This Short Film Is a Story of Life and Love in Advertising, Told Entirely Through Ads

Director Ben Callner got his big break in the Super Bowl

An office romance is in bloom, but will it last beyond the commercial break? Callner Brothers
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What happens when you successfully crash the Super Bowl? For 10 years, Doritos offered aspiring commercial directors the chance at Big Game ad glory, with tens of thousands applying for one of the brand’s Super Bowl ad slots.

Ben Callner was one of the chosen few from Crash the Super Bowl, and his spot “Goat 4 Sale” (which you can revisit below) ended up being one of 2013’s top-ranked spots in polls like the USA Today Ad Meter.

The ad’s success did usher in a strong career for the Callner Brothers—Ben and producer sibling Adam—but it also locked in a reputation for them as slapstick comedy creators.

“After the Doritos ad, I was the goat guy for a year,” Ben Callner says. “A lot of comedy directors, you start to get pigeon-holed and put in a box.

Hoping to attract new kinds of client projects and also stretch his talents as a filmmaker, Callner set out on the ambitious project that became “Adman,” a short film told entirely through ads. He wrote and directed the 14-minute video, a labor of love that emptied his bank account but accomplished his goal of creating something categorically different from the screaming goat spot that kicked off his career.

Rather than just create spec spots for existing brands to illustrate their range as filmmakers, the Callner Brothers decided to create Adman as a short film that condenses several kinds of advertising into one surprisingly fluid storyline.

The goal, Ben Callner says, was to “tell a story where everything did really live on its own, but when you put it together, the sum is greater than its parts.”

Ben and Adam Callner

Unlike client-backed ads with budgets and solid financing, however, short film projects are far more difficult to create and distribute.

“Financing a short film is impossible, and I know enough to not even ask. You don’t make money off short films,” Ben Callner says. “On paper, this is really stupid. But it was one of these things where I kind of had to do it.”

Despite the difficulty, he was drawn to the idea of a story that both played with our consumer culture’s connection to objects and told a simple tale of romance, marital friction and loss.

“It was such an out-there idea and something I personally hadn’t seen,” he says. “So I wanted to make sure the story itself was simple. Love stories are something I think everyone can hold onto.”

Compiling the story through ads created a range of challenges in tone and delivery, and Ben Callner admits the finished product isn’t flawless. But he’s proud that he and his brother pushed themselves to try something intimidatingly ambitious.

“I don’t know if we succeeded. We tried. It’s something new. I’m really not as sure it’s as tight as it should be,” he says.

“As far as my mental sanity, I have no regrets. I would have always regretted not making this. I feel so good about it. It was such a learning experience. It was the first time I had to stick to my guns despite people saying, ‘Ben, this might not be the smartest thing to do.'”

Here’s a look back at the Doritos “Goat 4 Sale” ad that put the Callner Brothers on the map, followed by credits for the new short film:


Writer/director: Ben Callner
Producer: Adam Callner
EPs: Ben Callner, Adam Callner, Steve Wi, Phyllis Koenig, Doug Chamberlain, Melissa Mapes, Ben Suenaga
DP: Doug Chamberlain
Production Designer: Christian Stone
Editors: Ben Callner, Joe Kell, Alex Pirrone, Ben Suenaga

Production Company: Raucous Content
Postproduction: Friendshop
Color Correct: Mpc Nyc
Sound Design/mix: Tunewelders

Cast: Ted Cannon, Jocelin Donahue, Judy Kain, Dar Dixon, Jarrod Crawford, Tim Karasawa, Josh Covitt, Erick Chavarria, Bill O’neill, Sam Carson, Niko Posey, David Aaron, Paul Vinson, Michele Lainevool, Adam Nemet, Harrison Polo

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@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."