The Smackout


At 32 years old, USC School of Cinematic Arts alumnus Brendan Hayward, who graduated in 2004, finally found his first big break.

His submission to the Doritos “Crash the Superbowl” commercial competition was chosen as one of the top six finalists, winning him $25,000 and bringing him one step closer to his dream of becoming a successful film director — and it all started when he first signed up for an elective film class his senior year of college.

“I really just needed an easy A,” Hayward said. “But I ended up really liking it. It was the first time I saw something that I really want to do.”

Hayward comes from a family with math and science backgrounds; both his parents are engineers and his grandfather, a physicist, helped build the atomic bomb. So when Hayward entered the University of Virginia as a physics major, he seemed destined to follow the same career path as his family. Though he enjoyed his time in Virginia, he never experienced a burning passion for his studies — until he took that fateful film class.

It was then that Hayward found his true calling ­— film production.

“Everyone in my family was into math and science, but I figured out that I was actually really into film,” Hayward said. “I ended up not getting a good grade in the class, but I also figured out what I actually wanted to do with my life.”

After graduation, Hayward cast his physics degree aside and decided to act on his passion. Within a year of graduation, he had packed up his Honda Accord and driven across the country to Los Angeles. Two years later, he got accepted into the Peter Stark Producing Program, a selective two-year graduate program at USC offering intensive preparation for careers in film production.

Even with a prestigious masters degree in hand though, breaking into the film industry is a huge challenge. To make ends meet after leaving USC, Hayward worked at an SAT tutoring company in Santa Monica. A high school tutor by day, dreamer by night, he saved up whatever money he earned so that he could spend it on his independent film projects, eventually hoping to break into commercial directing.

Meanwhile, Hayward started looking for film contests online, hoping for a way to make his name known to the highly competitive world of the film industry. When he found out about the Doritos “Crash the Superbowl” competition, he saw his chance.

“The Doritos [competition] is top of all commercial contests,” Hayward said. “Not only does it offer a lot of money, but you get to be shown during the Superbowl. It doesn’t get any higher than that.”

His winning commercial, called “The Smackout,” is about two men playing a game where they physically smack each other — the first one to flinch has to make the next Doritos run. Beside them, their girlfriends sit and watch in disbelief.

As a big football fan, Hayward found inspiration for his commercial from his fellow football buddies.

“I saw a lot of games that the guys play, and I came up with the idea of two guys smacking each other. It’s just pure physical comedy, and I thought it would work for Doritos, because Doritos is sort of into all that kick-to-the-groin slapsticks,” Hayward said.

But the journey to his current winning commercial was full of setbacks. In fact, Hayward entered the competition last year but lost. Undeterred, he entered again this year but ended up having to reshoot the entire film because he was not satisfied with some of the acting in the original.

Just two days before the submission deadline, Hayward found himself agonizing over whether or not he should reshoot the commercial.

“I asked my girlfriend, ‘Should I spend another $2,000 to reshoot it?’ And she said, ‘Well, will you regret it if you don’t?’”

In the end, Hayward decided that he did not want to have any regrets, so he rewrote and reshot the commercial and submitted both the original and re-do in the nick of time. The second last-minute commercial won.

“It was amazing,” said Hayward about his reaction to the news. “I jumped through the roof. I thought they had already announced the winners, and I thought I had lost. It was two days before Christmas when they called and said, ‘This is Doritos. Do you know why I’m calling?’ And then they told me, and I screamed and called my girlfriend. It was a great early Christmas present.”

This was not the only time Hayward’s girlfriend, Alana Littler,  had contributed to his accomplishments. Littler, a marketing brand expert, she noticed that the first commercial Hayward shot was full of stereotypes and, during the second round, helped him change the scripts to make it more “female-friendly.” The result: women cast as incredulous and amused girlfriends, while still retaining the casual stereotypical view of silly, childish boyfriends.

“My girlfriend has been awesome, helping me through,” Hayward said. “She was an integral part of me getting into the contest. I think the commercial got picked because of the help I got from her.”

She was also the first person he called to celebrate, and they cracked champagne together that night. But they had no time for any other major celebrations as Hayward was already worrying about getting public votes and planning out how to make it to the final round.

For Hayward, the voting process has been just as tough as the shooting process, if not harder. Enlisting all of his friends to help him out, Hayward created Facebook pages, a website and sent out e-mail newsletters to everyone he knows. Hayward learned to build a thick skin by constantly seeking more votes, no matter how annoying he had to be.

And though his parents had at first disapproved of his decision to switch to a film career, they have supported him throughout the competition, helping him to solicit more votes. His girlfriend joined him in interviews on local radio stations, and the two even traveled to Hawaii to gain more voters.

If Hayward makes it to the top three, he could potentially win a grand prize of more than a million dollars. The first thing he said he would do with the money is pay a bonus to everyone who was involved in the project. Then he would donate $10,000 to his high school film program in Cranston, R.I. With the leftover money, Hayward plans to produce yet another film. Eventually, he desires to break away from directing commercials and move into producing romantic comedies.

The voting ends on Jan. 31, but Hayward will find out the results along with every other viewer during the Super Bowl XLIV broadcast on Feb. 7. Doritos will pay for a six-day trip to the game in Miami. The six finalists will watch the game together, and their reactions will be filmed when the winning commercials are aired.

But in the case he doesn’t win, Hayward will still continue to pursue his career goals.

“The way I look at the voting process is that on Jan. 31 when it’s all done and over, if I look back and say, ‘I’ve tried my hardest and done everything I could have done but still didn’t win,’ then I’m fine with it,” Hayward said.

Being one of the top six finalist out of 4,000 entries is already a big success, and Hayward says his future is set: he will no longer have to direct as a side job. Besides, there just might be other perks.

“I’ll have to ask if I can get free Doritos,” Hayward added. “I love Cool Ranch, it’s my favorite flavor.”

9 replies
  1. Mary Shelley Klein
    Mary Shelley Klein says:

    This is one sharp young man and he should go far. He certainly demonstrates the importance of persistance. Now where have I heard that before?

  2. Jim
    Jim says:

    I wish a link to the voting website was included in this article…Google here I come!

    FIGHT ON BRENDAN!!

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  1. […] out my feature on the Brendan Hayward, a finalist for the Doritos Crash the Superbowl competition, here on The Daily Trojan It’d be great if you took a look at his commercial…It’s pretty funny (in […]

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