A Crash the Super Bowl Bummer: Three of the five 2012 finalists were made by past winners

Wait...WTF?

Last night, just after midnight Doritos revealed the 5 finalists in the 2011/2012 installment of the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  And the results are simply disgusting….but not because the winning ads are terrible.  Actually, all 5 of Doritos’ picks are well made and kind of amusing.  No, the thing that’s filled me with disgust is WHO made the finals this year.  You see, THREE of the FIVE winning ads were made my people who wrote, directed or produced previous Crash the Super Bowl finalist spots.  But that’s not all…those three teams are actually all part of a single group of filmmakers from the LA area.  But that’s not all either!  One of this year’s winning commercials was directed by one 2011 Doritos finalist and produced by a different 2011 Doritos finalist; basically two of last year’s winners decided to join forces this year.  So long story short, these results tell us that if you want to win the Crash the Super Bowl contest all you have to do is win the Crash the Super Bowl contest and then enter again the next year.

For the record, the names of the entries that made the Top 5 this year are Sling Baby, Bird of Prey, Hot Wild Girls, Dog Park and Man’s Best Friend.  Now please bare with me while I attempt to break down the finalist family tree:

SLING BABY:  This spot was directed by a filmmaker named Kevin T. Willson.  Amazingly, Willson has now made the Crash the Super Bowl finals THREE YEARS IN A ROW now.  In 2010 he directed an ad entitled Casket and in 2011 he directed one entitled Birthday Wish.  Both entries made the Doritos finals and Casket aired during the Super Bowl.  According to the website, Vote4slingbaby.com, many crew members worked on all three of Willson’s ads. But I only learned about the overlapping crew thanks to google.  The Sling Baby site seems to go out of it’s way to avoid mentioning the fact that this team has won this contest twice before.  In fact, the “About Us” section states “Sling Baby is home-made by a group of good friends.”  Of course the website also lists the names of about 40 crew people including two ADs, a stunt coordinator and an entertainment attorney….not too shabby for a “homemade” commercial.  One more interesting fact; Sling Baby actually features the same child actor that starred in Birthday Wish.  I’m guessing all of Fritolay’s judges have working eyeballs so they must have realized there was probably a connection between the two spots. But if using the same child actor was too subtle, Sling Baby was submitted under the username “KevinTW.”  Even I realized that KevinTW had to be the guy who made Casket and Birthday Wish.  It was so obvious that it almost seemed like the director wanted the judges to know it was his spot.

BIRD OF PREY:  Kevin Willson’s Casket ad was apparently a very large production and an entire team of filmmakers from Los Angeles all worked on it together.  And it seems many of the cast and crew go to a “megachurch” in LA known as Mosaic. From what I’ve read it’s kind of famous for being popular with aspiring actors and filmmakers.  (The head of the church, pastor Erwin McManus was actually the “executive producer” of Casket.)  I guess Wilson’s success inspired his Casket teammates to try and win the Doritos contest themselves.  The result is Bird of Prey.  The spot was written and directed by one of the writers/crew members of Casket, Joby Harris.  After doing some googling it looks like several people who helped created Bird of Prey are part of the “Mosaic Church” team.   Most notably, the stunt coordinator did the stunts for Casket AND Sling Baby.  To top it off, Bird of Prey even features the same actor that starred in Casket, David Schultz.  In Casket he played the man in the titular Casket and in Bird of Prey he’s the guy who thinks he’s a bird.  Again, assuming that the Doritos judges have memories and eyeballs they had to have recognized the lead actor and known the spot had some kind of connection to CasketUPDATE: In a video posted on the CTSB site, the director of Bird of Prey explains that he was only able to make this ad because he recived a $10,000 gift from someone from his church.

DOG PARK:  Now here’s where things get really weird.  Dog Park was directed by a filmmaker from Utah named Tyler Dixon.  Dixon created the (very funny) ad The Best Part which made the Doritos finals last year.  (Remember, it was the one were a McLovin lookalike licked cheese off his co-worker’s fingers?)  But Dog Park was produced by a producer from LA named Heather Kasprzak.  Kasprzak is also part of the Mosaic church team and she produced Birthday Wish which Kevin Willson (Casket, Sling Baby) directed.  Technically, she was one of the five finalists last year since that ad was submitted under her name.  I’m guessing that Wilson didn’t enter Birthday Wish under his own name because he thought it might hurt his chances since he had already been to the finals.  But anyway…do you get what happened here?  The producer of Birthday Wish obviously met the director of The Best Part at the Super bowl last year.  At some point they decided to team up and now both of them get to go back to the Super Bowl for the 2nd year in a row.  That’s seriously kind of bogus.  And like Sling Baby, it seems like the director of Dog Park wanted the judges to know who made this ad.  It was submitted under the username “TylerDixon.”  (Though I’m kind of being a dick right now I do respect that these guys put their name on their ads.  If it was intentional there was a real chance the plan could have backfired.)

So it’s all a little too incestuous, isn’t it?  I’m disappointed that these three entries made the finals this year because it proves that the Crash the Super Bowl contest is totally and completely broken.  This year, Fritolay recived a whopping 6,100 entries.  That means the odds of making the final five are 1 in 1,220.  So, how in the world is it possible that 3 of the 5 teams of finalists all know each other, go to the same church in LA and  have won the contest before??  There are only three explanations:

1.  The wining teams just happen to be made of up of some of the greatest commercial writers/directors/actors in the country.

2.  The Hollywood Branch of Mosaic Church in LA has pleased God so much that he keeps bestowing his blessings (in the form of cash and trips to the Super Bowl) on its parishioners.

3.  Being a finalist in the Crash the Super Bowl contest one year gives a filmmaker a tremendous advantage the next year.

Obviously (and hopefully) the answer to this mystery is Explanation #3.  Over the years, there have been a number of people who have been able to make the Top 5 more than once.  Off the top of my head I can think of 4 times it’s happened and that’s not counting Kevin Wilson who will now be taking his third trip to the Super Bowl.  So WHY does being a finalist one year give you such a huge edge over the competition the next year?  Here are a few possible reasons:

1.  MONEY:  The biggest and most obvious factor is money.  That’s all there is to it.  Of the 6,100 entries Doritos received this year, I would guess that only about 60 submissions cost more than $1,000 to produce.  Real “Average Joes” can’t afford to gamble more than a few hundred dollars on their videos.  And really, I’m guessing most CTSB submissions cost under $50 to make. So if you spend enough money and if you use the right camera (Doritos loves ads that are shot with RED cameras) then you pretty much are automatically a serious contender for the Top 5.

But Sling Baby, Bird of Prey and Dog Park all must have cost a small fortune to produce.  All three seem to have been shot with the aforementioned RED cameras which cost well over $1,000 a day to rent.  (I bet all 3 ads were even shot with the same exact camera.)  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the three finalist ads in question probably each cost $3,000 to $6,000 to make.  Like I said, a broke-ass filmmaker in Des Moines can’t afford to spend that much cash on a “spec” commercial.  But you know who can?  Someone who won a $25,000 finalist prize in the previous installment of The Crash.  Former finalists have a huge advantage because they are able to invest their winnings into new entries.  It’s a hell of  a smart investment.  Former finalists understand that they will have an edge over the competition (for the reasons I’m listing now) in this particular contest.  Spending $5,000 of their prize money from last year is a no-brainer if it means that they might have a shot at winning a million bucks this year.  These people are not the greatest commercial directors in the country.  It’s just that low budgets inhibit the creativity of a filmmaker.  There is no cheap way to make an ad like Sling Baby or Dog Park.  As I said, it took about 40 people to make Sling Baby.  The thing that separates the repeat winners from the Average Joes is cold, hard cash and the willingness to spend it.  If you picked a few contestants at random and gave them $5,000 to spend I bet you’d get at least a few commercials that were funnier and more clever than Sling Baby, Bird of Prey or Dog Park.

2.  INSIDE INFORMATION.  Former finalists understand the Crash the Super Bowl contest in a way that most contestants can’t imagine.  They basically get to spend several days partying with other winners and the contest judges at the Super Bowl.  It’s an amazing opportunity to pick the brains of professional ad executives and the people in charge of the contest.  Finalists get to see how the contest works from the inside.  I think the reason so many finalist enter this contest year after year is because they understand that Doritos needs to pick professional looking ads that will look good playing on an HD TV on Super Bowl sunday.  So finalists know that if they spend enough money they can maybe just BUY a spot in the finals.  It’s sad but true.  And 99% of the people who enter this contest don’t know that.  They just think that if they shoot a hilarious ad with their flip camera they have a fair and square shot of making the finals….but they don’t.

3.  SPECIAL ACCESS TO RESOURCES AND TALENT:  Once a filmmaker makes the CTSB finals they automatically earn a ton of street cred with other filmmakers.  If you made a commercial that aired during goddamn Super Bowl you better believe that a lot of doors are going to fly open the next time you need help on a big shoot.  Seriously, what actor or crew member wouldn’t want to work on the CTSB entry of a person who already won the CTSB contest?  And can anyone honestly say that the team that made Dog Park didn’t have an unfair advantage here?  Dog Park would never have been made if the producer and the director didn’t meet at the Super Bowl last year.  Is it really fair that winners are allowed to join forces, pool their winnings and form a super-team?

4.  PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE JUDGES:  As I mentioned, when you win the Crash the Super Bowl contest you basically get to spend a week at the Super Bowl with the people who run the contest.  You go to dinner with them every night, you go to big parties with them, hell, you get drunk in a skybox at the Super Bowl with them.  The reps from Fritolay and Goodby/Silverstein (The ad firm that manages the contest) get to know the finalists very well.  Is it really that hard to imagine that some judges might have a soft spot for some of the previous finalists?  This year, Kevin Wilson (to his credit) submitted Sling Baby under his own name.  So the judges knew who made that spot.  Wilson made the finals in 2010 and 2011 but he never never won one of the big USA Today Ad Meter bonuses.  Is it possible that his friends at Fritolay decided to give him one more shot at the gold medal?  We outsiders don’t know how close the contestants and the judges get.  Do they stay in touch?  Could a previous finalist e-mail someone at Fritolay and say “Hey buddy, I entered the contest again this year and I thought you’d get a kick out of my submissions!”

Whatever the explanation may be, it is now impossible to deny that past finalists have a massive and unfair advantage over the rest of the filmmakers in the competition.  It’s ridiculous that literally one small group of filmmakers from one church in LA get so much out of the contest and tens of thousands of filmmakers from the rest of the country get so little.  Actually, the people who are going to get screwed the hardest are the two 2012 finalists that made the Top 5 for the first time this year.  Because the makers of Sling Baby, Bird of Prey and Dog Park all know each other and go to the same church, they can conspire to make sure that one of the “Mosaic” entries gets enough votes to air during the big game.  At the very least, the past finalists already know how to run an online campaign to get votes.  Their friends already know “the drill” and they can use all the same resources that they developed last year.

So this is really a sad state of affairs.  Normally, we have one big rule here at VCN;  DON’T HATE THE PLAYER, HATE THE GAME.  You can scream all you want about how stupid the judges of a video contest are but you can’t blame a filmmaker for winning.  However in this case I think one 2012 finalist should have retired from competing with “amateurs” by now.  It seems borderline unethical to continue to enter every year when you have an unnatural and inappropriate advantage.  Just because you can win doesn’t mean you should try.  At some point you should step aside and let others get a crack at what is billed as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.  One of the big points of this contest its that it is supposed to help launch a filmmaker’s career.  It was never meant to BE a filmmaker’s carer.

But for the most part, the blame here falls on the shoulders of the judges at Fritolay and the consultants at Goodby, Silversein and Partners.  There were plenty of entries that were just as good or better than Sling Baby, Dog Park and Bird of Prey.  Why not spread the wealth around a little?  Picking the 3 ads that were made by people the judges know casts a disturbing pall over the whole contest.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say The Crash was somehow rigged but you gotta admit, this is some seriously fishy business.  Insiders have a much, much, much better chance of winning than outsiders do and that just comes off as kind of suspicious. I did mention that the odds of making the finals this year were 1 in 1,220, right?

In my last post I said I would review all 5 finalist ads as soon as they were posted.  But this stuff with the repeat finalists caught me off guard.  The two videos that were made by first time finalists are actually the best in the bunch.  (watch them here)  But they also look “homemade” (which I prefer) when compared to a super shiny and expensive ad like Dog Park.  Oh yeah…I forgot about the dogs.  Turns out if you didn’t put a dog or a baby in your entry you had no chance of winning this year.  I’ll do reviews of each winning ad in a few days.  Plus I’ll also announce which ad I personally will be voting for.  In the mean time, please feel free to share your own opinions in the comment section.

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UPDATE:  This article seems to have gotten a lot of attention and it looks like we might set a one-day traffic record today.  A lot of people have been leaving comments and I really appreciate everything everyone has been saying.  It’s nice to know that I’m not crazy and that other people agree that something is wrong if the same exact people win this contest year after year.  But a few people are misinterpreting this point of this article so I want to make two clarifications:

CLARIFICATION #1:  I am absolutely, positively 100% NOT saying that professionals should be prohibited from entering the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  That would be insane.  I am also not saying Doritos shouldn’t pick commercials that look professional.  All 5 winning ads will eventually air on TV so they MUST be TV quality.  And I in no way feel that t is unfair for people spend a lot of money on their entries.  People who spend more money are taking a big gamble and I admire their dedication.  I have entered the CTSB contest 3 years in a row and one reason I get excited about The Crash is because every year I try and step up my game.  The first HD contest entry I ever shot was for this contest and this year I think my submission was one of the most professional looking videos I’ve ever done.  I personally feel that I am a much better, stronger and more professional filmmaker because every year I challenge myself by entering the Crash the Super Bowl contest.

So my beef is not with the pros who enter this contest.  My beef is with THE SYSTEM that allows the same handful of friends from Southern California to win this contest year after year after year.  Former finalist simply have some kind of advantage,  Think of it this way; For 28 years, from 1980 until 2008 America had either someone named “Bush” or “Clinton” serving in the white  house.  If Hillary Clinton had won the presidency 4 years ago, the order of the presidents for the last 24 years would have been Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton.  So ask yourself this question:  Are the Bushes and the Clinton’s the greatest politicians of the modern era?  Or is it more likely that being an incumbent (or being related to a former president) gives one a serious advantage in presidential politics?  What I’m saying is that “politics” may be part of Fritolay’s decision process and that gives former finalists a major leg up on the competition.

CLARIFICATION #2:  No where in this article have I said that I think that past winners of the Crash the Super Bowl contest should be prohibited from entering again.  That would be very difficult to police since people can just enter under a friends name.  But there is no question that Doritos needs to fix this contest so that it more open to the rest of the public. Maybe fritolay should just ASK finalists to take a year off after they make the Top 5.  It would be like an honor-system thing.  But I should note that one former winner of the CTSB contest actually left a comment to this post and implied that he and his family are no longer eligible to enter this contest….probably because he already won the top prize of one million dollars. So apparently, Fritolay has no problem with forcing some contestants to “retire” after winning.

UPDATE #2: Actually, I’m not going to review all 5 winning ads this year. Readers have really been leaving some insightful comments and I want to explore some of the issues they have been bring up. So watch for new posts about the CTSB contest next week.