made up for in sweat equity: good, old-fashioned hard work with no guarantee of compensation, only the promise of a big-time pay off.

They didn’t make a really cheap video. They made a really shrewd investment.

Let’s celebrate the entrepreneurship of the Everdream team. Let’s champion the pursuit of cost-effective creative. Let’s boldly go where no creative has gone before. Let’s just make sure we go there with enough money for gas. Rocket fuel isn’t cheap.

Miede’s closing point is a common sentiment among nervous, old school ad agency types.  Those guys love to look down their noses at spec filmmakers and say “when you give things away, you’re hurting the industry!  These skills are valuable and you need to charge more!”  But that’s BS.  What they really want to say is “you punks need to stop working so cheap because you’re making the rest of us look bad!”


The dark side of guerrilla filmmaking

I was a teenage guerrilla filmmaker.  My friends and I filmed whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, wherever we wanted.  I can’t tell you how many times we got stopped by the police because were were doing something stupid.  One time while filming a Schindler’s List knockoff for history class (it was our first attempt at a serious film) we staged an escape scene in the woods behind a park.  I was on my knees and my friend Dave, dressed in a homemade Nazi uniform, knocked me to the ground and pointed a toy gun at my head.  Our take was ruined when we heard an emotionless voice behind us say “uh hey…”  It was a police officer.  He walked towards us like he was in shock.  He said he was about two seconds away from shooting Dave when he realized we were just making a movie.

We were a bunch of invincible high school kids so we never thought twice about taking pointless risks while filming.  We’d goof around on rooftops, shoot fireworks at each other, jump onto moving cars and maybe worst of all, we’d screw around on the train tracks.  In fact the giant, Stand-By-Me-style train bridge in the woods near my house was one of our favorite locations.  That bridge had to be 100 feet high and 100 yards long.  If a train had come barreling towards us there’s no way we would have escaped unharmed.

My friends and I had a lot of fun making those dumb videos.  But now that we’re adults we realize just how reckless we were.  A few weeks ago I was watching the news and I saw a story that hit me like a punch in the gut.  A 27-year old woman was killed and seven other people were injured on a train trestle during the production of an independent film.  The Hollywood Reporter published a thorough expose about the “Midnight Rider” accident and the story is so infuriating and so horrifying that it almost made me sick.  My blood was boiling as I read it.  I was mad at the filmmakers who let this happen but I was also mad at myself because I used to do the same exact things when I was in high school.

My friends and I made dangerous movies because we were underage idiots with poor impulse control.  But it sounds like the producers of “Midnight Rider” were just careless, stupid a-holes.  They were proud of their hardcore, low-budget adventures and boasted about their “guerrilla” techniques.  But there is a big difference between “guerrilla filmmaking” and “reckless endangerment.”  A small budget is no excuse for cutting corners when it comes to safety.  I’ve learned a lot since I was in high school and I now understand that if you can’t afford to shoot a project safely, you can’t afford to shoot it at all.  Whenever I’m out filming, I tell the cast and crew that the #1 rule is “protect yourselves and each other.”  Rule #2 is “protect the gear.”  That means that if a light is about to fall over, let it fall over.  Don’t try and catch it because a $250 light isn’t worth a gash in your head.

Here’s a link to the Hollywood Reporter story.  It should be required reading in every Directing 101 class in the country.  I encourage you to read it and share it with every filmmaker you know.   A Train, a Narrow Trestle and 60 Seconds to Escape: How ‘Midnight Rider’ Victim Sarah Jones Lost Her Life


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