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Did CBS just kill the 2016 Crash the Super Bowl contest?

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Above: A small business owner buys a 30-second super bowl ad for his car wash

It’s only been about 6 weeks since Doritos announced the grand prize winner of the 2015 Crash the Super Bowl contest but filmmakers are already contacting me and asking for information about the 2016 competition.  I always tell people that it’s a bad idea to shoot an entry in the spring because there’s always a chance that FritoLay could change the rules or decide to retire the promotion.

And at this point, I would say that the odds that Doritos will run the Crash again this year are only about 50-50.  The quality of the entries has gone down and the concept doesn’t really feel fresh any more.  And neither one of this year’s Doritos commercials were especially popular.  Middle Seat got some buzz because it won the Million Dollar Grand Prize but the runner-up ad, When Pigs Fly was immediately forgotten by the public.  On top of that, FritoLay has started to produce their own Doritos commercials again.  I think that’s a sign that we may be moving into a post-CTSB era because for years Doritos would only air ads that won their annual commercial contest.

So I think the Crash’s days are numbered.  I figured FritoLay would probably run it one more time since 2016 marks the 10 year anniversary of the first installment of the contest.  But the President and CEO of CBS, Les Moonves, may have recently killed the contest for good.  CBS will be airing the big game next year and according to The Daily Mail, the network plans to raise the price of a 30-second Super Bowl ad from $4.5 Million to $5 to 6 Million.

Six Million dollars would be a 30% increase and ad exes are already complaining that the price tag is way too high.  If CBS sticks with these numbers, major brands will probably have to skip the Super Bowl or at least cut back on the number of ads they buy.  That means the folks over at FritoLay will have to decide if the Crash the Super Bowl contest is still worth the money.  When they first launched the contest, a 30-second super bowl ad only cost $2.5 Million dollars.  But this year, ad slots were selling for $4.5 Million a piece.  I’m going to guess that big companies like FritoLay get a healthy discount for buying multiple ad slots but still, it does seem kinda crazy to spend ten to twelve million bucks to air two mediocre commercials that each cost less than $1,000 to produce.

So do I really think the Crash the Super Bowl contest is going to be cancelled this year?  Eh…probably not.  But I have a feeling the sponsor will have to scale things back for 2016.  Instead of running the Grand Prize winner and the runner-up, they’ll probably only show the commercial that wins the online vote.

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How did Doritos do on the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter?

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This is more scientific than this year’s USA Today Ad Meter

The USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter used to be a big part of the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  Actually, it was a big part of the Super Bowl, period.  But have you noticed that no one really talks about the Ad Meter any more?  That’s because a few years ago, USA Today changed the way they run the Ad Meter and now it’s pretty much a pointless waste of time.  The paper used to set up focus groups in different cities and they had participants watch the Super Bowl ads in real time.  If a viewer liked what they saw, they turned a dial up.  If they didn’t like what they saw, they turned a dial down.  It’s sounds simple but no one else was generating scientific-ish data about the popularity of Super Bowl commercials so the Ad Meter was always big news the day after the game.  But now USA Today scrapped the testing and turned the whole thing into a lame online poll.  Anyone over the age of 18 can register and vote and there’s not really any kind of regulations or oversight.  So if Budweiser wants to do well in the Ad Meter they can just send out a company-wide e-mail and ask their thousands of employees to rate their commercials five stars or whatever.

For years Doritos used to promised big cash prizes to any CTSB finalist that could score the #1, #2 or #3 spot on the Ad Meter.  But now that the Ad Meter is just another dumb online voting thing, FritoLay has decided to just give a million bucks to the CTSB finalist that wins THEIR dumb online voting thing.  But just for old time’s sake I thought I’d check and see how this year’s Crash the Super Bowl finalists did on the Ad Meter.  It turns out they did good but not great.  Middle Seat was the 5th highest rated ad of the night and When Pigs Fly was the 11th highest rated ad.  So what does that mean exactly?  It means nothing because like I said, the Ad Meter isn’t “scientific” any more.  It’s just another pointless online poll so who cares?  If you’re answer to that question is “me, I care!” then head here to see the full results of the 2015 Super Bowl Ad Meter.:  http://admeter.usatoday.com/results/2015

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Should Doritos ban professional directors from entering the Crash the Super Bowl contest?

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Just a few hours after the big game ended, FritoLay revealed that “Middle Seat” was the grand prize winner of the 2015 installment of the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  The news wasn’t supposed to be released until Monday but FritoLay had to make a quick announcement after actress (and Crash the Super Bowl Judge) Elizabeth Banks tweeted out the above photo late Sunday night.
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As the winner of the Crash the Super Bowl contest, the director of the “Middle Seat”, Scott Zabielski, will receive $1,000,000 and and a “Dream Job” at Universal Studios.  Right now it’s unclear what Zabielski’s job at Universal will be (it might be related to Development) or even if he’ll accept the offer.  Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned the gig down.  Mr. Zabielski doesn’t really need to “break into” the film industry because he’s already got a pretty impressive career going.  Currently he’s the producer and director of the highest rated show on Comedy Central, Tosh.0.  His track record has already gotten him a lot of attention in Hollywood and in 2012 he was hired to direct the new Police Academy reboot.  That version of the reboot eventually fell apart but Tosh.0 is a money-making Juggernaut so eventually someone is going to hire Zabielski to direct a big-budget commercial or a major motion picture.

This year marks the first time that a legitimate, successful, professional director has won this competition.  Nine years ago Doritos created the Crash the Super Bowl contest because they wanted to launch the careers of aspiring filmmakers.  The whole premise behind the promotion was that “Average Joes” would be able to “crash” the biggest advertising event of the year.  So personally, I think it’s unethical for a professional filmmaker to enter a contest that’s meant for amateurs and semi-pros.  Don’t get me wrong, I think “Middle Seat” was a very funny ad and it was easily the best entry in the Doritos’ Top 10.  But just because a professional director CAN call in tens of thousands of dollars worth of favors and shoot a high-quality commercial that would probably beat out all the real zero-budget, “fan-made” entries doesn’t mean he SHOULD.

But hey, who can resist a million dollars right?  At least 90% of Crash the Super Bowl ads are shot by amateurs and consequently more than 90% of the entries aren’t good enough to air on TV.  So FritoLay’s million dollar grand prize must look like easy pickins to a professional director.  But you can’t just throw your professional ethics out the window because there’s a bunch of cash at stake.  It is simply inappropriate for a successful director to punch below his weight so he can win a cash prize that was intended to be a “follow your dreams” windfall for some aspiring filmmaker in Indiana or Vancouver or Osaka.

I’ve watched and read a lot of the interviews Zabielski has given and I think he knew that he was doing something kind of skeezy here.  For the last few weeks he’s been bending over backwards in an effort to paint himself as just another “average joe.”  Here’s a promo video he shot for FritoLay.  Skip ahead to the 33 second mark to hear his thoughts about how great it is that Doritos gives “average people” the chance to have their work seen by millions of people.
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Just for the record, Tosh.0 gets about two million viewers per episode (not counting re-runs).  So Scott Zabielski is definitely no Average Joe and his work is already being seen by millions of people every week.

Even the alleged budget for “Middle Seat” seems like a fabrication.  Zabielski claims that he only spent $2,000 to produce his entry.  Despite what I just said about zero-budget filmmakers, a lot of well-funded semi-pros have managed to make the CTSB finals over the years.  (Some filmmakers gamble everything they have for a shot at the Top 10)  So when you compare it to past CTSB budgets, Middle Seat’s $2,000 price tag seems reasonable.  But any producer will tell you that there’s no way in the world Middle Seat cost only $2,000 to create.  As one reader pointed out, the entry was shot on a set at the “Air Hollywood” Studios.  Here’s what one of Air Hollywood’s plane sets looks like:

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Major TV shows like Lost and movies like Bridesmaids are shot on those sets. Here’s a sample price guide from the Air Hollywood website:

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So a pre-lit, Narrow-Body Jet interior plus a location fee and an air conditioning fee would come to $11,000.  So why would a director lie about how much he spent on his Crash the Super Bowl entry?  Well, because no one is going to root for the guy who already has ten or twenty grand to blow on a video contest entry.

The rules of the Crash the Super Bowl contest don’t explicitly say that professional filmmakers are prohibited from entering.  But they should.  Doritos could keep out the pros simply by adding a rule that bars members of the Directors Guild of America from participating.  Getting into the DGA is pretty tough so I think it’s a pretty fair way to measure who is a pro and who isn’t.

But unfortunately, Doritos will never institute a rule change like this.  That’s because they LOVE IT when professional filmmakers borrow a $20,000 camera rig and rent a fake airplane set to shoot a “low budget” CTSB entry.  The contest judges do seem to prefer great, authentic, low-budget ads.  But every year a few pros splurge and and shoot entries like Middle Seat.  And these high-quality professional entries are like an insurance policy for FritoLay.  They ensure that there will always be a few TV-quality ads in the mix.  So if the Average Joes blow it one year and submit a bunch of junk, the judges can run one of these slick ads and then just do a little spin to downplay the director’s true background.

I know that Doritos will never explicitly ban professionals from entering the Crash the Super Bowl contest, so I would like to propose an alternate solution to this problem.  FritoLay has been giving away these studio “Dream Jobs” for a few years now.  The rules should state that the “Dream Job” isn’t optional.  If a filmmaker wins the grand prize, he or she must accept the ENTIRE prize package.  The winner can’t just take the million bucks and then turn down the studio job.  You can either accept the prize package or decline it.  If the winner declines the prize, it would automatically be offered to the 2nd place winner.

Last year the Grand Prize in the Crash the Super Bowl contest was a million dollars plus the a chance to work on the set of the new Avengers movie.  Do you think the director of one of the most popular TV shows on cable would quit his job so that he could spend four months making photocopies for Joss Whedon?  That actually sounds like a pretty kick-ass gig to me and I bet most of the people reading this would agree.  But for those filmmakers out there that think a job like that isn’t worth their time, maybe they shouldn’t be entering this particular contest.  As I said, it’s not clear yet if Mr. Zabielski will accept the 2nd pat of his prize package.  But I hope he does.  It would be a real shame if an opportunity like this just went to waste.

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“Middle Seat” and “When Pigs Fly” win the 2015 Crash the Super Bowl contest!

With four minutes left to go, Super Bowl XLIX is still a nail-biter.  But the 2014-2015 installment of the Crash the Super Bowl contest is finally over.  The two winning fan-made commercials were:

Middle Seat by Scott Zabielski:

and When Pigs Fly by Nelson Talbot:

Here’s what it looked like inside FritoLay’s private box at the Super Bowl when “Middle Seat” aired:

Click image to view

Click image to view

Man, there were a lot of good sports in that box.  And that includes Elizabeth Banks.  She didn’t try and squirm away when the winning director gave her a weirdly long hug.

I wasn’t surprised when Middle Seat aired but I really didn’t think When Pigs Fly would win.  Both commercials looked damn good and for some reason, When Pigs Fly just seemed more amusing on TV.  We’ll find out tomorrow morning which commercial was picked by the judges and which one won the online vote.  The ad picked by the judges will get $50,000 and the one picked by the fans will win a million bucks.  Middle Seat was the best and most professional finalist this year so I have a feeling the judges picked that one.  If I’m right, that means that When Pigs Fly will probably take home the grand prize.

UPDATE:  Ha.  Well I was wrong.  “Middle Seat” won the million dollars!

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-super-bowl-commercial-middle-seat-20150202-story.html

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Which Doritos ads will Crash the Super Bowl on Sunday?

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Two of these ads will air during The Super Bowl on Sunday.  But which two!??!

Super Bowl XLIX is still three days away but a whole buttload of Super Bowl commercials appeared online this week.  Did you see that Godaddy ad about the lady who sells the puppy?  Crap like that is one reason why I transferred my web hosting away from Godaddy.  On the flip side, that Snickers ad with Danny Trejo is going to go down as one of the best Super Bowl commercials of all time.  But that’s not surprising because Danny Trejo can do no wrong.

So what about Doritos?  Frito-Lay never reveals which Crash the Super Bowl ads are going to air so for now we’ll just have to make some educated guesses.  One of the winning commercials was picked via an online vote.  So let’s take a look at the view counts for all 10 finalists and see which ones were popular:

Lemonade Stand: 488,387 Views
Baby’s First Word: 475,221 Views
Middle Seat:  470,870 Views
What Could Go Wrong?:  429,607 Views
Trouble in the Back Seat:  423,582 Views
Doritos Angler: 413,067 Views
When Pigs Fly:  402,214 Views
Selfish Sneezers:  388,147 Views
Doritos Manchild:  379,307 Views
MissSpelling Bee: 373,552 Views

The numbers are pretty close here and there’s no clear landslide winner.  But I think Lemonade Stand will wind up winning the public vote.  I remember one year about 750,000 votes were cast in the CTSB contest so “get out the vote” campaigns don’t really have much affect.  Even if a contestant went on the local news and managed to get 1,000 extra people to vote for him, most of the votes in this contest will come from people who watch a few entries and then pick their favorite.  And since Lemonade Stand is objectively the best ad in the bunch, I think it’s going to win the million dollar grand prize.
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Second place is a little harder to predict.  The second ad will be picked by the judges at Frito-Lay and I wouldn’t be surprised if they selected one of the weirder finalists.  Middle Seat is a great ad too but it contains a quick joke about Irritable Bowl Syndrome.  It’s a cheap shot that would upset a lot of people so I think that one joke will keep Middle Seat off the air.  And I can say with almost 100% confidence that there’s no way in hell that Trouble in the Back Seat will air.  That’s because AdWeek noticed something that I pointed out weeks ago; Trouble in the Back Seat was a little too similar to this Award-Winning European commercial:
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Is Trouble in the Back Seat a rip off?  I can’t say for sure.  But FritoLay isn’t going to spend 4.5 Million dollars to air a commercial that MIGHT be based on a stolen idea.

The remaining ads are either too gross for the Super Bowl (Selfish Sneezers, MissSpelling Bee) or just not very original.  So I’m going to go out a limb here and predict that the judges will give second place to What Could Go Wrong?
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I like this one because it’s cute and has a nice, low budget feel. Plus it has a weird and shocking ending.  The folks at Frito-Lay want two things here; they want people to re-watch the CTSB ads online and they want viewers to tweet and post about the commercials right after they air.  And What Could Go Wrong? Will accomplish both of those goals.  Plus the director of the ad has a great backstory….
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Good Luck to all the finalists.  I’ll post the results of the Crash during the game so check back here if you miss any of the winners.

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VCN Interview with 2015 Crash the Super Bowl finalist and the creator of “Lemonade Stand,” Dave Horowitz

Dave and his lemonade stand

The “Lemonade Stand” team: Co-Writer Richard Jindapornsuk, Production Designer Bernadette Vitto, Associate Producer Clint Riffo and Writer/Producer Dave Horowitz

This year’s crop of Crash the Super Bowl finalists was really, really weird.  There were a few ok entries, a few terrible entries, a few ultra-low budget entries, a few gross entries, a few boring entries and one entry that was almost certainly a rip-off of an old ad from Europe.  So there were only two commercials in the Top Ten that I thought deserved to air during the Super Bowl; Middle Seat and Lemonade Stand.  It turns out Middle Seat was created by a professional director that already has a successful career so for the last few weeks I’ve been voting for Lemonade Stand…
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As it happens, the creator of this ad, Dave Horowitz is a fan of VCN and he actually sent me “Lemonade Stand” to review a few months ago.  It’s quite possible that I literally groaned out load when I saw the title; lemonade stands are one of the lamest and most over-done crowdsourced video tropes.  (I once warned filmmakers about this problem in a short lived feature I use to write entitled “Know Your Tropes.”)  But to my surprise, THIS lemonade stand-themed video contest entry was actually fresh, original and funny!  So let’s talk to Dave and find out how he created this commercial:

VCN:  Dave, why don’t you tell us about yourself.  Where are you from?  What do you do for a living?

DH:  I grew up in El Paso, Texas and went to school at the University of Rochester and Tokyo International University. I majored in Japanese and was set on doing something in the business world after college, but I couldn’t suppress my passion for film making so I began my tumultuous journey into the film world. The last 17 years haven’t exactly gone as planned so I have supported myself by slinging drinks and managing a bar at Sushi Roku here in Santa Monica, where i currently reside.

VCN:  Have you ever entered the crash the super bowl contest before?

I entered about 5 years ago and it was a pretty bad one. The irony about the first ad that I submitted was that it also involved a trope that you warned against doing as this one involved a guy who dressed up like a corn chip. If you are surrounded with a good core group of film makers, it will naturally be reflected in your film, so over the years you learn which people you want to work with and which ones you shouldn’t work with. And it’s on these type of mediocre projects that you learn the most from because learning what you shouldn’t do is sometimes more valuable that what you should do. That’s part of the process of cultivating a good network of people. The director of Lemonade Stand had entered 4 times and one of them I believe spoofed The Exorcist, and the guy who came up with the idea was a CTSB virgin. More on him later though.

VCN:  What is your favorite Crash the Super Bowl commercial of all time?

DH:  I of course loved Time Machine last year. I think there are a lot of similarities between our commercials with an adorable kid bamboozling an unsuspecting adult, but I’m a sucker for animals (especially dogs) and my favorite of all time was probably Man’s Best Friend. I heard the Great Dane in that video recently passed away, so my condolences go out to the family of that ad.

VCN:  Where did you get the idea for lemonade stand?

It was funny because for the last 5 years the writer Richard Jindapornsuk (a waiter at Sushi Roku) has been bugging me to submit an ad and during slower hours at the bar, he would pitch ideas to me. Quite frankly most of them ranged from mediocre to absolutely horrific, but then one day during last year’s CTSB contest, he pitched the general idea for Lemonade Stand and my eyes immediately lit up. I knew with a little finessing, we had a potentially great commercial on our hands. We only had 3 weeks left during last year’s contest to submit and because I knew that this idea warranted extensive preparation, we should take the chance and wait a year to properly execute the idea. Fortunately for us, Doritos announced another CTSB contest in September and we immediately went to work. Choosing the right location and finding our little girl were the 2 top priorities and challenges that we faced, and I knew that we wouldn’t find these over night. Ironically enough, after an exhaustive search, the little girl Addison Aguilera was literally right under our nose. A close friend of mine overheard a conversation I was having about the frustrations of finding a talented 7-year old actress in Los Angeles, and he interjected and said, “My niece is an actress…check her out.” So we saw that she had some good experience with some national spots and sat down with her, and within 30 seconds, we knew our search was over and we found our little auctioneer.

VCN:  Who helped you create the ad?

DH:  Once Richard and I locked in a script, I approached one of my best friends, Nick Sivakumaran to direct. He’s a directing teacher at the NYFA here in Los Angeles and I knew he would be perfect for this. Working with children is never easy even with someone as talented as Addison, and Nick has 2 kids of his own, so he has that invaluable inexperience, patience, and language that children really respond to. Additionally, Nick and I, have a long working history together as we won a video contest for Lifestyles Condoms 20 years ago, which aired for a brief period of time on MTV and won us a few bucks. The irony isn’t lost on us that 20 years later, we team up again for a video contest that has a lot more at stake.

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VCN:  What kind of camera did you use?

DH:  We used a black magic and shot it on 4k. Nick brought on his D.P., Gonzalo Digenio, who I had the good fortune of working with on a couple of Wetzel Pretzel’s training videos. I knew he was good, but I was truly astounded how beautiful the colors in the Lemonade Stand turned out. It’s such a luxury to shoot on a 4k camera because you have the flexibility to do so much like punch in, zoom in, or even smooth out a shot without compromising the resolution. We were very fortunate to have so many talented members of the crew and cast.

VCN:  How did production go?

DH:  When your budget is as small as ours, production never goes as smoothly as you would like. We spent only $1,200, but obviously when you have as many years as I do cultivating relationships, you are able to call in favors, so everyone pretty much worked for free, and most of the equipment we used was free too. The only things we really paid for were food, permits, and the actual Lemonade Stand. Richard’s girlfriend volunteered to design the Stand because we really wanted a female perspective and she did a hell of a job. We told her we wanted vivid bright colors and she ran with it. The fact that the permit only allowed us to shoot the ad in one day added to our stress levels so we knew we had very little margin for error. Additionally we had no idea which bidders we were going to use in the film so we decided to have about 30 show up. As we fell behind in the day, more bidders waited to shoot their scenes so we had a lot of people milling about on other people’s front lawns. Fortunately, we had a great location with a very tolerant neighborhood, so no one was upset at the end of the day. It was really a race against time with the sun setting around 6, but luckily we were able to get all of our shots. When I would edit the ad a few days later, most of the 30 bidders ended up on the cutting room floor, but it really improved the ad cause we had so many to choose from. Due to the frenetic nature of the shoot, we didn’t have enough cups in the money shot when Sticky Hands Slater is eating his Doritos, so it didn’t have the humorous impact that we originally envisioned. So we CG’d in more cups, and if you were to freeze that shot and you counted all the cups, you would count 84…that’s how accurate we were.

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VCN:  How and when did you find out you made the finals?

DH:  I found out we made the finals in mid-December. I was at the gym and I’m about 30 minutes into my workout on the stair master when I get a call from a woman in San Fran. She said she was Elizabeth Banks and she was calling on behalf of Doritos to congratulate me in making the finals. You can imagine that I pretty much almost fell off the Stair Master. I think I was so out of breath that Elizabeth had to ask a couple of times if I was still there or not.

VCN:  What have you been doing to get out the vote?

DH:  Wow, what a process. I don’t think anyone can imagine how much work goes into campaign. It truly is a full time job. I considered myself somewhat socially media savvy, but once this campaign started I realized how little I knew and how fast my learning curve would have to be. We have mostly used Facebook and Twitter to help drive people to vote. To help supplement the commercial, we shot about 70 promo videos that provided each character with a background and a story. Like for example, the unwitting bidder at 84 is one of those guys who still lives in the past. “Sticky Hands Slater” claims he caught 130 touchdown catches in high school and never once dropped a pass. Of course, he’s 40 years old and still living with his mom. We really tried to have fun with all the wonderful characters in the ad. We shot another video with Addison practicing her auctioneering skills on her dolls. We also brought Addison and the Lemonade Stand down to Hollywood and Highland and had her pass out flyers, Doritos, and lemonade, and a news crew filmed it and we got some great press out of it.

VCN:  Are you excited about the super bowl? Who are you taking with you?

DH:  I am so excited about the Super Bowl. Being a Jet fan, I figured this was the only way someone of my ilk would be able to go. I think it goes without saying who I will be rooting for, but I will be watching the commercials with a tad bit more interest than the actual game. Nick, the director will be going as Richard the writer is noble enough to volunteer and stay home.

VCN:  Have any final thoughts for us?

DH:  I really want to thank Doritos for putting together an amazing contest. The fact that they give opportunities to people like me who have been hitting the pavement for 20 years, is something that I am so appreciative of. This has been an unforgettable experience and sometimes I find it hard to believe it is all happening. I also want to thank all of my loyal friends, family members, acquaintances, and the amazing amount of people who have supported us during this campaign. I have been humbled by all of the unwavering support and am very fortunate to have such a great group of people behind the project. To the amazing crew and cast who believed in the project since the very beginning, I also thank you for your immeasurable contributions. Thanks Dan for the interview as I truly appreciate your time and consideration.

VCN:  Thanks Dave for taking the time to talk to us!

If anyone would like more info about this project, head to votelemonadestand.com.  And there are still a few days of voting left so if you’d like to vote for Dave’s ad, just click this link and hit the vote button:  https://crashthesuperbowl.doritos.com/finalists#/6514

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