Imagine what you'd do if you won a million dollars.
For the past 8 years Doritos has held a contest allowing anyone with a camera and an idea to shoot their own commercial. It has to be clean, it has to be funny and it has to make Doritos look good but other than that everyone has carte blanche to bring their idea to life. Leading up to last year's Super Bowl the contest was opened to the whole world and over 5500 commercials were submitted. Doritos narrowed down the submissions to 5 finalists and the world voted to see their favorite air during the Super Bowl with the top vote getter winning the $1 Million Grand Prize.
This is the commercial that won.
And this is the interview I had with Daved Wilkins, the actor who starred in the commercial.
J.R. Wilco: You've had a pretty cool thing here, it's kind of the American Dream. The amount of people who have actually won a million dollars is a pretty small group that you've joined. It's cool, huh?
Daved Wilkins: It is more exciting than I anticipated it being. If there's ever a scenario or situation, my head runs through 6000 versions of how it could go. How I might react; how other people might react; and honestly I underestimated how huge this would feel.
JRW: How long have you known the guys that you created this video with?
Wilkins: I met Raj, who is one of the co-writers and producers of the project, doing a local commercial in Arizona for a commercial about five years ago. He's a big networker, much like I am, and we stayed in touch and compared notes about the industry in Arizona. I was working at a theater in Tuscon and he was a software engineer up in Phoenix. Our daily lives were very different, but we shared our passion for film and television.
Raj had met Ryan doing a 48-hour film festival a couple of years back, so he introduced Ryan and I and we became friends on Facebook. The first time I met Ryan in person was when I pulled up to his mom's house to shoot this commercial. For the last couple of years he would send me scripts of things he was writing, or rough cuts of short films that he had edited. He would legitimately ask my opinion, and I would give him my notes so we already had a kind of had already developed a bit of a shorthand. So even though it was the first time we had met in person, I felt like we had already known each other for quite some time.
JRW: So you were in Arizona and then you moved out to LA, when was that?
Wilkins: Three and a half years ago.
JRW: How many times had you entered the Doritos Contest before?
Wilkins: I had acted in a Doritos submission once a couple of years ago. This was the first time I had any creative input on a submission.
JRW: So take us through the filming, from "Hey, do you want to be in this project," to you going out to Arizona, to you doing the whole thing.
Wilkins: It was great. Ryan called me and said, "Hey listen, we have this idea for the Doritos Commercial." I talked to Raj about it, because Ryan and Raj had been doing the commercial for the last four years together, and they had gotten some recognition, but they had never gotten to the finalist round before. They said they had this idea about a time-machine, and a kid, and this neighborhood guy, and we think this idea is great. They say who would be good at this, and they both said my name at the same time. They already knew they wanted to use me as an actor.
So they sent me over their first script, and we went back and forth with different notes and some really specific concepts and I was trying to cut it down time-wise. I don't use it much, but I got to use my marketing degree, and also the experience I have being in commercial casting offices the last three years that I've been here in LA. I look at a lot of commercial copy, and I see that there is a rhythm to it, certain visuals that you need to have, especially when you are showcasing a product.
They were very open to all of my suggestions, and we probably rewrote it half a dozen times to get to the final script that we wound up shooting. The hardest thing is taking a funny idea and actually making a good product commercial.
JRW: Take us through the single day of filming.
Wilkins: I drove in late the night before, and woke up early the day of the shoot. Then drove in and met Old Man Jims for the first time, and met our friend Steven, who is kind of a jack-of-all-trades. He helped with bounce boards, setting up some rigging, and helping make sure the Golden Retriever didn't get bored and start barking. We showed up and everyone was just happy to be there. We wound up shooting two different versions because we liked the concept of the time machine of actually working and disappearing, and we also liked the concept of the guy in the time machine thinking that it worked - which is what we ended up going with. It was a fun experience for me as an actor to go back and forth between those two characters. One guy who is placating the child, and one guy who just wholeheartedly believes that his can work, will work, and does work.
JRW: Were there actually chips in the bag, or did you have to put something else in there to film it?
Wilkins: There were chips in the bag of Doritos that I was holding. We had a couple different bags for the one that the dog gets into. One had carrots, apples, and peanut butter. They cut a little hole in the bag because there is a little concern about dogs and Frito Lay bags. But the dog was never left alone with a bag of doritos or anything.
JRW: So how many bags did you guys go through?
Wilkins: Well we kept having to get a new bag because it would wrinkle up as we passed it through the little slot on the time machine. I think we wound up using 15 of the large bags.
JRW: And how many chips would you estimate you ate that day?
Wilkins: Just shy of all of them. I probably ate one bag by myself. A lot of that was me making sure that the chip I was holding in the commercial had that perfect Dorito-triangle look.
JRW: You were eating the nacho cheese flavor that day?
Wilkins: Yes. They were the only ones we could find that didn't have any other logo on them. Doritos was doing an XBox promotion at the time. We had to go to four different store just to find one that didn't have and XBox logo in the corner.
JRW: That's not a problem that you would expect to come up.
Wilkins: It's funny, a lot of the entries had that XBox logo on the bag, but I don't think that any of the top-five did. So I was glad that we paid attention to that detail.
JRW: Anything else from that day that was funny or interesting?
Wilkins: Well, about five houses down the people decided, on a Friday morning, to have a garage sale. We constantly had takes interrupted by people pulling up and walking over to our table filled with Doritos and camera equipment trying to buy stuff.
Finally, after seven hours we finally wrapped shooting, and this man comes down the street in a Rascal scooter with a teenager sitting on the floorboard. They pull up in front of us and ask, "Y'all got any tents?" So specific! We said, "This isn't the yard sale, it's down th..." "Well y'all got signs up." I was just thinking, "you just drove past it. You went right by it. It's the place right back there with the clothes and chairs." It's funny, he was so frustrated that we didn't have any tents.
JRW: So after you got it all cut together and edited with the two versions, did you submit them both?
Wilkins: You can submit up to I think ten, and we ended up submitting both because we were proud of the work. The one that won was clearly the better of the two. It was definitely our favorite. I did like the version where he just disappears, because it's so unexpected, and I scream really loudly. We all played a part in piecing that final edit together, and that's why when we put up the submission on the website all three of us were called. We were all on the same page and confident, obviously for good reasons.
JRW: Yeah, it turned out pretty well for you. So, you're done with the filming, you've submitted it, now it's about promotion. They added web-voting to the contest this year. What was that like?
Wilkins: This was the first year that public voting would decide the grand prize winner. In previous years the public would vote and the top two would be the ones that air, but whether or not they made any money was based on how they ranked on the USA Today ad-meter. So this was the first time people could vote for a spot to win a million dollars. Getting the word out on our commercial was not only paramount, but for a million dollars you work really hard, and you do stuff. They announced the top-five on January second, exactly one month before the Super Bowl. That morning I woke up to several text messages that I was on The Today Show.
Sure enough they showcased four of the commercials and described one that they felt was inappropriate to show on television. That was kind of where it started. Ryan and his son Gavin were on basically every news outlet in Phoenix. Raj, who was born and raised in Maryland, was talking with newscasters out there. I went out to Tucson where I had just moved from and did some interview stuff there. I talked to the local paper in Austin where I grew up. We moved around a lot when I was growing up and I didn't like that nomadic lifestyle, but it's great for promoting stuff because you're from everywhere.
JRW: Hometown boy makes good.
Wilkins: Even the paper in Burbank, where we live, got in on the action and did a very nice interview. We also had our Twitter, Facebook, and our own website ready ahead of time. The greatest thing was our friends and family were so excited to share this commercial with anyone that would listen to them for 30 seconds. Because everyone was so involved, they felt like they won, too. I got so many calls and texts telling me that their phones were going crazy with people contacting them about it.
People were excited for us, and about the whole situation. The theater I worked for in Tucson went above and beyond. They had a big meet-and-greet where they gave everyone free pizza, Doritos, and sodas. They built a replica cardboard time machine that we could take pictures with people in front of. They printed out this huge banner that said "Vote Time Machine at Doritos.com." I actually took that banner with me and spent several days with it just hanging over the overpass on the 101, just waving at traffic, doing anything to get the word out about the commercial. It's like that saying, it's only weird if it doesn't work.
JRW: We've talked filming and promotion, take us through the winning. Who were you with, where were you, and what was all of that like because up until the Super Bowl when you only knew that you were in the top-five.
Wilkins: Ryan and Raj actually got to be at the Super Bowl in the Doritos suite. My wife Melissa and I had about 40 people crammed into our little 900 square foot house in Burbank. To be honest, I've never been so confident that something was going to happen. I just knew it, but I'm a very optimistic individual to begin with.
I didn't expect the commercial to come on in the first 20 minutes. It was during the second commercial break, which I've heard now is one of the most expensive placements for ads, and I'd wandered away from the couch to get something to drink. When 40 people in a very small house start screaming, it makes a very loud noise. And this moment just plays over and over in my head, I spun around and I saw that commercial that I had watched 1000 times, and just stood there in shock as 40 friends were just clapping and screaming. It was amazing. It was such a wonderful experience that I hope everyone gets to have at least once in their life.
JRW: So everyone is screaming, and what did you do then?
Wilkins: I ran out the door and down the street and our golden retriever followed me. But then nobody was in the street. I don't know, I guess maybe in my head I thought everyone would be out like you see in the movies, and they would be clapping as I ran down high-fiving them on the sidewalks. But nobody came outside so I went back into the house where people actually cared.
JRW: The rest of the Super Bowl was kind of anti-climactic at that point. Because you were prepared to wait through the entire Super Bowl to see if yours was aired. Because only two of the five finalists would air during the game, right?
Wilkins: Well, my phone immediately started buzzing and did not stop for something like 14 hours. And it was so much that I couldn't even begin to try and keep up with it all. So I immediately tried to call Ryan and Raj you congratulate them. And find out what they knew. And they told me that I have been told by Doritos that the second commercial would come on after the two minute warning. So we knew that we were going to have the entire game to wait. And I just remember kind of walking around in shock and then constantly being shocked at the score of the game. "What is happening?" It was so absurd, like it was Bizarro Super Bowl. I guess it was 43 to nothing at one point or something and I was trying to keep it altogether. And I kept my wits about me until I went outside to call my parents and tell them that we had aired. I don't know, I guess, doesn't matter how old you are when you call your mom -- you just cry like a baby.
JRW: Had they been watching the Super Bowl, or not?
Wilkins: No, they don't have cable. So what they were doing was they had Facetimed the parents of my brother-in-law, and have them point the camera at their TV so that they could watch the game trying to live stream to see if the commercial came on.
JRW: So that's the Super Bowl. And you're completely hyped up at this point, I remember talking to you and you said that you weren't going to sleep all night until it was announced on Good Morning America. And then of course ABC goes all the way to the end of the program...
Wilkins: To the end of their two-hour broadcast. I tried to find a way to stream the East Coast feed or try to watch it somehow.
JRW: So they are on the East Coast and good morning America starts at 7 AM in every time zone, so the only people I could see the actual announcement in real time are the people in the studio and the people watching on the East Coast.
Wilkins: Right. So I called Raj, it was still in New York, and he didn't get to go to with Ryan. So he was still in the hotel in New York. And he was watching Good Morning America, but New York was suffering a big storm that it just hit and they were closing down all of the airports and there were these delays. So the network had cut away to cover the storm. And they hadn't gotten back to the broadcast. So I'm on the phone with him thinking that he would let me know who won, and he and I both got about 40 tweets at the same time. That's how we found out that they had just handed Ryan a check for a million dollars.
And seeing is believing. So I kept waiting, until a friend of ours and Marilyn had just sent us an iPhone video of good morning America handing him the check. So I saw it, and I knew that it was true -- that this thing that we were so proud of had won. It had won us a million dollars.
It had wone me, as an actor, the kind of exposure that you don't get until you are a household name. My face was on the Jumbotron in Time Square. There are not a lot of people that get to say that. This was the most watched television event in US history, 111.5 half million people. That's like a third of the U.S.
JRW: So what happens to the commercial now that it has won?
Wilkins: When Doritos airs it, for me as an actor it's like I just booked a national commercial. So Doritos will pay me just like I was an actor they had cast. They will continue to air it for as long as they want to. The winner from last year aired for an entire year and I think might still be airing in some markets. So get ready, America. You are going to see this face for at least 12 months.
JRW: So everyone attached to the commercial now has this on their resume. So what's next for you?
Wilkins: It's always a question of how to turn the exposure into getting work. My agents are very excited, obviously. they have a name-brand product to sell now, so to speak.
It's funny, last night I was thinking "Nothing is really happening, I don't know what's going on." Then I realized it had only been 12 hours since they announced we'd won, but I felt like an entire day had gone by. Of course, I was also delirious from lack of sleep. So we will have some communication with Doritos about what they plan to be doing with the commercial. And Ryan will find out when he will be going to London to work with Joss Whedon. I am still, in my day dream imagining, thinking I will get the call that they want Tony Stark to have a new goofy best friend. A new character that they just developed.
JRW: That doesn't sound too far-fetched for a guy who just won a million dollars.
Wilkins: I'm a dreamer, that's for sure. But now I'm a dreamer with dreams that come true.