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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

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.  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:


A look at Current TV’s VCAM program

There are only about 8 cable channels that I actually watch on a regular basis and one of them happens to be Current TV.  The network runs some really excellent documentaries and news shows but I sort of miss the days when they used to run short, viewer-created docs all day long.  But while Current has moved away from airing viewer-made “pods,” they still air a lot of viewer-created ads thanks to their “Viewer Created Ad Message” program.  Here’s an especially great example of commercial that aired on Current. Oh…for some weird reason, Current makes you watch a commercial before you watch this commercial! So the VCAM ad is the second one that plays.

 Official VCAM Selection. Purchased and aired by Samsung:

Since I’m a big fan of spec commercial contests/assignments and Current TV, I was psyched when I got an e-mail from the folks behind the VCAM program, Barry Penland and Nicole Smith.  It sounded like 2012 was going to be a big year for VCAM so I decided to let Barry and Nicole tell you all about the program themselves…in the form of an interview!

VCN:  So, tell me about the VCAM program.  What is it and how does it work?

VCAM TEAM:  The Viewer Created Content program (VCAM) is a unique advertising vehicle born out of the user-generated spirit of Current TV six years ago.  The program brings independent producers together with national advertisers to create unique and often non-traditional ad campaign videos. Current TV was originally programmed solely by user-generated content and naturally complimented this aspect of our network.   As Current transitioned into more traditional programming, we maintained the VCAM department as a way to offer opportunities to producers to continue to contribute to the content, as well as receive recognition and compensation.  Current is based in several locations throughout the US, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Producers can either sign up to receive notifications, or check the assignment page at http://current.com/vcam to find out about open callouts.  From there, they will be given details of the video assignment and the goals and guidelines of the brand.  If they choose to participate and their finished video is selected by the brand, the producer can be compensated up to $5,000 and the video may air on Current TV and be posted on both Current’s and the brand’s web sites.  If the video is chosen by the brand to air on other networks, there is the possibility for additional money.

An important distinction between VCAM and other contests is that our program is NOT a contest.  Instead, VCAMs are based on client-initiated assignments or “calls for content” that we send out to our producer community all over the world.  We engage with our producers directly and communicate with them during every step in the process: from the conception of their ideas, to execution of the production, through on-air delivery.  We also give them vast amounts of help to create their commercials, for example: access to a license free music library and visual assets – often from the advertiser directly.  Lastly, we invite our producers to speak directly with the brand on a conference call where producers can ask specific questions about the creative direction and receive honest feedback about what they are looking for in the content piece.

VCN:  What kind of brands have taken part in the program?

VCAM TEAM:  The brands that we work with are National Advertisers that have creative agencies that normally create their marketing/advertising for mainstream distribution. At Current, our advertisers are looking for innovative, cutting edge creative that has an authentic consumer perspective. They are not looking for the same old, same old. In our experience, brands have selected all types of VCAMs, whether unpolished and amateur, or clean and professional.

Brands have included: Toyota, HP, XM Radio, Paramount, Wachovia, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, Pop Secret, Microsoft, L’Oréal, Nikon, Canon, Mini, Lexus, T-Mobile, Nissan, McDonalds, Scion, Sun Chips, Clorox, Allstate, Mountain Dew, Gillette, Chrysler, Electronic Arts, Chrysler, eHarmony, Revlon, Geico, Hershey’s.

VCN:  Why do you think companies are interested in having “viewers” create their commercials?

VCAM TEAM:  Viewers bring a unique perspective that is increasingly important in our socially networked world.  Our producer community has done an amazing job at capturing brand messaging in their authentic consumer voice and we believe that is what draws advertisers to Current.

VCN:  Do you have some personal favorite VCAM ads?

VCAM TEAM:  Definitely!  Check these out:
Lexus – “Zaqistan”  http://current.com/groups/lexus-vcam-results/92261698

SunChips – “Little Steps”  http://current.com/groups/on-current-tv/92391223

Sony Pictures Digital – Battle L.A. “Night”  youtube.com/watch?v=VKkQs82I8Ac

VCN:  What do you think makes for a special viewer created ad?

VCAM TEAM:  VCAMs are all pretty special because they often represent perspectives that don’t normally appear in mainstream advertising.  Sincerity and simplicity make for some of the best VCAMs – even if they’re rough around the production edges.

VCN:  Are any VCAM assignments currently running?

VCAM TEAM:  We have a number of assignments already in progress, but there will be many new assignments throughout the rest of 2012 that producers can consider.  It is a very busy year!  Sign up for the VCAM newsletter at http://current.com/participate/vcam or email us at to get involved.

VCN:  Here’s the final and most important question; who gets crazier at the Current TV office party; Al Gore or Keith Olbermann?

VCAM TEAM:  No comment :)

Interview with Jon Friedman, Crash the Super Bowl finalist and creator of “Man’s Best Friend”

Crash the Super Bowl finalist, Man's Best Friend

Though I’m not totally crazy about some of Doritos’ picks in this year’s Crash the Super Bowl contest, I will admit that all of the 2012 finalists are….ok.  In fact, I think they all range from decent to awesome.  Last week I posted an interview I did with one of the creators of the CTSB finalist ad, Hot Wild Girls.  I mentioned that I thought his entry was one of the “awesome” ones and that I personally would be voting for it every day.  But this year, Fritolay has made it so you can vote a bunch of times in a bunch of different ways!  So I’ve been splitting my votes up between my two favorite ads; Hot Wild Girls and Man’s Best Friend.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that “Man’s Best Friend” made the final five; not because it was bad but because it was….I don’t know…pleasant.  It doesn’t assault your senses or your intelligence like some of the other finalists do.  Sure, it has a gigantic dog in it but it’s smart and subtle and even a tiny bit dark.  And the most amazing thing of all is that Man’s Best Friend was produced for only about 20 bucks!  So it’s really exciting to learn that that low budget, “homemade” ads still have a shot in this contest.

Man’s Best Friend was created by a very nice dude from Virginia named Jon Friedman.  Let’s get to know him, shall we?

VCN:    So Jon, tell me about yourself.  Who are you, where are you from?

JON:  I am a freelance graphic designer, filmmaker, photographer, and musician from Virginia Beach, VA. Filmmaking has always been a passion of mine, as is music (I play piano, guitar, and drums.) In the graphics world, I am best known for my design of the “Conversations with God” books, which have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. I was also fortunate enough to design Richard Bach’s last two books–he is the author of the classic books, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and “Illusions.”

VCN:  Have you entered many video contests in the past?

JON:  This is the first video contest I’ve entered.

VCN:  What made you want to enter the CTSB contest?

JON:  Well, I can think of a “million” reasons . . . But seriously, I’ve always thought it would be fun to make commercials. I’ve had a lot of ideas for them over the years, and while I was watching the commercials during last year’s Super Bowl I thought “why haven’t I entered this contest? This is something I’ve always wanted to do.” So I made a decision right then and there to enter CTSB the following year.

VCN:  Where did the idea for Man’s Best Friend come from?

JON:  The inspiration for “Man’s Best Friend” was triggered by a thought I had one night. It just occurred to me that in most ads involving an animal, the animal is always trying to acquire the product. So I thought to myself, “What if there was a twist on that, or it was the opposite of that?” After having that thought, the idea for “Man’s Best Friend” popped into my head. I think that’s how inspiration works in general. Something usually triggers it–a thought, a memory, a feeling. It can be anything.

VCN:  How was the ad produced?  What kind of camera did you use?  Mind if I ask what your budget was?

JON:  I shot the commercial for about $20 using a Canon 7D (which I already own). I had to buy some Doritos, a few props, and some dog treats. I originally thought the commercial would only cost $13 to produce, so I went way over budget. The most difficult part about the production was getting “Huff the Great Dane” to cooperate. He’s really just a gigantic 120+ pound baby who wants to run around, sit in people’s laps, and eat treats (he was also fond of shaking hands/paws with everyone). Huff knew the word “sit” but that’s about as far as his training went. It took some patience and cleverness to get what we needed.

Jon Friedman in Fritolay's secret underground PR bunker

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

JON:  I don’t remember the exact date, but I received a phone call between the second and third week in December. I was told to keep quiet about it of course, so that was very difficult. It’s tough to walk around acting like everything’s normal when you get news like that!

VCN:  This is kind of an insider question but I think some readers will really like to hear the answer.  I’ve heard that actors in CTSB ads actually get paid SAG “scale” by Fritolay.  Is that true?

JON:  Yes, that’s true. I only had one on-screen actor in my commercial and he had to fill out a SAG contract.

VCN:   So who are you taking to the Super Bowl?

JON:  I’m taking my brother (and assistant director.) We often collaborate on creative projects and his help has been invaluable.

VCN:  What are you doing to promote your entry?

JON:  I don’t know that I’m doing anything too special–Facebook, local media, friends and family. I’m hoping that will be enough!

VCN:  What has been the reaction of your family and friends to all this?

JON:  They’ve been incredibly supportive and I think many of them are more excited than I am! I’m still in shock by the whole thing.

VCN:  Here on VCN we’ve talked a lot about finalists who are able to win the CTSB more than once. Are you already planning your entry for 2013?

JON:  I have so many ideas, and I’ll admit, I have thought about what I might do next year. If I don’t win the big prize this year (which I believe automatically disqualifies you from entering the contest again), I will probably enter it again next year. I had a lot of fun making this commercial, and even if I don’t win again, I know I’ll enjoy creating another one.

VCN:  Any final thoughts you’d care to share?

JON:  This whole experience has been amazing, and I still feel honored that “Man’s Best Friend” was chosen as a finalist. If people have any questions or comments they’d like to share with me, I can be contacted at

To vote for Man’s Best Friend, head here: www.mansbestfriendcommercial.com

Interview with Eric Delgado, co-creator of “Hot Wild Girls!”

The hot, wild girls of "Hot Wild Girls"

When the Crash the Super Bowl finalists were announced on January 4th, I was pleasantly surprised to see that an ad entitled “Hot Wild Girls” had made the Top 5.  Though the commercial was clever, topical and funny, it seemed like kind of an “outside the box” pick for doritos.  It didn’t feature anyone getting brutalized and it wasn’t an over-produced, super-slick interpretation of “user generated content.”  Instead it actually feels like real,  authentic, UGC.  It looks like it was shot by a few buddies in their living room because it was!  And while it does feature dogs, at least they weren’t trying to trick a cruel human into dropping his Doritos on the ground. (I was positive we’d see another “dog gets his revenge” ad this year since there were so many copycats in the gallery)

So I was really glad to see this spot make the finals.  And I was even more pleased when I found out “Hot Wild Girls” was made by a friend of VCN!  The ad was written by a reader named Eric Delgado of San Antonio, TX.  This is kind of insane but for the second time in about 8 months, Eric has a serious shot at winning a million dollars in a video contest.  Over the summer, he and his friends made the finals in Gain’s “Smell Like a Million Bucks” competition.  Ultimately his team didn’t win that contest but it seems like that brush with victory inspired them to “go big” when it came time to enter the biggest video contest of them all; Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest.  And now, here’s out Q&A with Eric:

VCN:  Tell me about the “Hot Wild Girls” team.  Who are you guys?

ERIC:  Nate Watkin, Brad Scott and Eric Delgado. We are ex-MMA fighters from Denver, CO and San Antonio, TX with a combined record of 1-27 (Brad got the W because the other dude tapped out upon entering the cage claiming that Brad was “too pretty to hit.”)  Actually, Nate (my cousin) and Brad are the co-founders of their production company, Definite Productions, based in Denver.  They’ve been working together for about four years producing commercials and videos.  Last year, after Nate saw my Doritos entry for last year’s CTSB, we decided that we should work together on a future project since we all had a passion for comedic commercials.

The "Hot Wild Girls" team

VCN:  Have you guys entered many video contests in the past?

ERIC:  As a team, it’s our second contest.. We entered the Gain “Smell Like a Million Bucks” contest this past summer and we were actually a Top 25 finalist for the million dollar prize.  Sadly, we didn’t win.  That’s why we are pretty stoked about this Doritos opportunity.  We realize that we’ve overcome some pretty ridiculous odds and we are extremely grateful to be in this position.  Beardy’s Note:  Here’s his team’s Gain entry.  That’s Eric playing the role of the Repair Man:


VCN:  What made you want to enter the CTSB contest?

ERIC:  Honestly.. The opportunity to have our commercial/vision broadcasted to over 120 million people worldwide via the Super Bowl and the doors that’ll hopefully open as a result.. And of course the money. ;)   The money part should actually immediately follow the “Honestly..” mentioned above.  What? Just sayin’.

VCN:  Where did the idea for your entry come from?

ERIC:  My cranium.. But knowing you Beardy, you probably want some details.  I knew we needed something that was “trendy”.  I also knew the power of animals in a commercial.  I wrote and wrote for a few hours until finally I came up with dialogue that fulfilled the “twist” which, coincidentally, added the final ingredient… Gorgeous girls.  I love those girls Beardy…I have no problem admitting that.

VCN:  How was the ad produced?  What kind of camera did you use?  Mind if I ask what your budget was?

ERIC:  Pre-production consisted of a week of casting talent, securing a location, and locating 3 Rottweiler’s (thank you Camp Bow Wow!) that could work together.  We had a $2,000.00 budget that was used to pay the talent and makeup artist.  A friend loaned us the RED One camera to shoot this ad.  Nate and Brad chose this camera for it’s amazing picture quality and control of the final image.  Since our intention was hopefully to have this ad broadcasted, we felt it was best fit to shoot at a higher resolution.  We shot on-location during a 5-hour period and had to work around the shifting daylight.  All footage was logged within an hour of completing the shoot, and then edited the next day with a final that night due to the deadline of the contest.

Whoa, nice camera!

VCN:  So who gets to go to the Super Bowl?

ERIC:  Nate and Brad.  However, if the Cowboys we’re still in the playoffs, this would be a little different.  Stupid Cowboys.

VCN:  What are you doing to promote Hot Wild Girls?

ERIC:  Media (News/newspaper/radio interviews).. Social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, buzzfeed.com, etc.).. Website (hotwildgirls.tv).. Guerrilla marketing (fliers, posters, word of mouth, etc.)

VCN:  What has been the reaction of your family and friends to all this?

ERIC:  They have been AMAZINGLY supportive!  They are extremely proud and happy for us.. And we couldn’t be happier to have them along for the ride. We love ya’ll!!!  All that time spent in the past voting for a friend’s “Cutest Baby”, “Best Restaurant”, or “Prettiest Puppy” is finally paying off.

VCN:  Here on VCN we’ve talked a lot about finalists who are able to win the CTSB more than once.  Are you already planning your entry for 2013?

ERIC:  Absolutely. However, I hope they just announce the winner(s) before December 21, 2012. If I’m going down, I’d at least like to know that our commercial WOULD have aired during Super Bowl XLVII.

VCN:  Any final thoughts you’d care to share?

ERIC:  Yes.. And this is for your frequent visitors (like us.. fellow “Joe Handycams”) Beardy. There will always be people out there that criticize your work.  They’ll try and blast your creation on websites, forums, or maybe even the “comments” section under that YouTube video that you were proud to post even after a contest you didn’t win.  Who cares.. Let them criticize while you continue to create.  We are by no means experts in this art.. It simply makes us happy.

VCN:  Well said!


I’ve been voting for “Hot Wild Girls” every day and I think you should be doing the same.  It’s a cool, funny ad I’m hoping that if it airs during the Super Bowl and scores well on the ad meter, maybe next year Doritos will be inspired to make “outside of the box” picks when it comes time to choose their 2013 Crash the Super Bowl finalists.  To vote for Hot Wild Girls, just click here!

Interview with Max Traylor of HighlyHumourous.com

This week I’m happy to welcome a new sponsor to VCN, the video contest site HighlyHumorous.com.  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 Break.com 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 HighlyHumorous.com. 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.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Friend of V.C.N and frequent video contest winner Joel Moss AKA “Happy Joel” was recently interviewed by another friend of V.C.N., Matt of Films4Prizes.com…and you can watch said interview right here, right now:

If you’re like really, really new to the concept of making money and winning prizes by entering multiple video contests, Happy Joel is a guy you should study and Films4prizes.com is a site you should bookmark and check every, single day.  Joel’s won like a billion dollars by entering video contests (correction: figure is closer to $200,000) and shares his secret to winning in the above interview.  Spoiler alert: His secret tip is just to put the work in and enter ‘cause you never know when you might win.  That’s simple but excellent advice.  I know a ton of filmmakers and I tell them over and over that they should give video contests a shot.  Some seem tempted and I’ve even helped a few people find contests and plan entries but in the end, the chicken out.  They don’t want to risk spending their time, money and effort on something that might not pay off.

And that right there is why video contests ARE worth the time, money and effort.  Though they’ve really grown in popularity, there are still a ton of video contests that are getting very few entries.  So don’t be a wuss.  Get over to films4prizes.com, pick a contest that sounds fun and go for it.

Profile of a great video contest: Skinit.com


If you’re a fan of video contests, you know that a lot of them can be sort of frustrating. There are so many ways to screw up a video contest that it’s rare to find one that is run just 100% right. So I decided that maybe we should take a moment every once in a while and profile contests that were done especially well. I thought long and hard about all the contests I’ve entered or read about and one of the best run-contests I’ve ever seen had to be the one that SkinIt.com held earlier this year. I actually ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to shoot an entry for this one but I did pay attention from the sidelines. And I have to say, I was very impressed with the entire operation. SkinIt by the way is a very interesting company. They design stickery-decal like things that you can stick on laptops, ipods, cell phones etc etc. Check out their website to see what I’m talking about. You can even order custom “Skins” and I’ve bought a couple to use in other video contest entries. They’re very handy for dressing up props.

So anyway, what made the Skinit contest so sweet? Well to start, they offered a huge prize for first place; $10,000. That ensured that they would get a mountain of great entries. Then they followed that up by offering large prizes for second and third place (something I always look for since Beardy tends to wind up in 2nd a lot!) They even threw in a $5,000 prize for the best story board idea. Aside from the big prizes though, Skinit did the best thing any company holding a video contest can do; They picked the winners themselves! So Skinit chose to reward quality and not whoever had the willpower to vote for themselves over and over again on youtube.

But that’s enough out of me. Let’s let someone from Skinit tell the rest of the story. Shreya Doshi, one of the organizers of the SkinIt video contest was nice enough to answer a few questions for us and provide a rare look into the other side of video contesting. Next time you see a contest that is being run in a really lame way, you might want to forward the organizers a link to his interview so they can see just what makes a video contest a success.

VCN: Where did the idea come from to hold a video contest to promote Skinit.com? Why did Skinit decide to hold a contest of their own?

SD: Video contests are on the up-and-coming these days – a lot of businesses, small and large, have used them as a way to interact with their customers and build their brand. We wanted to give our customers the chance to contribute to our brand and give them a chance to show us who and what Skinit is to them. We were hoping to open up the creativity gates and see just how much we could do with the Skinit brand, how far we could take a simple product. It’s easy to get stuck in the “same old, same old” when you live and breathe the same concepts day in and day out. Why not let someone fresh take a stab at it? The ideas people came up wit they were definitely refreshing and quite impressive!

VCN: The prize of the contest was very high: $10,000. Plus there was a storyboard competition that had a prize of $5,000. Why did Skinit decided to post such large prizes? I hate to be crude but in the end, did the company get its money’s worth from the contest?

SD: Quality. The prizes were intended to both motivate and reward entrants for quality contributions. We know it isn’t cheap to film and produce a commercial – it involves a lot of resources, time, and effort. It’s important to remember that and make sure we make our contest worth that effort.

VCN: Were you happy with the entries you received?

SD: We definitely received a wide range of entries and I think we ended up with some really professional and fun commercials. We have actually put a couple different ads on the air, not just the winner, and have seen a lot of great response to them! It was really interesting to see the variety of concepts that people came up with and the different ways the Skinit brand was portrayed.

VCN: Filmmakers who enter video contests are usually left in the dark when it comes to how the winners are selected. In the Skinit contest, who picked the winners?

SD: Our judging panel consisted of Paul Buss, CEO of Skinit, Steve Kovsky of San Diego 6 TV (XETV), Pete Weitzner who runs the broadcast journalism program at Chapman University, and Scott Wells, an award-winning commercial director and producer. The goal was to create a panel involving both members of the community and industry specialists that could objectively evaluate the entries.

VCN: How was the judging done? Did the judges all gather together in one place to watch every entry? Or did they watch them on their own? Or maybe the judges only saw a group of finalist videos? (this kind of insight into how a contest is run might seem boring but filmmakers will find it fascinating)

SD: The judges were all given evaluation forms and asked to rate each entry on a scale of 1-6 for each given criteria, including “popularity” based on comments left for each video on the SkinitTV YouTube page. The judges each reviewed the entries individually and then submitted their forms to Skinit. We tallied up the votes and averaged out the scores to determine our top videos. We then had a results meeting with all the judges and revealed the winners. Everyone had a chance to discuss the highs and lows, any surprises, their favorite ads, and their thoughts on the results.

VCN: Which video won the contest? What did everyone at Skinit like best about the entry?

SD: The Grand Prize winner was jaredcicon’s “You Dream It” entry. 1st and 2nd place were actually quite close – within fractions of a point! Made for an interesting discussion during the judges’ results meeting! “You Dream It” had great overall appeal, calling out to all of us who can think of “that crazy Dad.” It not only caught your attention, but held it all the way through the hook. It demonstrated the breadth of our products and the desire of personalization – an important element of the Skinit brand. And of course, it had a memorable punch line with the wife yelling “Jaaaareeedd.” I think that every person I saw watch that ad let out at least a little chuckle when they heard that!

VCN: What were some of the benefits for Skinit for holding a video contest?

SD: Well of course we ended up with some great ads and, like I mentioned earlier, have already aired a few of them – not just “You Dream It.” But beyond that – I think we had our first chance to interact with our customers and get a peek into how they see the Skinit brand. There was a lot of brand exposure for us as well as word of mouth spread and news of the contest got around. We definitely had a lot of fun watching all the entries and seeing the limitless creativity that exists out there. Having been our first contest – we also learned a lot about running contests! A lot of good ideas and entries came from this contest, but we’re hoping to really improve and expand things the next time around…

VCN: Thanks for your time and for setting a great example for other contest-holders!

You can see more Skinit videos and commercials on there youtube channel which is right here: 

UPDATE:  Looks like Skinit will be doing another video contest next year.  Check out this comment we got from them:  “Wait until you see the 2010 contest- AWESOME PRIZE(s)! Way bigger than last year’s!” Sounds sweet.  Better start thinking up some ideas now!

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