A few years ago I shot a video for the Doritos “Crash the Superbowl” contest. If you’re not familiar, the idea is to produce an original 30-second Doritos commercial. The winning video gets aired during the Superbowl, and the person who makes it gets a million bucks.
That sounded appealing to me, but, in my case, the main goal was to make a video with fake dog legs in it. I love videos that use fake, puppet-like animal limbs to get a laugh. I’d been wanting to make a video with fake dog legs for a while, and the Doritos contest seemed like a good vehicle for it.
A friend in our neighborhood had a beautiful Puli dog. That’s the breed with thick, dreadlock-style fur. Around Halloween, I purchased some Rasta wigs, and my wife was kind enough to construct a fake Puli leg using the Halloween dreadlocks, an old broomstick, and some cloth. Everything was coming together!
I came up with an idea, wrote the script, and did some basic storyboarding. Typical to my style of shooting, the idea was something that I could shoot entirely in our apartment, using just myself, my wife, and a neighbor’s dog. No jib shots. No aerials. No CGI. Just old-school laughs with a gratuitous fake dog leg or two.
Production went fairly well. We shot most of what we needed without the dog present. I did everything: lights, camera, sound, acting, etc. When I shoot with my wife, it’s often debatable who is directing. But, in my mind, I was directing as well. :)
The shoot with the dog went pretty well, too. I had never made a production with a live animal before, so it was new territory for me. I took extra precautions to make sure the hot lights were sandbagged down and out of the way. It was an exceedingly safe environment.
The dog in the video, Pickles, was well behaved and cheerful on set. But, she wasn’t a trained Hollywood pro. She would stay still for a moment or two in front of the camera, but she required a near constant supply of doggie treats to play along. I only had her for about 45 minutes, but I got enough footage to work with.
Unfortunately, the project broke down in post-production. The original script and storyline I was trying to create wasn’t working in the edit. It just wasn’t clicking. Things that were supposed to be funny weren’t. Instead of being funny, they just looked stupid. I hit a wall. I lacked the ability to take a step aside. What the project needed was a fresh approach. I had all of the elements, but I lacked the instinct to break away and try a new variation of the original idea.
The truly awful thing was that I lost the confidence to shoot narrative fiction. Seriously. This video was shot in 2011. I haven’t made narrative fiction since. I convinced myself that I sucked at it. I was madly in love video production, and throughly convinced that linear fictional storytelling was beyond my capability.
As the years passed, I would think about my fake dog leg project from time to time. It bummed me out that I never completed it. It bummed me out that it seemed to come together so poorly. Remember: video productions are incredibly hard to do. It wasn’t a simple matter of saying, “Hey, just shoot it again.” My failed project took weeks of preparation. Simply setting up my Arri 650Plus lighting kit is a major undertaking. In my mind, I had done all of this work and still ended up with garbage.
It was recently brought to my attention that many people were busy shooting their Crash the Superbowl videos. Out of curiosity, I looked up the deadline for submissions for this year’s contest. Wouldn’t you know it? The deadline was the next day. I had a little over 24 hours to bring my dog leg back to life. I was in!
To say I had fresh eyes this time around is an understatement. I didn’t even remember all of the elements of the story. As I watched the footage, I would come across entire scenes I had forgotten existed. It was great! It was exceedingly clear what needed to be chucked out and what was worthy of staying in. Unwittingly, I had eliminated every line of my own dialog. The only characters who speak in the final video are my wife and the dog. And even though my recent post about Final Cut Pro X was pretty harsh, using that software was helpful on this project. As weird the magnetic timeline is to deal with, FCPX did help me get the new edit happening quickly.
Why am I yapping on and on about a video that isn’t even embedded in the post? If you want to watch it (and believe me, I desperately want you to watch it), visit the link below, and if you think it’s good, PLEASE rate it 5 stars:
Don’t get me wrong. I’m under no illusion that the video I created is extraordinary. It’s just pretty okay. But, for years I thought I had made a total piece of junk. I thought it was worthless, and my aptitude for fictional narrative was equally bad. Now I feel like my video is decent, and that I should make more creative fictional storytelling projects. I’m psyched!
I’d be excited if a bunch of people voted for my video and it did well in the contest, but, it doesn’t matter what happens. I learned a hard, slow lesson with this project. My takeaway is this: don’t beat yourself up. If the project you made didn’t work, you may be able to get it to work if you step away from it and approach it again with fresh eyes — just don’t take years to do so. Give it a day, maybe a week, and try a new approach.
If it still doesn’t work, make a new project. You might not suck at it. Filmmaking is an incredibly difficult medium. It’s okay to fail. It’s not okay to give up.