MARQUETTE - For a significant part of its biggest-of-the-year audience, football is only an incidental part of the annual TV spectacle known as the Super Bowl.
It's the commercials that pique so many people's interest.
For the fourth straight year, a Marquette native has an instrumental part in the making of a 30-second ad vying for a spot in that Super Bowl telecast next Sunday night on CBS.
Marquette native Heather Kasprzak holds Shayna Jackman, age 2 1/2, during filming of a 30-second commercial vying for a spot in next Sunday’s Super Bowl TV broadcast. Entered in Doritos Crash The Super Bowl contest, Road Chip? was written, directed and produced by Kasprzak and her boyfriend, Tyler Dixon. Also starring Yoda, a Chihuahua-mix dog, the commercial includes Kasprzak with an anonymous, but spoken part as the mother. (Heather Kasprzak photo)
Heather Kasprzak, 29, is a 2001 graduate of Marquette Senior High School and the co-producer, co-director and co-writer of a Doritos commercial that may make its on-air debut in the NFL's championship game through an online popularity contest.
Oh, and by the way, she has an anonymous, but instrumental acting role in the commercial, too.
"I'm the mom in the front seat whose face you never see," Kasprzak said. "I've got the only real speaking role in the commerical."
Titled "Road Chip," the entire ad takes place in the second row of a minivan or sport-utility vehicle. Its principal actors are a young child and a small dog.
"We've learned what people like, and they love dogs and babies," she said.
The "we" is Kasprzak and her boyfriend, Tyler Dixon, who met at the 2011 Super Bowl. They were there for the big game in Dallas representing their separate finalist ads in that year's contest, which Doritos calls Crash The Super Bowl.
The corn chip maker sends two representatives from each finalist to watch the Super Bowl in a luxury box at the stadium, and it isn't until the game is played and commercials are shown on TV that contestants find out who has won.
Of the five contest entries available for viewing at a Facebook page on the Internet, the three that receive the most votes are aired during the big game. Doritos pays the $4 million price tag for each 30-second spot to be aired, a total of $12 million.
Anyone can cast an online ballot. In fact, all who visit the site are invited to vote for their favorite once a day, but only through Tuesday. Visitors can make it two votes per day if they also vote using their cell phones.
"I hope everyone in and around Marquette and all my friends will vote for 'Road Chip' and help get our ad on the Super Bowl," Kasprzak said.
In 2010, her first time out, she was assistant director for a spot titled "Casket" that made it on the Super Bowl telecast and earned high honors as a memorable commercial.
After two years of missing the big game, she's hoping this year's entry gets her back into the big time.
There's no actual prize money for making the Super Bowl; all five finalists have already won $25,000 and the trip for two representatives to attend the Super Bowl for beating out hundreds or thousands of other entries.
But there's a far more lucrative jackpot awaiting the best of the best.
"The USA Today Ad Meter rates all the commercials in the Super Bowl - there's usually about 60 of them - and if ours is ranked No. 1, there's a $1 million bonus," Kasprzak said. "No. 2 gets $800,000 and No. 3 gets $600,000."
And a shot at fame, since it would probably be re-aired over and over again for months to come.
As with nearly all popular commercials, it's humor that sells and makes them memorable. Without giving away the plot of this 30-second "story," the ad's premise is the competition for Doritos chips between a girl and her dog.
Amazingly, this professional-looking commercial cost Kasprzak, Dixon and a crew of about 10 just $3,000 to make.
"Everybody works for free," Kasprzak said, including herself.
Both of the main actors were found online via Craig's List.
"Her name is Shayna Jackman, and she is 2 1/2 years old," Kasprzak said of the young girl. "This is her first commercial, but she has an agent because she has done a number of print ads."
"The dog is named Yoda and lives with a family in north Hollywood. She's a full-grown Chihuahua mix."
Kasprzak said it was important that the actors' families wanted to help, since they got the child and dog to perform as needed.
The crew worked under a tight deadline.
"We shot everything one Saturday in November, six days before the deadline to turn in entries," Kasprzak said.
Past year's entries took place in much larger settings, like 2010's "Casket" that was filmed in a church. That created plenty of headaches trying to keep the production from spiraling out of control.
This year, virtually the entire commercial is shot in the back seat of a vehicle with just three characters all. But it presented its own host of challenges.
"It was a lot easier logistically this year, but then we had to figure out how to shoot with all the equipment in a small space, in a moving car and with a little girl and a dog," Kasprzak said.
They solved some of their problems by having the ad start with the vehicle stopped at a traffic light, and also not showing Kasprzak's face as the mother so they could dub in whatever lines they needed for her to say.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.