VCN interview with Ben Callner, Crash the Super Bowl finalist and creator of “Goat 4 Sale”

2013 Crash the Super Bowl finalist, Goat 4 Sale

You’d think that after 7 installments the Crash the Super Bowl contest would start to feel a little stale.  But this year Doritos managed to pick an ad for the finals that just happens to be the funniest Crash the Super bowl entry ever.  Goat 4 Sale is simply a PERFECT commercial and viewers on the web have already fallen in love with it.  The ad has been getting a ton of praise in the media and it’s also walloping all the other finalists in the unofficial view count race on facebook.  (More views means more votes.)  So it seems very, very likely that this ad is going straight to the super bowl and if it does air I think it’s going to score the number one spot on the USA Today ad meter in a walk.  And if that happens, the ad’s director Ben Callner will win a million dollar bonus from FritoLay plus Michael Bay will offer him a sweet job on the new Transformers movie.  So who is Ben Callner?  Let’s find out!  Ben was good enough to give VCN some of his time and answer a few questions about his quest to get to the Super Bowl.

VCN:  So Ben, tell me about yourself.  Where are you from?  How old are you?  What do you do for a living?

BEN:  I’m 28 years old and from Marietta, GA – a suburb of Atlanta.  I went to Georgia Tech, where I graduated with a degree in Science, Technology, and Culture… It’s sort of a degree in sociology with an emphasis on, well, science and technology.

During college, I was fortunate enough to get an internship at an Atlanta production company called Pogo Pictures.

One slower day, I showed the owner (and my eventual mentor, Steve Colby) some silly short films I had made with college buddies for a student film festival called Campus Movie Fest.  He didn’t seem impressed.  But when I graduated, I got a call from Steve asking if I could help him start an online division of Pogo.

From there, a friendship formed.  And eventually, even though I wasn’t on salary, I sort of just kept showing up and throwing out ideas.  One day my persistence wore off on him and he took me under his wing… He continues to joke that he didn’t really have a choice.

After 6 or so years of working in the local film industry (mostly as a production assistant with the occasional job as a camera operator) and with the mentoring of Steve and the ever-useful advice of my brother and uncle (both producers), I’m currently fortunate enough to say that I am a freelance commercial director in the Atlanta area.

And luckily, thanks to family and friends and a girlfriend who loves to stay in at night as much as I do, I’ve been able to keep my living expenses way down.  It’s an incredibly competitive industry, and I honestly don’t think I could continue to “chase the dream” if it weren’t for the generosity and understanding of both my family and my girlfriend’s family… Heck, I live in the basement of my girlfriend’s parent’s house, and they actually genuinely like that I’m there!  Have you ever heard of such a thing?

VCN:  Have you ever entered the Crash the Super Bowl contest before?

BEN:  I entered a couple of years ago.  It was about a guy who returns home to his apartment and finds three masked burglars robbing his apartment.  After a brief stare down, the homeowner suddenly screams and in a desperate attempt to silence the victim, one of the robbers shoves a Dorito in his mouth.  At which point, the homeowner suddenly forgets what’s happening and chews happily.

Ha! I just realized that both entries have a scream in it…  I must think high-pitched screams are really funny.  Who knew?

VCN:   Have you ever entered any other video contests before?

I competed a long time ago for a Verizon VCast competition (I can’t remember the name of it exactly), and also an Aquafresh commercial contest.  I didn’t have much success with either of those but they were a lot of fun.

The last competition I entered was the Georgia Lottery Powerball commercial contest, which I actually won!  That was sort of what motivated Pogo to finally take me in off the streets.

VCN:  Where did the idea for Goat 4 Sale come from?

BEN:  Steve came in one day and said something like, “You know my goat eating food and crunching is really funny.”  And then he just left.  Steve is a quirky guy (heck, he has goats and he lives in the city), so when he said this, I didn’t think too much of it.  But then he said it again and again and finally followed it with, “We should make a Doritos commercial.”  It was seriously as direct as that.

I wasn’t sure how “funny” his goats could actually be so we Googled “goats eating chips” and “goats screaming” and couldn’t stop laughing.  And then after an uncountable amount of bad ideas, it all eventually clicked into place during one all-night writing session.  My girlfriend actually jokes that she went to bed and nothing was done, and then when she woke up, it was pretty much all laid out.

But without a doubt, I would have never thought of using a goat (or even competing in the contest) if Steve hadn’t have said, “My goats eating and crunching is really funny… We should do a Doritos commercial.”

VCN:  How was the ad created?

BEN:  We shot it on the Canon 5D Mark III, and it was pretty much all local crew that volunteered their time.  The support was unbelievable!

My mom and dad were on set as well.  My mom serving as “script supervisor” and my dad as “craft services.”  They do that a lot, and I absolutely love it!

I storyboarded the script and made an animatic, just to make sure we could tell everything in 30 seconds.  It was a really bad animatic but it helped.

Moose (the goat) was pretty crazy at first.  But it became apparent that Moose was sort of mimicking our behavior.  So if everyone was nervous and running around and people were stressed and really trying to make the shot work, it wouldn’t.  But if we went to Moose and just petted him, and everyone settled in, and we sort of channeled our inner hippie, it seemed to work.  That sounds silly but it really was true.

And one of our most valuable tools was Kudzu, Moose’s goat brother.  We used Kudzu a ton off-camera to help with Moose’s eye line, and even the screaming scene.  For that, we put Kudzu on a sturdy shelf behind camera and essentially just let the two “talk” to one another.

But just in case Moose wouldn’t cooperate, before the shoot day we came up with “backup plans.”  For instance, for the scream shot, if Moose didn’t scream or open his mouth to the point where we could dub in a scream, we were going to simply snap zoom in on his face.  I figured in sound design that could still seem “vengeful.”  Thank goodness it didn’t come to that.

VCN:  I saw that the budget for your entry was $5,000.  Is that right?  What did you spend your money on?  Did you put up the money yourself or did you have investors?

BEN:  It’s crazy how fast everything adds up, even when asking for favors.  Luckily, Pogo Pictures believed in the concept and agreed to provide a budget.

I cashed in on favors and Pogo utilized relationships with local crew and post-production houses.

All that said, we spent most of our money on Doritos (150 bags), some equipment (we were able to get a TON donated), food/craft services, and spec rates for our 15 person crew (including my parents).

Ben visits Doritos’ PR HQ in LA

VCN:  How and when did you find out that you made the finals?  Were you allowed to tell anyone the good news?

I found out in mid December.

I got a call from Doritos saying that their legal department needed to “talk.”  They said they just wanted to make sure I was still in the running and asked if I could jump on a conference call later that afternoon.  I was freaking out!  I wasn’t sure what was the matter.  Did we do something wrong?  I called my brother.  I called my uncle.  I called Steve.  We couldn’t figure it out.

Finally, the time came when the “legal team” was supposed to call me and nothing happened.  I started freaking out even more!  Why haven’t they called?  It’s been two hours?

Then I got an email asking if I could jump on the call at 9pm.  I agreed.  When 9pm came around, a man called and asked for me.

I said, “This is Ben” and then the man said, “This is Michael Bay.”  I said, “No it’s not.”

Anyway, Doritos got me really good.  I ended up repeating “Michael Bay” for way too much… so much so that I even apologized for saying his name so many times.  He was really cool about it all.

It was a crazy experience to say the least!

VCN:  All of the finalists had to head to Texas to do some PR stuff before the results were announce (that’s correct, right?)  What was that trip like?  Did you get to meet the other finalists?

BEN:  That is correct.  But instead of Texas I flew into LA, where Doritos’ PR company is located.

The trip was amazing!  I literally couldn’t believe what was happening.  I was, and still am, on some sort of adrenaline rush… I’m so excited I can’t sleep!

And I did get to meet the other finalists.  Everybody is seriously so genuine and nice.  Before meeting everybody, I was a little nervous that there might be some underlying tension.  But luckily, there was none of that, just pure gratitude and elation.

VCN:  What are you doing to try and get people to vote for Goat 4 Sale?

BEN:  I’m honestly living on Facebook: “liking” every activity, friending whoever I can friend, and replying/sending messages like crazy.  I broke a blood vessel in my left eye because I was staring at my monitor too intensely.

And the other night, I was responding so fast that Facebook literally told me to slow down.  No joke, a window popped up telling me that if I didn’t slow down I would be kicked off.  It thought I was an automated bot!

VCN:  Who are you bringing to the super bowl? 

BEN:  My good friend and mentor, Steve Colby… not to mention co-writer/director, producer, and goat wrangler.

VCN:  I have a feeling that Goat 4 Sale will easily be the most popular CTSB ad of the super bowl.  If it is, would you take the job working with Michael Bay?

BEN:  I honestly think that the opportunity to work with Michael Bay would be an unforgettable experience!

VCN:  Thanks for your time Ben and good luck!

Remember folks, you can vote for Goat 4 Sale every day until January 29th.  Voting is done via facebook so if you have a facebook page you don’t even have to register an account.  Every time a Doritos ad wins the USA Today Ad Meter it pretty much guarantees that FritoLay will bring The Crash back again in the fall.  So you should vote for the commercial that has the best chance of winning the ad meter!  To vote, Goat 4 Sale, head here:

http://apps.facebook.com/crashthesuperbowl?page=finalists&video=3432

 

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