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Doritos' 'Crash the Super Bowl' contest has Elon flavor

Elon University staff member Ryan Witt and senior Brian Szymanski partnered to produce an entry for the fan-made commercial contest and their submission was named a semifinalist for the competition’s $1 million grand prize.

The cast and crew of “Toll Booth,” a semifinalist in Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, pose together during the commercial’s Nov. 8 filming. Pictured (from left) are Paul Kantlehner, Kevin Otos, Grant Springate, Brian Szymanski ’16, Samantha Berry ’18, Ryan Witt and Iris Sullivan ’17.

​What Ryan Witt, a video producer at Elon University, enjoys about his Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” contest entry is its simplicity, the humor derived from a plausible chain of events between a father and son.

What audiences will likely appreciate is the youngster extorting his dear old dad for cheesy potato chips.

Ultimately, that’s the plot of Witt’s 30-second commercial, titled “Toll Booth,” minus any major spoilers.

“It all goes back to the messaging. How well does your commercial fit what Doritos is looking for?” said Witt, an adjunct instructor for the School of Communications. “Ours is funny. Not slapstick funny. Not disgusting funny. Not fall-on-the-ground, clutching-your-gut funny. It’s more like real life, more of a straightforward funny.”

Doritos representatives have agreed, naming “Toll Booth” one of just 50 semifinalists, chosen from nearly 4,500 submissions. Three contest finalists will be announced on Jan. 5 and invited to attend Super Bowl 50, played at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The ultimate winner, determined by a public vote, will have their commercial shown during the game’s broadcast, receive a $1 million grand prize, and collaborate with Hollywood director Zack Snyder on an upcoming project.

While Witt served as executive producer, he called the commercial a true partnership between himself and Elon senior Brian Szymanski, a media arts and entertainment major who wrote and directed the project.

“Brian really got me into it, and we are 50-50 collaborators,” Witt said. “If we win the money, we are splitting the money 50-50. He came up with the idea, of a kid making his dad pay a toll, and I helped flush it out.”

This isn’t the first time Witt and Szymanski have united on a project; in fact it’s a weekly occurrence. They both work for Elon’s Teaching and Learning Technologies, where Szymanski has served as an assistant video producer for nearly three years.

According to Witt, each fall the duo has contemplated entering the Doritos contest, but never actually filmed anything – until just a week before this year’s November deadline. It just so happens this is also the 10th and final year of the contest, Doritos has announced.

“Since it's my senior year, this was really the last chance we had to work on a project together before I graduated,” said Szymanski. “I think that a combination of that and having an idea that we both really liked helped it all come together this year.”

What did stand in the way was the weather, particularly rain. Filming was postponed several times, delaying the actual shoot until Nov. 8.

On the second Sunday of November, a small cast and crew ventured to a Greensboro neighborhood to shoot, filming at the residence owned by a friend of a friend of Szymanski’s. Witt bankrolled the entire production, which he estimated ran about $500. Costs included renting a car, hiring a tow truck, and purchasing denim overalls and Doritos, obviously.

With no real budget, all three onscreen performers agreed to work for free, unless the film captures the grand prize. Elon community members will likely spot the familiar faces of Kevin Otos (dad), coordinator of the theatre studies program, and JP Lavoie (tow truck driver), a multimedia developer on campus.

The “Crash the Super Bowl” contest will announce its three finalists on Jan. 5, 2016, and the ultimate winner will be determined by a public vote.

​To ease the burden of production, Witt and Szymanski enlisted the help of Zach Bocian ’17, a School of Communications student, to produce the project. His biggest contribution was casting Grant Springate, a young actor from Charlotte, to play Otos’ son.

Communications students Iris Sullivan '17 (grip/location audio), Samantha Berry ’18 (grip/location audio) and Evan McGillivray ’16 (color grader) also played key roles as crewmembers. Additionally, Lavoie was instrumental in postproduction, removing unwanted logos and branding.

“We originally had this humongous crew to shoot the week before, but we had terrible weather,” Witt said. “So, the day we actually filmed, there were only four or five of us on set. We were all doing a lot. It wasn’t just me or Brian, but 4-5 students who were essential in helping create it.”

With just one day to film and seven days to edit, Witt admitted the creative process was rushed. “But I’m glad it doesn’t look that way,” he added.

The most difficult part turned out to be the project’s length as Witt noted the story played out more like a 45-second commercial. “Cutting it down to 30 seconds was pretty difficult,” he said. “It was hard to keep it funny and have the pace be so fast.”

After viewing his fellow semifinalists, Witt said he definitely spotted some tough competition. “But if you’re an odds person, that’s still a 1-in-17 chance we can make the final three,” he noted. “If I had those odds in the lottery, I’d be feeling pretty good.”

Regardless of whether or not there’s a financial windfall from the commercial, the creators said they enjoyed the process because it involved so many friends and colleagues.

“I really enjoyed having a chance to collaborate with Ryan on the project,” said Szymanski. “He and I are on the same wavelength about a lot of creative elements, and it was a lot of fun bouncing ideas off of each other and ultimately creating something we are both proud of.”

Added Witt, “We did this because it was something fun to do, and we enjoyed ourselves. I wasn’t expecting to win money, but that would be a nice bonus. Either way, we’re happy to get this far. We have already accomplished something, making it into the top 50.”

Commercial Cast:
Grant Springate – Jimmy
Kevin Otos – Dad
JP Lavoie – Tow Truck Operator

Writer/Director - Brian Szymanski ’16
Executive Producer- Ryan Witt
Producer - Zach Bocian ’17
Director of Photography - Ryan Witt
Editor/Sound Design - Ryan Witt
Color Grader - Evan McGillivray ’16
Special Effects - JP Lavoie
Production Design/Location Audio - Iris Sullivan ’17
Grip/Location Audio - Samantha Berry ’18
Grip - Hannah Otos

Tommy Kopetskie,
12/8/2015 9:00 AM