Tyler Dixon and Heather Kasprzak met as nemeses at the Super Bowl in Dallas in 2011. Both had created award-winning ads selected out of thousands by Doritos to air during the Super Bowl. Both were also hoping to be ranked No. 1 by the USA Today Ad Meter, which would award them the $1 million Doritos grand prize. Neither were successful, so they teamed up in love and in their creative lives. They were finalists last year, and are back with a new ad in the finals, hoping to win the million.
Thousands of filmmakers submit their ads to the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl Challenge every year. Five finalists are chosen and those finalists are voted on by the public, this year exclusively through a Facebook app. Two of those five finalists (one chosen by votes, one chosen by Doritos) will win $25,000, a trip to the Super Bowl and have their ad air during the game. Dixon and Kasprzak have gotten that far each of the past two years, and are again among the five finalists.
Here's where it gets complicated, and exciting. If one of the two winners' spots is one of the top three commercials ranked by the USA Today Ad Meter*, they win an additional grand prize: $1 million for #1 ranking, plus the opportunity to work with Michael Bay on Transformers 4; $600,000 for #2; and $400,000 for #3. Last year, Dixon and Kasprzak's ad “Dog Park” ranked #14.
This year, the couple co-wrote and co-directed their spot, “Road Chip.” We spoke with them about what they've learned over the last three years and why they think this spot has a chance at the million.
What makes a great Doritos Super Bowl ad and one with #1 ranking potential?
TYLER: Normally, Doritos' target market is 13-to-18-year-old-boys — you know, gamers. But for the Super Bowl it's a broader audience, and with the ad meter it's a much broader audience.
I have a little bit more of a quirky taste and comedic sensibility than most. I like things that are a little off center. But when the goal is to reach a broad audience, you have to move your appeal further to the center, so that's what we've done this year. But I feel like our ad still has our imprint on it.
And you guys met at the Super Bowl as finalists in 2011?
HEATHER: Yep, we were competing against each other. It was a special year because there was this huge snowstorm in Dallas, so all the finalists really got to know each other because we couldn't go anywhere. Otherwise you're at all these different events and don't have a lot of alone time. We were on lock-down.
TYLER: It was a blessing in disguise, the blizzard of '11.
This year's ad, “Road Chip”
How did you come up with the idea for your spot?
HEATHER: We started with characters. Dogs and babies are popular, so what scenario could we build around those characters? Where would a baby and a dog be? I think we were in the car when we thought of it. A car also makes for a nice angle and relationship between two people.
TYLER: Once we were brainstorming those characters, that scenario just popped into my head. I know it's a good idea when I can see the whole thing from start to finish. This idea is about the lawlessness of the back seat. When mom or dad's driving, the kids are in the back seat and there's very few repercussions. It's a 'fend for yourself' environment.
A dog AND baby?! Did things go smoothly on set?
HEATHER: We definitely had moment's when we were like, “Are we crazy?”
TYLER: We'd never shot in a car before. But it's actually one of the hardest things to do because lighting each shot is very difficult.
HEATHER: Plus it's a moving vehicle and you need to get a ton of people into that car to get the shot.
TYLER: We had a lot of dogs in our ad last year, so we thought this year would be much easier.
HEATHER: But Shayna's [the little girl] stuff took way longer than we anticipated. And Yoda [the dog] got tired fast during her running shot because she's really overweight. So when it was time for her close up, she just got in her bed and went to sleep.
How did you cast your stars?
TYLER: Originally, it was supposed to be my nephew, but it kept getting pushed until finally we had to put a notice up on L.A. Casting We got 150 responses and called in 40. This was a week before the shoot.
HEATHER: We thought only 20-25 kids would show up. But all 40 came. Some of them with dogs too. We did the audition at CAZT, a free audition place. They were amazing and let us go way past our time, with all these dogs there. They were great.
TYLER: Casting is as much about the parents as the child. If the parent couldn't handle the kid or seemed like they themselves would be difficult…You don't want to deal with that all day.
HEATHER: Yea, we had to pay attention to how the parent and kid talked to each other. You want to work for a cool family. Shayna's family was super cool. Her grandpa was there and her mom and her bunny.
TYLER: We found Yoda, the dog, just two days before the shoot. Originally, I had wanted a super ugly dog, like a Chinese Crested that looks like the guy from Tales From the Crypt, but those are hard to find.
All of the finalists this year have been finalists before. You guys have been finalists three times. Why do you think there are so many repeats?
HEATHER: I think there's only a certain amount of people out there who try really hard, who go all-out with their research and call in all the best people they know.
I also think people spread the word within their community. I heard about the competition from my really good friend who directed “Sling Baby” last year. That's who I made my first submission with. He's a really talented guy who draws talented people around him. He's a very “I'll teach you everything I know” kind of guy, which motivates people within the same group of friends to try the competition for themselves.
Do you have another ad you admire among the other finalists?
HEATHER: “Goat 4 Sale.” TYLER: “Goat 4 Sale.”
HEATHER: It's really well made, from a film making perspective. You can respect it. We love his creativity with that scream. The angles and the popsicle thing…. He really built that out of thousands of popsicle sticks! And it's very hard to work with a goat! I guess he had to work with two goats to get that eye line, because a goat will not look a person in the eye. It will only look at another goat.
A competing commercial, “Goat 4 Sale”
That one kind of freaked me out, and it didn't exactly make me want to eat Doritos. Why do you think that one works?
HEATHER: It works because people will talk about it. “Hey, did you see that Doritos goat ad?” But then again, it may not get one of the spots that airs because I've also heard a lot of people with the same response as you: “I don't get it. It's weird”.
TYLER: I love weird stuff. I think “Goat 4 Sale” is in the same vein as my commercial that went to the finals my first year, “The Best Part.” They both skew way younger. Older people aren't going to get it. And there's a certain element of the population that just doesn't like that type of humor.
Up next: How much did “Road Chip” cost?
How much did “Road Chip” cost to make?
TYLER: It cost just under $3,000.
HEATHER: And it cost a little more because once we won the $25,000 for being a finalist, we went back and paid everyone a better day rate. If we win the million we'll give everyone an additional rate bump as well. We make sure everyone gets a piece of the pie so it's not just us winning the money.
Do you think being a finalist from a previous year gives someone an advantage over other contestants?
TYLER: We've never met the judges. It's always rotating. The way it works at Doritos is one person runs the Crash the Super Bowl program one year and then moves on. They graduate from it, so it's never the same people.
HEATHER: One advantage we do have is that we've studied what they're looking for over numerous years. I'm not sure everyone puts that much time into “What does this brand want?”
So how did you guys end up in this crazy town? What did you come here to do?
HEATHER: Right after I graduated, I moved out here. I had originally majored in dance, then switched to film and media studies. I wanted to direct but I got into the producing side because I wanted to learn about all the jobs on set in order to be a better director. Now I'm trying to get back into the directing side. I spent the last five years working at Mattell writing and producing commercials for like, Hot Wheels. Commercials are really fun, but the ultimate goal is to make movies.
TYLER: Straight out of school, I worked for a consulting firm. Then I did medical device sales, then I did real estate. Finally I just got tired of doing stuff I didn't love and decided to create TV and film. I've always had great ideas for those mediums and a good sense of humor. I started as a writer but I quickly realized it's a lot easier to get an idea in front of someone if you film it as opposed to just writing a script. I'm a self-taught film maker.
I have a handful of TV projects I'm developing. My ultimate goal is to create for television and I have a few film scripts I'm working on as well. In the immediate future I'd love to get repped as a commercial director and eventually work my way up to features.
Other than winning the million, what keeps bringing you back to the Super Bowl Challenge?
TYLER: The economy has really taken a toll on this industry. It's a lot harder now to get repped and get paying jobs. So one reason we keep doing it is that we're still trying to break in. I feel like we have to keep proving ourselves.
HEATHER: Yea, some people think, “Oh they're professionals already. That's why their ad is so good.” But why would we be doing this if we were professionals?
TYLER: If I was repped by a production company I wouldn't still be doing this! I'm still a door to door salesman. After winning this contest three years in a row, that's still how I'm making my money. And if you're paying for your own productions, this is not a cheap hobby.
HEATHER: I think we're proving to people that we really know what we're doing. People see that it wasn't just a fluke. The quality of our ads is consistently great. We have really good ideas. Winning the million would definitely help so that we could start our own company or invest in our own films.
Has being a finalist three years running helped you move forward in your careers?
Heather: I was making more internal videos for Mattell for a long time and once I started making the Doritos ads I pitched myself as a writer/creative producer to the agency. It helped me prove myself to them and I got to start making actual commercials.
I wouldn't say it's lead to one specific job. I'm still trying to break in. But I've learned a lot. I'm not the best self-promoter. I like to make stuff and have the work speak for itself, but this is the new order of things. You have to be proactive and create your own opportunities. The old way was waiting around for someone to come along and say, “Oh you're talented — here's this job.” Nowadays you have to go out and create the job yourself.
HEATHER: I've also learned so much about social media through this process — how to promote ourselves and how to brand ourselves, which I think will be helpful in the future.