DOWNEY ‚àí It's Super Bowl Sunday and a group of ordinary guys has gathered together to watch the football game.Now enter a beautiful, young woman with long auburn hair and a bright smile. Hoping to make a good impression on her boyfriend's friends, she glides into the living room with an assortment of Doritos chips in hand. "He's going to think I'm the best girlfriend ever," she says wistfully. However, before she has the chance to serve the delicious snacks, she slips on a doggie bone and tumbles. In shock, the men bravely leap up only to catch the Doritos. Needless to say, the guys end up piled atop the young lady in their efforts to save the valuable potato chips and a sneaky little dog runs up, snagging a chip right out of the girl's hand. "Unnecessary roughness," shouts one of the guys dressed as a referee. Although this Doritos commercial may sound unfamiliar, a team of local filmmakers, actors and artists hope the 30 second spot turns out to be one of the most popular commercials of 2012. Motivated by a grand prize of $1 million and a coveted commercial spot during the Super Bowl, a group of Downey natives joined forces last month to produce the witty Doritos commercial, which will compete against thousands of other amateur commercials as part of Doritos' annual Crash the Super Bowl video contest. In addition to helping advance their own Hollywood dreams, however, writer, director and producer Sarah Duran along with co-producer Andrew Garcia, believe the commercial also represents the city they once called home. Several years ago, Doritos launched a daring competition asking filmmakers across the country to create their own original Doritos commercials and submit them online. The company then selects five finalists and the public must vote for their favorite commercial. Whichever video wins the contest airs nationally as an official Doritos commercial during the Super Bowl. "It's an opportunity to reach a lot of people," said Duran, 37. "We've been itching to do something together so we partnered up on this project…but there was a point where we didn't think it would get made." Plagued by a small budget and limited help, Duran was hesitant to enter the contest initially, fearful that the commercial wouldn't come together. "We had no money," said Duran. "And I didn't want to make this on home video, but we had a good concept and we believed in the idea. We didn't want to give up on that." When Duran received a $500 donation from co-worker Dolly Rosell, she decided to persevere. "She believed in me," Duran said. "That propelled momentum and gave us a push." "In the end, it was about asking for help and having great friends," said Garcia, 34, who reached out to other Downey natives in the film industry to help support the commercial project. "Andrew was friends with George (Manzanilla) who did the editing and Peter Lago who did the sound," said Duran. "We filmed the commercial in Downey at Lagos' house. They were so gracious to open their home." "George was busy, Peter too," added Garcia. "But they pulled through, stayed up late, and helped us with the project." Before long, Duran and Garcia had a budget of $800 and nearly a dozen people lending their talents to the project. While some were paid for their work, others donated time towards the commercial project, which could potentially garner the team $25,000 if selected as a finalist next year. Duran, an award-winning writer and director who studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and holds a Bachelor's degree in Screenwriting from Cal State Northridge, cast budding actress Jade Harlow in the commercial's lead role. Harlow, who first appeared on the NBC hit comedy series "3rd Rock from the Sun," has also been featured in several films and television shows including the hit indie drama series "The Bay." "She is the Doritos girl 2012," said Duran. "She has that all-American look. It works because everyone can relate to the concept. It's universal." Duran, who supports diversity in her films, believes all audiences will enjoy the commercial as it reflects a real life scenario that could happen to anyone. "Not all girls are football fanatics, we bring in the treats," said Duran with a laugh. "By her wanting to be a part of the team, trying so hard, she falls…she's a klutz." "And you think the guys are going for her, but they're going for the Doritos," added Garcia who also starred in the commercial along with his brother, Aaron, after two male leads dropped out of the commercial. "You have to have a solid foundation, but I wanted there to be levels to it," said Duran. "It's about developing a story. You only have 30 seconds to come up with a clever story line. You have to cover all parts of the story." The team decided to add a layer to the short story by using Lainey Lane the dog in the commercial. Trained by local dog wrangler Sarah Belgrad who has been training dogs for over 25 years, Lainey Lane was given a prime role as a sneaky instigator in the commercial spot. "We started thinking, how can we make the dog more prominent - she's just too smart not to be featured more," said Garcia. Duran also added some quirky characters into the mix, including friend and web designer Steve Handfinger who plays one of the guys in the commercial, randomly arrayed in a referee outfit. Duran said her goal was to surround herself with people who are better at what they do than herself. "Filmmaking is a collaborative sport," she said. Even though their commercial only cost $800 to produce, Duran and Garcia, who works as a visual artist, musician and composer, contend that many companies today are looking for inexpensive, yet solid advertising ideas that don't take thousands of dollars to make. The production team was given a couple of tools to use on the Doritos ad, including the sound of a chip being crunched and a specific list of songs that could be played in the commercial. All of the other sound, according to Garcia, was created by the team and later added to the video. With the deadline looming, the team moved fast on the project, filming last month on Nov. 12 just nine days before the film was due. "We had a week to prep, a day to shoot and a day to edit," said Duran with a smile. On Jan. 4, Doritos will announce the five finalists and launch a massive voting campaign where viewers can vote for their favorite commercial from Jan. 4 - 29 through Facebook, Yahoo and Doritos' website. Whichever ad receives the most votes will be aired during the Super Bowl and if the commercial ranks number one on USA Today's ad meter, the team wins $1 million. The contest winners will also have the opportunity to consult with comedy/music-writing group The Lonely Island on a future Doritos commercial project. "We need Downey locals to help us create some buzz," said Garcia. "We did this to represent Downey and if they support us it helps Downey." "It would show everyone that projects can come out of Downey and can be made right here, not just Hollywood," added Duran. "Downey is not just a family town, there are thriving youth here, thriving arts and culture and thriving filmmakers." Both Garcia and Duran believe winning the contest could open up doors for the team, granting each member coveted exposure in the entertainment industry. "A million dollars would be great and could allow us to do great things. Money will come and go, but it would give us longevity," said Garcia, a graduate of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower. "It gets your foot in the door," Duran said. "You get to work in the big leagues on a professional level. I want to continue making universal stories with diverse casts." In the future, Duran, a graduate of Downey High School, hopes to mentor young people who are interested in the arts and film. Winning the prize money would allow her to set up programs and scholarships in the community like a $10,000 short film contest for local filmmakers. "When you have a great concept, don't let the money stop you - it will manifest," said Duran who is currently writing her next film about a group of girls coming of age. "If your passion is calling you in a different direction do what you love and ultimately it will put you in a position to earn an income from it. There's no excuse not to showcase your work. You can create your own buzz." To learn more about the project or watch the full-length Doritos commercial, visit Doritosbestgirlfriendever.com.
********** Published: December 8, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 34