Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Contest: Changes

Things have been crazy busy as we rush to get all the elements we need to shoot our commercial.  This is the first breather I’ve had to actually sit down and write about the project.

One of the things I found out about the contest is that they choose, not one, but two commercials to air during the Super Bowl!  How cool is that?

Here’s the second winner in last year’s contest:

It seems that kids and animals are a popular theme among the winners.  But, we’re not doing either one of those themes.  Our theme is football…which presents some challenges.

Supplies to make one of the props.

When Doritos posted their contest rules last month on the 19th, I was anxious to read them and make sure that we were on the right track.  They have very strict rules about not using any kind of NFL trademark, logo or merchandise or any other third party trademark or logo; so, in addition to not using NFL trademarks and copyrighted material, we, also, had to be careful about violating other football leagues’ trademarks or copyrights.  Sandra, basically, had to create a totally fictitious football league and football team (as well as another fictitious company).  But when I read the rules I realized that one of our props totally violated NFL trademark rules.  So that prop idea got thrown out and Sandra came up with another idea that is very generic and should work fine.

Composer Martin Morillo

Sandra recruited her brother, composer Martin Morillo, to compose original music for the commercial.  Martin, visiting from Spain, is a very talented composer and we were so fortunate to get his help.  However, the rules stated that contestants could use only the music provided by Doritos, so Martin’s efforts will, unfortunately, not be heard.

I wish I could have gotten a hold of last year’s rules.  It would have saved us a bit of time and effort.  But, overall, we weren’t set back too much and we’re still on track to not only meet but, also, beat the deadline of November 16.

Countdown: One Week!

We’re in the final stretch, folks!  Less than a week till Round 1 ends!  Now Dockers gave the impression that they were going to post the vote leaders, but they never did.  So I decided to take matters into my own hands and find out where we stand in this contest.  I risked carpal tunnel syndrome and went through all 3,000 entries!  Whew!  And I have the sore neck, shoulder, arm, and wrist to prove it!  So what’s the verdict?

Well, it’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that we are definitely in the top 50!  Out of 3,000  or so entries that’s something to be very proud of!  And it’s because of all of you voting every day and trying to help spread the word, and, heck, even recruiting your family to vote!  So where are we?  Currently, we are number 32.  That’s the bad news, because as I went through each entry, I found more entries that had more votes than we have and it pushed us down the list.  But it’s not terrible news and I’m certainly not going to complain about where we are in this contest.  Do I wish we were in the top five?  Of course.  But considering all the problems we’ve had trying to get the word out to other fans (with the broken fan club mailing list and Facebook blocking me from friending other I-Man fans), I’d say we’re doing pretty good.

But this last week is especially dangerous for us.  The most motivated contestants and their supporters are in this top 50 and they are pushing very hard, so we need to keep pushing just as hard lest we keep dropping and fall out of the top 50.  I’m afraid to say it could happen.  Behind us there are contestants who have more voters than we have and could theoretically pass us by.  One contestant, another filmmaker no less, has been right on our tail for several days now.  Today he passed us up…not because he has a better project or a loyal established fan base, he doesn’t; but because he’s been vote trading with other contestants.  In fact, a lot of contestants have been vote trading. 

It’s not against the rules (I checked), but it is a flawed strategy because they are voting for the very people they are competing against.  Also, the way the app is designed, someone could vote once for someone just to get their picture on their page and then come back every day and leave a message on their page saying they voted again when they really didn’t.  The contestant would really have no way of knowing for sure.  I’d like to think that all the contestants are honorable, but I live in the real world and wouldn’t be surprised if some honorable contestants are being suckered by less honorable contestants.  So I’m not playing the vote trading game. 

Besides, when I contact the cast and tell them we made it into the top 50, I’ll be able to proudly say that it was the I-Man fans who got us there and not because I was trading votes with the competition.  And I do have to, also, give a shout out of thanks to all my family members, friends, and fellow filmmakers who have also been tirelessly voting every day.  All of you have been wonderful in your support!  Thank you so much!

Contest Submissions Progress

Friday, my director and I sat down and hammered out the cast list, which is basically a list of all the roles in the video and what type of actor we were looking to cast in each role.  The next day I posted the roles on SF Casting and, after being approved, they went live on Monday morning.  Within hours I literally had hundreds of submissions from actors!  So I’ve been combing through them trying to find actors who fit what we are looking for.  Tomorrow I’m going to finish that up and then contact the chosen actors and invite them to the audition, which is being held in Pleasanton, California, this Saturday.

Monday afternoon, my director and I visited the studio we are planning on using.  It’s also located in Pleasanton and run by some really nice people.  We’re shooting in a studio because I wanted a plain white backdrop for the video.  This will put the focus on the actors without the distraction of any background and give the video a clean uncluttered look.  To get that kind of background you need to use a studio with a cyclorama, which is basically a wall with rounded corners, so you don’t see any hard edges.  Another advantage of using a studio is that we won’t have to move from location to location.  We’ll be able to do all the scenes on one sound stage and just change a few props, actors, and lights. 

With a small low-budget production like this, I’m doing much more than just producing.  I’m also playing financier, accountant, casting director, costumer, and prop master; and I’m sure my roles will expand even more in the days to come.  Today I ran around to various businesses looking for the costumes and props that we will need.  I struck out at a few places, but managed to find a couple of places that can give me just what I am looking for.

It’s getting late and I need to sign off now but, remember, keep voting!

My First Test Screening Experience

Wednesday I attended my first film test screening.  What is a test screening?  A test screening is where a movie is shown to an audience before it is officially released in order to get feedback that the producers can use to improve the film.  Each attendee is given a questionnaire to fill out with questions asking about the cast’s performances, the scenes, general impressions of the film, the ending, etc.

Screenings like this happen all the time in LA, but they are much rarer in the Bay Area.  So when I found out about this screening, I jumped at the chance to attend.  This was research for me.  I wanted to see what a screening was like in anticipation of perhaps doing one for my film some day.  And it was a chance to see an independent movie for free.  Can’t beat that price!

The host was one of the executive producers who started the evening off introducing a couple of other producers and the editor.  He said that this film was a rough cut and that the final edit might be influenced by the feedback they received.  They passed out pens and a two-sided questionnaire that was printed on very heavy paper (thin cardboard), which was a good idea considering that are no tables in a movie theater.  Where they fell short was in considering the readability of the questionnaire.  The print was too small and, even with the lights turned up all the way, the theater was too dark.  This made the questionnaire virtually unreadable for me.  I and several others had to go out into the lobby after the movie so that we could get enough light to read and answer the questions.

The producer said he was going to do a Q&A after we filled out the forms, so I admit that I rushed through the questions because I wanted to go back into the theater and listen to the Q&A.  I really didn’t give the feedback that I should have.  As it was, when I walked back into the theater, the Q&A had already started.  I don’t know how much of it I missed, but there wasn’t much discussion going on when I got there.  That was disappointing. 

The few questions that were asked were story related.  I asked a non-story related question, namely, I wanted to know what the budget was.  The producer wasn’t willing to give out that info, but he did say it was under a million.   I wish I could have gotten a more exact figure from him, but my guess is that the film was maybe in the $400 to $600k range.  But if you add on the talent, that might have brought up the number to the quarter million mark.  Mind you, this is just a guesstimate.  I may be way off.

After the movie, I overheard two women talking in the ladies room.  They were quite critical of the movie and one admitted that she didn’t have the heart to write what she really thought about the movie on the questionnaire.  I had to smile at that because I had the same problem.  It’s really hard to come right out and tell someone that you don’t like their movie and would never recommend it to anyone else, so I found myself soft pedaling what I really thought about the film.

Okay, no soft pedaling here.  I’m going to tell you what I really thought of the movie.  However, the movie shall remain nameless because my intent is not to tear apart someone elses work for the sake of, well, tearing it apart.  No, I have the utmost respect for what the filmmakers accomplished.  Heck, getting any movie made is a major accomplishment in of itself.  But I want to use this forum to explore what I thought worked and didn’t work in this movie. 

It’s vital that producers understand the various elements that go into a film and to be able to differentiate between quality and drek.  Of course, everyone in the business will tell you that there is no magic formula for what makes a film successful.  It’s virtually impossible to predict ahead of time what the audience’s reaction will be.  Regardless, producers are constantly having to evaluate other people’s artistic expressions, starting with the script, and making decisions based on those evaluations.  It’s part of the job.  In fact, the ability to be able to discern quality over the mediocre, together with personal taste, plays a huge factor in whether a producer will have a successful career or not.  So this is good practice for me.  

Just to warn you, there are going to be a lot of spoilers in my evaluation.  Frankly, I doubt that any of you will ever see this movie.  But, to be fair, I’m giving the warning anyway.

Evaluation Time

The story was about a bumbling detective who is in a turf war with a cult leader over the building they occupy.  The cult leader wants the detective’s office space.  The detective won’t give it up.  His ditzy secretary ends up being “recruited” by the cult and the detective must save her and his office space while also trying to find out who is following his new client, a sultry brunette.

A big part of this movie was the storyline with the sultry brunette.  I kept trying to figure out where they were going with her.  She hired the detective to follow her because she thought someone was following her.  But that never went anywhere.  Nobody was following her.  She was never in any kind of peril.

Then she started to come on to the detective and I got the feeling that she had hired the detective because she was lonely.  Okay, possible love interest?  Well, no.  That never went anywhere either.

Then it was revealed that she was a member of the cult.  Aha!  She was there to lure the detective away from that valuable office space, right?  Wrong.  She wasn’t really an active member.  So that went nowhere too.

So what was the purpose of this character?  Beats me.  She seemed tacked on and had no involvement whatsoever in the central conflict of the story. 

Speaking of central conflicts, they fell short on this one too.  What starts out as an office turf war turns into a “save the secretary” storyline.  Why?  Because she makes great coffee.  But then it is revealed that the cult’s cookies are laced with some kind of mind control substance, revealing that the cult leader’s plans are to turn everyone into mindless zombies who turn over all their assets to the cult.  This bigger threat could have been expanded upon to become the main storyline, but they really didn’t delve into it much. 

If you haven’t already guessed it by the silliness of the plot, this was supposed to be a comedy, but I didn’t find it all that funny.  I laughed maybe two or three times tops throughout the entire movie.

I’ve really got to wonder who they think the audience is for this movie.  It’s got a bit of a retro feel with the film noir type detective, but it’s set in our day and has a bit of an Austin Powers type of humor.  Even though it would be rated PG or PG-13, it really wasn’t suitable for kids as it had some adult themes.

Its lack of production values pretty much guarantees that it will never get any kind of a wide release in theaters or even end up on TV.  At the most it might do a limited release in art house theaters and go to DVD. 

Unfortunately, it looked like a low-budget film.  Cheap.  Real cheap.  There are ways filmmakers can stretch their budgets and give their films a bigger look.  But this film didn’t bother to employ any of those methods.  In fact, my budget estimate above might have been way too generous.

As a comparison, I remember a short 20-minute indie film called Broken.  I wrote an online review about it a few years ago.  What blew me away was that for only $8,000 the filmmakers were able to create a film that visually rivals a studio film.  They set a very high bar for indie films. 

This comedy, however, really needed a lot of work.  I kept looking for something that would set it apart and make it special.  Instead, it wasn’t even average.  The lighting was bad.  The camera was poorly placed and there were no interesting shots to speak of.  The sets/locations were poorly designed/chosen. 

I would have loved to see this movie have more of a cartoon look to it—something along the lines of Pushing Daisies would have worked really well for this film and given it more visual charm.  

Another thing this movie suffered from was talkitis.  It felt like they were trying too hard to make the dialog clever and funny.  But it really didn’t work.  Parts of it dragged on and on and on.

So how in the world did this film ever get made?  Obviously, there were some investors out there that thought enough of it to fund it.

Well, it had a strong cast.  In fact, its only strength was its cast.  I’m not going to name them, but you would recognize them in an instant.  They had some really talented actors in the lead roles and cameos by some even more well-known actors.  They all did a great job acting.  Unfortunately, the characters they were given to play were just caricatures.  Such a waste.

With a cast such as they had, I had to find out who they got to write and direct this movie.  So I looked it up and found out that the director and writer is the same person—a soap opera actor who also was one of the producers.  Now it started to make sense.  This was someone already in the business who had some connections.  Still, I’ve got to wonder if anyone bothered to take a look at his previous work to see if it was any good.

At this point there isn’t much they can do to salvage this movie.  It needs a page one rewrite and then virtually every creative decision they made about it needs to be rethought.  With their budget that is not going to happen.  The most they can probably do is try to fix the pace in the editing room, but I don’t think that is going to be enough to save this movie.

So would I have wanted to be involved in this project?  Probably not.  There are just too many things wrong with it, starting with the script.  If I could get it rewritten and hire another director, I would consider it since it does have a great cast.  But considering that the writer and director are the same person, that isn’t very likely.  My guess is that he attached himself as the director to his own script.  In other words, if you want the script, you have to accept him as the director.  But in this case, the story just wasn’t strong enough.

Using Stock Footage for a Bigger Budget Effect

Here’s a great tip from William Martell’s blog on how to give a low-budget film a big-budget feel:  Use stock footage. 

In his blog, Martell writes about a writing gig, that ended up going bust, in which the producer was supposedly looking for a script to fit a facilities deal he had.  What’s a facilities deal?  According to Martell, “a facilities deal is a studio that will give you equipment, studio space, standing sets, and often crew in exchange for a cut of the film.  Most of these deals are outside the USA, many in ex-Soviet countries (including Russia) and places like the Philippines and Mexico.  Anywhere where the film biz was booming at one time and now it is not.”   

Martell goes on to explain how he tries to make the most of the sets and  props that the facility has.  He writes:  “One of the issues with any facility deal is that to best use what they have, you need to stretch it. Just like any other backlot, they may have some street sets and some buildings, and then all kinds of cool standing sets on the soundstages. But you need that bit of stock footage of New York to sell that New York Street Set. You need some Paris stock footage to sell the European Street Set. And if you do a little bit of re-dressing and use a piece of Rome stock footage, your story can do a little globe trotting without any real cost.”

So how does using stock footage make a low-budget film look bigger?  Martell explains how he incorporates stock footage into his scripts:  “When you are writing scripts on a budget, you start to look for things that can stretch that budget – so that you can write a script that looks like a big studio film that can still be made on the producer’s budget…You didn’t want the audience to think your $3 million film cost $3 million. You want them to think it cost $100 million. So you learn to keep your eye out for anything that adds production value. I see a film with ‘harvestable’ stock footage, and I remember it. In this case, I was looking for stock footage that had been used at least once before in an inexpensive film – that way I know it’s cheap.” 

Where do you find stock footage?  Martell says that “you want to find great footage from a film that completely flopped. George Lucas isn’t going to sell you footage from STAR WARS (starring Mark Hammill) but you might be able to buy some of that great sci-fi footage from SLIPSTREAM (starring Mark Hammill). The bigger the film flopped, the more likely the producers want to make a buck or two selling someone stock footage…The biggest mistake you can make when thinking of stock footage is to consider material from a film that made money. You need to *only* look at big flops.”

What a great tip for us independent filmmakers who are looking to stretch our budgets!