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…

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.


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.


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  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:

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:


Interview with Pepsi Max Crash the Super Bowl finalist, Kyle Stafford

Kyle battles a Doritos-loving kid in his 2012 Crash the Super Bowl entry, Switcheroo

When it was announced the Pepsi Max wasn’t going to be a part of this year’s Crash the Superbowl contest I was both disappointed and relived; disappointed because that meant there would be only 5 finalist slots instead of 10 and relived because the folks at Pepsi simply did not seem to get this contest.  The people at Doritos who created and run “The Crash” have spent years building up the reputation of this mega-contest and in one season, the Pepsi Max team came in and did serious damage to the CTSB “brand.”

Pepsi Max hurt the contest in a few ways but it all comes down to which videos they picked for the Top 5.  When the 2010/2011 contest was announced, the Pepsi team kept pushing the idea that Pepsi Max was a “manly” diet drink.  And so, hundreds of filmmakers shot ads that were aimed at selling Pepsi Max to men.  But somewhere along the way, Pepsi must have changed their marketing strategy for Pepsi Max.  Because when they announced their finalists, 4 of the top 5 videos were clearly aimed at selling Pepsi Max to women.  That upset quite a few people.  But that was nothing compared to the backlash when fans actually watched Pepsi Max’s finalist choices.  Two of them were embarrassingly bad and a third ad was very-expensive looking but it wasn’t especially funny. It aired during the big game and scored 24th on the USA Today Ad Meter…which I believe makes it the worst performing CTSB ad ever.

So Pepsi’s Top 5 were just not on par with the kind of ads that Doritos always picked. There were only two 2011 Pepsi Max Crash the Super Bowl finalists that I personally liked.  One was “Love Hurts” and the other was this ad entitled, First Date:

One thing the Pepsi Judges did that kind of impressed me was that they weren’t afraid to pick ads that didn’t have high-end production values. (Of course, I think this strategy backfired in one or two cases) First Date doesn’t look super slick and it wasn’t shot with a $18,000 Red Camera.  The thing it has going for it is great writing.  It’s clever and interesting and it’s aimed at both women AND men.  And best of all, it’s TRUE.  People connect with this idea because they have probably been in situations like the one depicted in the video. First Date wound up airing during the Super Bowl and despite the fact that this ad only cost about $25 to make, it was ranked the #7 best ad of the night on the USA Today ad meter poll.  It just goes to show you that good writing conquers all.

The man behind First Date is named Kyle Stafford and he plays “the guy” in the commercial.  It turns out that Kyle is a fan of VCN and he graciously agreed to answer some questions about his Crash the Super Bowl experiences.  And now, on with the interview:
VCN:  So Kyle, tell us about yourself.  Where are you from?  What do you do for a living?
KYLE:  I am from Northern California. A place called Rohnert Park, north of San Francisco. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara and came straight to LA to become a world famous writer/producer. Ten years later and I am now an Editor over at Warner Brothers. It’s actually not a bad gig, but I still write/produce on nights and weekends.. I am married and we have 2 sons. And they are actually all in this years CTSB commercial.
VCN:  Do you enter a lot of video contests?
KYLE:  This year will be out 4th year entering the Crash contest. Last year we actually made 3 commercials, 2 for Pepsi Max and 1 for Doritos. But besides this contest, we don’t really enter other contests.
VCN:  Do you remember why you entered the contest last year?
KYLE:  We actually were not going to enter last year, because we had entered the 2 previous years and thought we had pretty good entries and never got in, so we were all stubborn, like “screw it” we don’t need them.  Then we came to our senses and realized we did need them and we ended up making 3 spots. We actually thought a different entry was going to be the finalist. A spot called Pepsi Wedding, which you had in your Top 30 list. So when they called and said it was for First Date we were all kind of shocked.
VCN:  Tell us about how you created First Date.
KYLE:  A couple of friends and I have a comedy/skit website called, so we had been making content on and off together for about 2 years when we decided to enter the contest again. We hadn’t really put any thought into the commercials since we were not going to enter anything, but then when we decided to enter, we had almost no time, so we had to act quick. I got the idea in LA traffic, during an especially awful stretch on the 405. I just remember it making me laugh, so I called Nick Simotas and Robby Wells right away and told them the idea and they both laughed. Then I called my wife and she said there was no way we could say that during the Super Bowl. That’s when I knew we were going to make it. The ad cost about 25 dollars to make. We got the restaurant for free, got friends to be extras and shot the whole thing in about an hour. It isn’t the most complex commercial in the world, with no production audio and really only 3 camera angles. The 25 dollars was just to buy frozen dinners to put food on the plates as well as a pack of gum so the whole cast and crew could partake in a good chew. The actress opposite me is Julia Bellows, she is a super funny friend of ours that we have used in a bunch of our stuff.
VCN:  How and when did you find out that you made the 2011 finals?
KYLE: The people at Pepsi called us about 3 or 4 days before they posted the results…. The only reason they tell you in advance is to make sure you have all the correct actor/location releases and paperwork before they go through the process of making you a finalist. I was actually at work when they called, and we were not allowed to tell anyone until they posted, so I had to sit at work the rest of the day with this huge dopey grin on my face and I couldn’t tell anyone why.
VCN:  Did Pepsi Max ask you to keep the news to yourself?  How did your friends and family react when they heard the news?
KYLE:  Yeah, we were asked to keep the news under wraps until they posted the finalists. I think my friends and family thought I was kidding, most probably did until the second they saw it actually air during the game. Good thing my face was on it or nobody would have ever believed me.
VCN:  How was your trip to the Super Bowl?
KYLE:  Trip to the Super Bowl was amazing, we got to sit in a luxury box at the 40 yard line with catering and free booze. Dallas was freezing though, Pepsi had actually planned a bunch of cool events and parties to go to, but we had to cancel a good amount because it was really hard to get around, but we got to go to the Pepsi Jam concert thing with Kid Rock and Duran Duran. So the whole trip was pretty surreal, being whisked away to events and having VIP passes. Usually I am working catering at those things, so it was cool to sit back and enjoy it all.
VCN:  Your commercial wound up playing very late in the game.  How did it feel when it finally ran?
KYLE:  Yeah, they don’t tell you if you’re going to air until you see it on the TV, so every commercial break is pretty intense. They aired 5 of the 6 ads in the first quarter, so only one ad was going to air the rest of the game, so then we had to sit through every commercial break until about the middle of the 4th quarter. They actually ended up airing our ad on the Dallas Stadium jumbo-tron, which is the biggest jumbo-tron in the world I think, so my already giant head was spread out over a 60 yard TV. We actually thought at that point our ad was not going to air on TV, thinking the Jumbo-tron was a consolation prize or something. But then the time came and it aired and Nick and I freaked out and hugged, it was a pretty cool moment. I think Nick had a roll of quarters in his pocket.
VCN:  First Date did amazingly well on the ad meter.  In came in 7th.  Did you expect to rank so high?  Even though you didn’t “land in the money” were you happy with how your commercial performed?
KYLE:  The ad did a lot better then we thought it would. We didn’t expect it to rank so high, but I think in the sea of slick over-produced ads, I think we were kind of novel in that our ad was so insanely simple and true. The biggest thing we kept hearing was how true our ad was and I think people were laughing at the truth of the guy/girl thing. It’s funny, landing in the money was never even a thought for us, we just wanted it to air, then when we saw we came so close, you start thinking “Damn! We almost got like 400 grand.” and you start to get bummed, but then we shook ourselves and remembered we were at the Superbowl and had an ad that we created that just aired in front of 110 million people and we perked up. And Nick said he had a roll of dimes now.
VCN:  Were you surprised that Pepsi Max wasn’t part of the Crash the Super Bowl contest this year?
KYLE:  Yeah I was surprised, if you look back at last year, Pepsi had 2 of the top 7 ads on the Ad Meter. If you were a real ad agency and you could point to those kind of results they would be getting bonuses, but I am sure the people at Pepsi Max know a little more than I do about soda marketing, so I am sure they have their reasons.  But it sucks having the finalists basically cut into half. Makes it that much harder to win.
VCN:  How did making the CTSB finals change your life?
KYLE:  Being a finalist in CTSB was a super cool experience, but I wouldn’t say it has changed my life.  It is a really nice story to tell and legitimizes us a little with Hollywood producer types, but nobody is knocking down our door for all our content. I got recognized a little right afterward, a few people asked me if I was that guy on TV or I would be at the store and you would see someone staring at me like they knew me from somewhere but couldn’t quite figure out from where. I had a kid want a picture with me at the game. I told him “When you go back through these pictures you are gonna be like ‘Who the hell is this guy in my photo album?”
VCN: Did you enter the contest again this year? 
Yeah, we entered in again this year. I included my whole family in this year’s ad. You can tell we broke the bank again on this ad. This one actually didn’t cost anything:
Thanks for your site and good luck to all the entrants. Keep making stuff!!!!
VCN:  And thank you for your time.  Good Luck this year!

Interview with Max Traylor of

This week I’m happy to welcome a new sponsor to VCN, the video contest site  Since Highly Humorous is brand new and since they are kind of different than the other video contest sites you might be familiar with, I thought it would be nice to talk to one of the site’s founders, Max Traylor and get the scoop on what’s going on over at HH.

VCN:  So what inspired the creation of Highly Humorous?

MAX:  Well, the five of us (Max Traylor, Adam Hauff, Greg D’Aleo, Jordan Berger, and Tom Blakeley) were about to graduate from business school last year and we knew we wanted to start a business where we could have fun. We saw the success of large video contests like Crash the Superbowl and we knew that video contest websites were getting pretty popular. We also loved watching funny videos on comedy sites like College Humor and so we started to develop this idea of a video contest comedy website hybrid. It turned out to be a pretty good idea so we ran with it.

VCN:  What do you think sets HH apart from other video contest sites?

MAX:  HighlyHumorous was designed specifically for comedy teams and organized groups of creative filmmakers. Just like Facebook brand pages, a highlyhumorous video channel is an opportunity to showcase what a comedy team can do as a brand. There are thousands of comedy teams out there, each with their own style and tight knit following. HighlyHumorous is a platform where these creative teams and their followings can compete against one another. One of the really unique things about HighlyHumorous is that there is much larger scale competition among the teams than simply one video contest.  We have a leader board, which takes into account the total points that each team has earned from all the competitions that they have participated in.  This allows the teams to compete on a more macro level than any other video contest website.

Sponsoring a contest for a brand means that they are tapping into the energy and organization of these teams AND the communities they are a part of, instead of reaching out to individual filmmakers with a smaller social footprint. Keeping a steady flow of contests also benefits the comedy teams. They have a chance to win cash for their videos, and they build a diverse portfolio for brand advertisements in the process. In a business sense, HH plays cupid for business to business relationships between brands who are in need of creative assets, and brands who specialize in creating engaging material for their fans.

We also try to make the platform more entertaining for viewers by allowing comedy groups to populate their video channels with material not related to our contests. Comedy teams can show off their funniest videos, announce their own live shows, plug their own social networks and websites, and collaborate with others who have the same love for comedy.  Teams also have a wall on their profile where users and other teams can interact with the team and leave comments.  We really wanted to make HighlyHumorous more social and engaging than the other video contest websites that we had seen.

VCN:  How can someone win prizes on HH?

MAX:  There are two ways you can win a prize in a contest. First, you can win the popular vote. When you submit a video to a contest any registered HH user can award that video between one and five stars. The amount of stars or (points) the videos collect determine the popular vote winners. Secondly there is an additional cash prize awarded by a team of judges. Sometimes this panel of judges will include the HighlyHumorous staff, also known as the “High Council”, but it may also include representatives of a sponsoring brand.

VCN:  Some video contest filmmakers are wary of contests that require voting because of cheaters.  What steps have been taken to prevent cheating?

MAX:  Preventing cheating is next to impossible. Anyone can write a silly program that will shoot their video to the top of the voting charts. One of the measures we have taken to keep the game fair is to recognize when a video is collecting illegitimate votes. As soon as a video is submitted to a contest we watch it like a hawk. We know who shares the entry, when they share it, and what networks it goes to. We can then track how many people are interacting with that video and how many are coming back to vote on it. Additionally, we require voters to be registered users on We look very closely at the winning entries, who voted for them, and when. We know when someone is collecting illegitimate votes from users that do not exist, and we disqualify them.  Additionally, each registered user of HighlyHumorous can only cast one vote per video and no vote can negatively affect the video’s score.

VCN:  What kind of contests do you expect HH will run in the future?

MAX:  Many of our future contests will feature sponsoring brands that are eager to see what kind of ideas and commercials our creative community can put together. In addition to these sponsored contests we are planning smaller side contests which give our community a little more creative freedom, like parody contests. We will always have something going on to engage our content creators and to provide our viewers with a constant stream of unique videos.

Interview with Poptent’s super-salesman, “Bisbinetts”

Joe AKA Bisbinetts and the star of his Bounty submission

Poptent has really kicked it into overdrive in the last few months.  Last spring the site was running maybe 3 or 4 video assignments at a time but currently they have 8 assignments up and running.  And I’ve noticed that as soon as one assignment closes, another one soon pops up.  The number of videos purchased per assignment keeps going up too.  Last week Poptent announced that Sprite bought  4 videos for $5,000 each and one for $10,000.  Also, a lot of the “brands” that run these assignments have started buying more videos then they were obligated to.  For instance, just today Poptent announced that Pringles bought 5 videos for $7,500 each.  Originally they had only committed themselves to buy one.

So with all these assignments going on and with the increase in the number of purchases per assignment, there are a whole lot more chances for filmmakers to make money.  And recently I’ve noticed that a few of the more talented members of the site seem to really be cashing in by making multiple sales one after another.

The king of these new Poptent super-sellers goes by the screen name “Bisbinetts.”  This single member has sold a total of 8 videos through Poptent.  (4/1/11 UPDATE: Make that 9 sales!  Poptent just announced that Mr. Bisbinetts just sold an ad to Triaminic for $7,500.)  Now, I won’t tell you exactly how much he’s made but his earliest videos earned him $3,500 and his latest ones sold for $7,500.  So you do the math….and then curl up into a jealous little ball and have a good cry.  But then get over it because not everyone can be “Bisbinetts!”  In fact, even “Bisbinetts” isn’t really “Bisbinetts.”  So who is the lucky filmmaker behind the screen name?  Well….let’s find out:

VCN:  Poptent users pretty much only know each other as a screen name and a tiny photo. So who the heck are you? Where are you from? What’s your story?

JOE:  They say it’s not the size of the photo that matters, it’s how you frame it. My name is Joe. My story begins in the early 80s with my birth. This is where the details get pretty hazy. I’m almost positive I studied finance at Georgetown and worked in the insurance business for a couple years after that. I knew I wasn’t doing that shit for the rest of my life. So I quit. Then I took my savings and blew it on incredible journeys to Alaska and Europe. I had just enough left for an 8 week intensive directing program at the New York Film Academy (the one in NY). That was a blast! I learned some stuff, but mostly it just got the creative juices flowing again. I also met some great friends, including my current production partner and “PopStar” RJ75, who pretty much sells everything he makes. So, after the NYFA, I left the east coast for sunny LA as people tend to do when pursuing such a career as filmmaking. Since being out in LA, I’ve made a few shorts, a feature and a shit load of commercials. It’s been a great ride so far…

VCN:  How and when did you first discover Poptent and why did you sign up?

JOE:  A couple years ago I started poking around the web and found a few online video contests. I wasn’t into making commercials yet, but thought I would give it a try. I came across Poptent when they were XLNTads and they were running a Bud Light competition. I thought that was sweet and dove in.

VCN:  How long was it until you made your first sale?

JOE:  I never really struck gold before Poptent. I entered a solid handful of other contests before I won anything. I did manage to collect a wonderful assortment of consolation prizes – a model truck, a cutting board, a bag of pistachios, a shirt. Exciting stuff. I actually thought I was going to sell my first Poptent submission for Bud Light. It kicked ass. Bud Light got cold feet though. I finally made my first Poptent sale with Coors Light (eat it Bud Light), which was about the 5th competition I entered through Poptent.

Purchased by Coors Light. Price: $3,500

Also Purchased by Coors Light. Price: $3,500

VCN:  So which Poptent assignments have you won? And which sale are you proudest of?

JOE:  I have been lucky enough to nail a handful of these. I sold a couple ads to Coors Light along with eHealth, Nokia, Crystal Light, Harrahs, New York Life and Trident. I’m definitely proudest of my most recent win with Trident. It was my first foray into the rap video realm and I worked really hard putting all the pieces together. And it was a blast to shoot that!

Purchased by Trident. Price: $7,500

VCN:  Do you have a strategy when it comes to making poptent submissions? Or to put it another way, what’s your secret?

JOE:  A crowdsourcer never reveals his secrets. Ha, I wish I had a formula. I don’t really have a specific strategy. I make sure to read the creative brief a few times over to see exactly what the brand is looking for. Then I see if I can make something interesting and/or funny. Then I make it.

VCN:  In the three years you’ve been a member of Poptent you’ve submitted 44 videos to assignments. How much of your time is spent working on Poptent-related projects?

JOE:  Actually, Beardy, its 49. Some of my videos are private and hands-off.. In the beginning, Poptent wasn’t pumping out a lot of assignments. So I wasn’t really involved too much. It wasn’t until about a year ago that the company really started picking up. It was also around this time I was getting more and more into making commercials. So it worked out well. I needed spots for my reel (and money) and Poptent provided great opportunities for that. Nowadays, my involvement changes month to month. I do a lot of freelance creative work so when time allows I’ll pop onto Poptent and see what’s happening. Usually I’ll end up making a couple spots a month.

Purchased by New York Life. Price: $7,500.

VCN:  HOW do you create your submissions? By that I mean, what is your process?

JOE:  The HOW really varies from submission to submission. Sometimes I do it all myself and sometimes I get some help. I do have a great group of creative friends to bounce ideas off. As mentioned earlier, RJ is really the other half of our production team. We are a tireless two man crew either working on his spots or mine. Usually, I decide to participate in an assignment a week or so before it’s due. Instead of casting, I rely on my regular group of actor friends to step in (I’ll even use myself in a pinch). I know what I’m gonna get, I can keep costs down and it makes for a great time when we shoot!

VCN:  What kind of camera do you shoot with?

JOE:  I used to shoot with the HVX-200.  Great camera, great colors, but no cinematic depth of field.  I bought a Nikon D7000 (comparably to the Canon 7D) over x-mas which is what I used to shoot my last 3-4 spots (including Trident).  Great little DSLR.

VCN:  Have you ever submitted a video that you were sure was going to get purchased but it didn’t?

JOE:  All of them? No, I usually feel good about my submissions, but there are some I know don’t really have a shot. However, there have been a few that left me stunned when they weren’t purchased. I still consider “C’est La Dude” to be some of my finest work and Bud Light chose to ignore it. I also thought my Snickers and Monograms submissions were the best of the bunch. And of course my Old Spice ad which came 6 months or more before Isaiah Mustafa took the world by storm.

NOT purchased by Snickers. Beardy’s Note: Wow! Um…I think this ad seriously could have been Old Spice’s secret inspiration for the Mustafa “Hello Ladies..” ads!

VCN:  If you don’t mind me asking, what have you been doing with the money you’ve been making??

JOE:  Winning. I got a great deal on a 100 quarts of tiger blood. It will be worth more than gold in a few years. Mark my words. I finally started paying off my credit card debts too. And I bought a computer. Now I’m broke again. Come on Zatarains – 1 in 17 chance!

Purchased by Triaminic. Price: $7,500.

VCN:  What is it you like best about Poptent?

JOE:  The Medals. If I ever feel down, I can just check out my page and see all of my accolades. I’m just two medals away from becoming the greatest commercial producer of all-time. Ok, I’m not that self-absorbed. Poptent is great for many reasons, but the best part is the community. They have a wonderful staff made up of human beings with real faces that actually interact with you. Then there’s the countless number of creators who provide feedback and with whom you can connect with and work with if you so desire. It’s very cool.

Joe and RJ spend some of their winnings at the track

VCN:  The Poptent staff seems pretty open to making changes based on the suggestions of users. So if there was one thing you could change about the site, what would it be?

JOE:  Get those rates up. From my vantage point, Poptent is leading the charge in this industry. I’ve dabbled elsewhere but have yet to come across a model like Poptent that drives real brands that we’ve all heard of. Poptent is setting the standard. $5k shouldn’t even be on the table anymore. These giant brands have budgets dipping into 6 figures. They snicker when they learn they can get a national TV ad made for $10k or less. It’s a tough call for Poptent because they get their slice either way, but at this point we shouldn’t be seeing anything less than a $15k purse per video.

VCN:  What are your future plans?

JOE:  Good question. I think I’m gonna go get a sandwich. And make a children’s film.