Every year Doritos puts on a contest that provides filmmakers with the opportunity of a lifetime: a shot at a major cash prize and a chance to make a commercial that will air during the most watched broadcast event of the year, the Super Bowl.
This past year, Doritos raised the stakes even further, offering the winner and runner up a chance to work directly with Marvel on the upcoming sequel of The Avengers, and that's in addition to all of the other kick-ass prizes. In case you missed out on the Doritos promo video for last year's competition, here it is:
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Ryan Thomas Andersen, who took home the contest's top prize last year with an ad entitled, "Time Machine," which just so happens to be one of the funniest ads you will ever see. Since it originally aired during the Super Bowl (an event we really don't like to talk about here in Denver), Ryan's commercial has aired over 2,500 times.
This interview has been edited from its original form for content and clarity.
NFS: First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in film. How did you become interested in filmmaking, and what steps did you take once you decided to pursue it professionally?
RTA: It all started at the age of 4 when my dad started to take me to the movies. PG, PG-13, R, it didn't matter. My parents never guarded me from the "real world" when it came to movies. As I became older, my love of the movies continued to grow. Once I graduated from high school, I went to Scottsdale Community College to pursue a degree in Architecture. I HATED IT. I love the idea of designing buildings, but I hated the process. It just wasn't for me.
Then I went and rented the film Requiem for a Dream from the local Blockbuster, and after watching it I was officially bitten by the film bug! I enrolled in a few film classes and immediately had a drive and desire that could not be stopped. I started to work on sets, for free even, doing whatever anyone needed help with. PA, Boom Op, you name it! Slowly but surely I started to get paid for it, and before I knew it I had stopped going to class, and my mom said, "Go back to school, or move out." Ha! I moved out. I entered many film challenges locally. I always placed top 3 or better and always strived to keep doing better than the last thing I did. I am a perfectionist and go crazy with my art. I started my film adventure in 2004, and 10 years later I am here.
NFS: What is your history with the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” Competition? Was this your first year participating, or have you made spots for previous competitions as well?
RTA: This was my 4th year attempting to make a Doritos commercial. Two years ago we received a runner up award, an honorable mention if you will. So I knew we were close.
NFS: What did you learn from those past attempts in terms of what it takes to craft a winning ad? Did you study winning ads from the previous years to figure out the appropriate tone and style for your spot? If so, talk a little bit about what that style is. Is there a formula for a winning Doritos ad?
RTA: To be honest, I almost did not enter last year's competition, just because of the odds, and I honestly wasn't ready for a 4th year of defeat. However, when I least expected it, I came up with an idea. Truth be told, it was actually an idea for another company, but they had no interest in it, so I put it in my back pocket for later! When the contest rolled around, I changed up the idea a bit so that it would work with Doritos.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is a formula, but there kind of is! I had studied a ton of the previous winners, and did find that 'ingredient' that they always look for. Out of respect for the contest and the brand, I will not say what it is. It's something that you'll have to find on your own. But implementing that ingredient is a lot easier said than done, that's for sure. The story has to be there, and it truly has to have an overall feel/vibe, and the talent has to be perfect. I felt I had all of these winning attributes before I even shot the commercial. I was lucky this year. All the stars were aligned just right.
NFS: How did you come up with the winning ad for last year’s competition? Walk us through the writing process for that spot.
RTA: I was watching Back to the Future with my son one day. He asked if I would build him a time machine. I found an old refrigerator box, and made one. As we played with it, the basic idea hit me -- not the full story just yet -- but the idea of a boy having a cardboard time machine, as oppose to a lemonade stand.
NFS: Talk a bit about the pre-production of the piece. What was your budget? How big of a team were you working with? How did you go about getting locations and casting your actors? Also, talk a little bit about building the time machine.
RTA: Pre-production wasn't too terrible. I knew exactly what I wanted. I knew that I was going to shoot it at my parent's house, and I already had a basic shot list. I had also already done some test shoots with my son (who's actually the star of the commercial). So I painted and designed the box in our front yard. Lots of people drove by giving me the strangest looks. Someone even asked if they could buy the cardboard from me for their cardboard business.
Then I had to cast for the Older Man and Mr. Smith. Including myself, talent, and crew there was a total of 7 of us. Location was my parent's house. The boy was my son; the dog was my dog 'Hogan.' Mr. Smith was a mutual friend that I had always wanted to work with, and the old man was local Arizona talent that I was told was a great actor and a great guy! The rumors were true!
When it was all said and done, the budget was just under $300.
I didn't try to make it something it wasn't. I didn't want an over-produced glossy, stylized product. I wanted real life. And that in itself I believe is an artistic choice for effectively telling a story.
NFS: Walk us through the production of your winning ad. What camera/lighting technology did you use?
RTA: We shot the commercial in about 6 hours. I shot it on my Blackmagic Cinema Camera in RAW (2.5k). We shot it on 2 lenses: my Rokinon 14mm cinema lens, and my 35mm Rokinon cinema lens. Oh, and the only other equipment that we used was a slider and a reflector. No joke, that was it!
NFS: Talk about the visual style of the piece. What is your process for effectively shooting visual comedy?
RTA: My visual style for the piece was the same style for all my work. I like my work to look organic and natural. Like they could actually be taking place right then and there. I think I casted this pretty well and they all just gave me what I needed. Even though you know they are actors, I truly believe the spot works so well because of the way it is shot. NATURALLY! I didn't try to make it something it wasn't. I didn't want an over-produced glossy, stylized product. I wanted real life. And that in itself I believe is an artistic choice for effectively telling a story.
NFS: Walk us through the post-production process for this piece. What was the post-workflow like?
RTA: The post workflow was a beast. I had to export all RAW files into an editable form (ProRes LT files), then do the edit, sound design, sound mixing, (all of this was in Premiere Pro and obsessing over it at every step. When I was done, I exported my XML, re-linked my full-res files, then color corrected all of the clips in Resolve. Then I exported a final video file. Dropped that file back into adobe premiere, over my sound design, and then did one last export to 1920 by 1080! I did this process at least 10 times!
It took me about 90 hours to fully edit it and make it "perfect."
NFS: Again, since timing is so crucial to comedy, how did you ensure that the piece had the correct comedic timing and flow?
RTA: There is no way around sounding full of myself on this one -- but I have just always had a natural internal clock for comedic timing. I know how it should be delivered, and naturally know how to cut it to flow as such. I also edit a lot, so I am sure I have become better over the years, learning new techniques. It's not always visual either. A lot of comedic timing, or even just pacing in general comes out of the sound design. Everything truly does need to work well together to make a complete joke happen and have the correct effect on an audience.
NFS: The grand prize for the Crash the Super Bowl contest also included an opportunity to work with Marvel on the upcoming Avengers sequel. Can you tell us a little bit about what has happened with that, or what will happen with it in the future?
RTA: I was able to go to London where The Avengers sequel was being filmed. I went on set, met all the cast and crew, and even shot some behind the scenes video. I met some great contacts and had a blast!
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8KfXCcaBdE
NFS: Do you have any advice for filmmakers looking to enter this year’s competition?
RTA: My advice is this: don't do something just for the sake of doing it. If you are going into it, take it very seriously, but also treat it like you have every chance in the world to win that million-dollar prize. Because if you go in with the attitude of 'let's just have fun,' that's exactly what will come of it: fun. And there's nothing wrong with that. However, if you have the mindset to go in and make a Super Bowl-worthy commercial, you might just do it. And that is true for anything in this world. It's great to learn and have fun, and to just do things for the heck of it, but if you want something bad enough, go for it and TAKE IT! Nothing is stopping you but yourself.
The art of filmmaking is one that needs to mature, and grow slowly. Don't rush it, fellow filmmakers. Trust me. I'm still not done learning or growing, and I hope that I never am!
NFS: What are you working on next? You mention that you're about to start funding your first feature. Tell us a little bit more about that.
RTA: I am working on my 1st feature film next! It is the story of a successful man, who at 32 is obsessed with the idea of a perfect life. However, he and his wife are barely getting by emotionally. It's later found that his wife cannot have children, and the only available option for having a child is via a new biological breakthrough that is in the early stages of public use. The result is an emotional commentary on the world we live in today, while also dealing with a hopeful, but heartbreaking love story. I tell people it is the love child of American Beauty and Gattaca. I am currently trying to raise $300k on Kickstarter! I figured if I could get 150k people to donate 2 bucks. This movie can get made! Hoping for the best!
NFS: Anything else that you would like to share with the No Film School community?
RTA: The film business is cruel! It can and will destroy you if you let it. At the end of the day you have to do what you want no matter how big the risk is. I had an ex-girlfriend tell me once that I will never be a film director because the odds are stacked against me, and that I was a nobody. I didn't have a film to my name; I didn't even own a camera when she said those things to me. My point is I had nothing at that point, but I knew I had to start somewhere. I got a job right out of high school, and saved my money like crazy and bought my first (DV tape) camera. Then I bought my first computer. I was in school so I was able to get a huge discount on Avid editing software.
I taught myself to edit my own footage. I starting finding my voice, and failing a lot. LOTS OF MISTAKES WERE MADE! But I never gave up. Time passed and I still felt like I wasn't getting any closer to my dream. The reality was that I was on the right path, and just had to keep going! I did, and I still am. Almost exactly 10 years from the date I decided to be a filmmaker I won one of the biggest worldwide commercial contests EVER. My work aired during the Super Bowl, and has since aired 2,500 times! On August 22nd I launched a Kickstarter to raise money for my first feature film, which has been a long-time coming, and am so glad that my time is now, and that it wasn't 5 years ago, when I was less experienced. The art of filmmaking is one that needs to mature, and grow slowly. Don't rush it, fellow filmmakers. Trust me. I'm still not done learning or growing, and I hope that I never am!
We'd like to thank Ryan for taking the time to with us, and for sharing his knowledge with the NFS community. The announcement of this year's Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest should be right around the corner, and it's likely that the prizes will be even more epic than last year.