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

 

VCN reviews the 2013 Crash the Super Bowl finalists

Well the wait is finally over!  At 8PM EST last night Doritos revealed their 5 finalists for the 2012-2013 installment of the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  The announcement came in the form of a video hosted by the “Doritos Girl” Ali Landry (who somehow looks hotter now than she did in her Dorito ad 15 years ago.)  FritoLay saw a MASSIVE drop in the number of entries they received this year and to me it seemed like the pickings were pretty slim.  But the Crash the Super Bowl judges managed to put together a decent list of finalists.  Each of the 2013 winners will receive $25,000 and a trip for two to the Super Bowl next month.  And the finalists are….

1.  Goat 4 Sale by Ben Callner of Atlanta, Georgia

2.  Road Chip by Tyler Dixon of Los Angeles, California

3.  Fashionista Daddy by Mark Freiburger of Los Angeles, California

4.  Express Checkout by Sasha Shemirani of San Diego, California

5.  Fetch by Joe Taranto of Los Angeles, California

Overall this is a very interesting top 5.  All the selected ads feel like Crash the Super Bowl commercials but I suspect that maybe Friotlay brought in some fresh judges this year.  These picks are just sorta different than the stuff that normally makes the finals (and that’s a good thing.)  Ok, time for my reviews!
 

GOAT 4 SALE:  This might just be my new, all-time favorite Crash the Super Bowl entry.  I freaking love this ad.  It’s a perfect little 30 second short film.  The actors are great, the cinematography is fantastic, the pacing is perfect and the goat is destined to become a super star.  One of the best things about this commercial is that it actually does a good job of selling the featured product.  Watching Goat 4 Sale makes me want to fill my cabinets with Doritos and scarf down a whole bagful.  This year a public vote will choose one Doritos ad to air during the Super Bowl and then Fritolay will pick a second ad that will also air.  The team that made Goat 4 Sale shouldn’t even waste their time asking for votes because there is no way in heck that FritoLay won’t chose to run this spot during the big game.  This commercial is awesomely hilarious from beginning to end which means it will get a huge score in USA Today’s Ad Meter poll.  So if Goat 4 Sale airs during the Super Bowl it will be ranked one of the Top 3 ads of the game and honestly, I think it will actually take the #1 spot in a walk.  Plus after the game millions of people would go online so they can re-watch this ad.  That shot of the goat screaming will probably wind up being one of the most memorable moments of Super Bowl XLVII.
 

ROAD CHIP:  This one isn’t laugh-out-loud funny but it’s well made and I like it.  It’s pretty obvious that this ad was created by a director who really understands what it takes to win the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  (He’s made the finals 3 times now!)  Obviously super adorable dogs are good and obviously clever babies are good but if you feature a baby and a dog in your ad you’re probably going to score some major points with the focus groups that review the shortlist of potential CTSB finalists.  So sometimes it pays to pander! And I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, I’m being serious…this contest is about making a commercial that will be as popular as possible with as many viewers as possible and people just happen to like commercials that feature dogs and babies so filmmakers might as well give the people what they want. I don’t think this ad would make the top 3 on the Ad Meter but I do think it has a better shot than any of the other non-goat-themed finalists.
 

FASHIONISTA DADDY:  This pick really surprised me.  I think it’s cute and funny and very slick but it’s not very…oh I don’t know…epic.  This seems like the kind of video that might win $7,500 in a Poptent assignment.  Usually Crash the Super Bowl ads feel more original than this.  The “tough guys dress in drag” premise has been totally done to death, hasn’t it? Why would Doritos pick an ad with such a played out concept? I also don’t see this spot doing very well on the Ad Meter.  I think viewers will enjoy it and the wedding dress joke at the end is funny but the Super Bowl is when advertisers bring out their big guns.  This ad just won’t be able to beat whatever crazy commercials Bud Light or E-Trade or Volkswagon air.  Again, I do sorta kinda like Fashionista Daddy but no one is going to jump on the Internet after the game to re-watch this one.
 

EXPRESS CHECKOUT:  I like this one and I think it’s neat that Doritos actually picked a subtle video that isn’t filled with cute dogs and wacky toddlers.  This might sound weird but my favorite part of the ad is when the Kristen Schaal-esque checkout girl whispers “no” to the jerk in line.  The director of this ad clearly has a strong talent for directing actors.  All the characters play their roles just right.  If the jerk in line had been a little jerkier it would have ruined this spot.  And if the Kristen Schaal girl hadn’t gotten mad at the jerk it would have made her seem mean.  The bad news is that like “Fashionista Daddy” this ad probably wouldn’t score very well on the USA Today ad meter.  It’s a nice little short film but it would get lost in the shuffle on Super Bowl sunday.
 

FETCH:  I have mixed feelings about this ad.  It’s fun and well made and very amusing but it’s very similar to the 2012 CTSB finalist ad “Hot Wild Girls.”  In Hot Wild Girls, two guys gets wishes from a Siri-like smartphone app.  They ask for Doritos and they magically appear.  Then they ask for some “Hot Wild Girls” and the phone thinks the guy asked for “Three Rottweilers.” So three Rottweilers show up and chase the guys away.  It’s pretty obvious that the writer of Fetch was ahem….inspired by Hot Wild Girls.  The plots are basically identical; the stars of both ads discover a magical thing that can bring them whatever they ask for.  They ask for Doritos and then they ask for hot women.  But the magical thing misunderstands and conjures up a scary animal that chases the guys away.  I’m really disappointed that Doritos chose to reward such a blatant act of copy-cattery. It’s a funny and well done copy but that doesn’t change the fact that the writer lifted the concept from a previous winner. Ok, just for the heck of it I’ll post Hot Wild Girls. Watch it and decide for yourself whether or not it “inspired” Fetch.
 

 
And now, here are a few random observations I have about this set of finalists:

-ONLY 1 REPEAT FINALIST MADE IT THIS YEAR This is a real surprise.  Last year 3 of the 5 selected ads were shot by filmmakers who had already seen their work make the top 5.  That’s pretty strange when you consider that last year the odds of making the finals were about 1 in 1,200. I did an interview with some of the top CTSB judges and posted an article that outlined the reasons why I thought the Crash kept getting so many repeat winners.  (For example, past winners had become friends with many of the judges during their trip to the Super Bowl.)  I don’t know if Doritos changed the way that they pick their finalists but I have a feeling that something was done about the problem since a lot of former finalists entered again but only one made the top 5.  UPDATE: Several sharp-eyed readers have messaged me to let me know that Fasionista Daddy was actually created by several guys that are affiliated with a team from Mosaic Church in LA who have written and produced 3 or 4(!) previous Crash the Super Bowl finalists including “Sling Baby” which won a million dollars last year. So….these dudes won a million bucks last year and even that didn’t get them to retire.

-THE DIRECTOR OF “ROAD CHIP” HAS MADE THE FINALS 3 YEARS IN A ROW:  The one former finalist who did manage to make the top 5 again this year is Tyler Dixon.  Dixon has now managed to make the finals in 2013, 2012 and 2011.  (That might sound shocking but last year a director named Kevin Willson made the finals for a 3rd time.)  Dixon’s entries are always pretty good but it’s impossible to deny that being a former finalist has given him a tremendous advantage over the rest of the filmmakers in this competition.  Another former finalist (that Dixon met at the Super Bowl in 2011) helped him make “Road Chip” and he was able to use his track record and the cash that he’s won to produce a professional-quality commercial.  According to the announcement video, Dixon looked at 100 different dogs and auditioned more than 40 toddlers before casting the adorable duo featured in Road Chip.  Most CTSB hopefuls have to use their own goofy dog and cast their buddy’s kid. Even the most professional entrants would be lucky to find a few real child actors interested in auditioning.  But if you’ve already won this contest twice and if your previous Doritos commercials have already aired on TV the whole process of making an entry becomes much, much easier.  Who wouldn’t want to work with someone who has proved that they can get really, really close to winning a million dollars in this contest?  Don’t get me wrong, I think Mr. Dixon is a talented guy and Road Chip is a pretty good commercial but just because you can spend a bunch of money and cast the best actors and get the best crew and make the finals every year doesn’t mean you should.  If you’ve already created 2 commercials that have aired on TV and if one of those ads actually aired during the SuperBowl then maybe it’s time to relinquish your amateur status, get a manager and become a professional commercial director. You don’t need to keep trying to win a million dollars, just go get a job with an agency and earn a million dollars.

-ONLY 2 OF THE 5 WINNING ADS FEATURED DOGS:  Commercials that feature dogs tend to do pretty well on the USA Today Ad Meter so for the last few years Doritos has gone dog-crazy.  But this year they only picked 2 dog-themed ads which is a nice change of pace.

-LITTLE GIRLS ARE THE NEW DOGS!:  I guess Fritolay must have gotten some focus group data that revealed that people love commercials that feature precocious little girls.  Doritos almost never picks ads that feature kids so it is kind of surprising that they’d pick two little girl-themed ads in one year.

-ALL 5 WINNING FILMMAKERS ARE DUDES:  Women might make up 51% if the population but they make up 0% of the winners of this year’s Crash the Super Bowl Contest.  There’s not really a lot FritoLay can do about this I guess but in the 6 years Doritos has been running this contest I think that only like 3 women have ever made the top 5 and that’s sort of a shame.

-NONE OF THE ADS STAR NON-WHITE ACTORS.  Again, I guess there’s nothing much Doritos could do about this but filmmakers….seriously, a little diversity will HELP your entry, not hurt it.  Hmm, I wonder if any of the 40 little girls that auditioned for Road Chip where black, Hispanic or Asian.  At least the director of Fashionista Daddy took a page out of Bud Light’s playbook and cast a multi-racial group of buddies.

-NONE OF THE FINALISTS ARE VERY “EXPLOSIVE.”  When Doritos launched this year’s Crash they implied that contestants might want to make their entries exciting, explosive or action packed since Michael Bay was going to help pick this year’s winners.  Well, I guess Michael Bay’s tastes have changed and he now prefers frilly tea parties and giggling toddlers over giant robots and graphic shoot outs.

-ALL 5 FINALISTS WERE UP FOR “NACHO AVERAGE AD AWARDS:  Ok, I did not see this coming.  All of the entries that made the finals had already been singled out by Doritos and nominated for Nacho Average Ad awards.  I really thought that Doritos would keep a few of the finalists in their pocket but I guess if you didn’t make the “Nacho Ad” shortlist you didn’t have a shot of making the final 5.

-I PREDICTED 2 OF THE 5 FINALISTS CORRECTLY!:  About 3,000 commercials were submitted to the Crash this year but by golly I was able to spot 2 finalists ahead of time; Goat 4 Sale and Road Chip.  I also listed 4 other possible contenders and that list included Fetch.  So I did pretty good this year but I’m seriously bummed that It’s a Trap didn’t make it.  That one was awesome.

Voting is now open and you can vote once a day for your favorite ad from now until January 29th.  I’ll be voting for Goat 4 Sale even though I’m sure it’s a lock for the Super Bowl.  Head here to watch the finalists and cast your vote.  But be warned, Doritos’ facebook app freaking sucks and every time you vote an ad for Doritos will basically pop up in your timeline.  After a month your friends are really going to be annoyed with all the “So-and-so cast a vote in the Crash the Super Bowl contest!” messages in their news feed.  I’m actually working on an article that explains how Doritos’ Facebook app almost ruined this year’s competition so check back here next week for that story.

One final note; VCN always gets a lot of new readers this time of year. If you’re new to the blog, thanks for visiting!  Be sure to bookmark us and/or follow us on Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing: https://twitter.com/beardy_vcn