Kevin Willson (’01) has worked his way into the big leagues — of commercials, that is. In February, the director’s now-famous “Sling Baby” ad won first place in the 2012 Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest, earning Willson a $1 million prize and an additional directing opportunity with Doritos. The ad — which you can watch at magazine.biola.edu — ranked No. 1 on the USA Today/Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter and received “most liked” and “most remembered” honors from Nielsen. For Willson, it was actually his second Doritos commercial to air during a Super Bowl. He has entered seven commercials in Doritos’ contest over the past three years and was a finalist each year; the memorable “Casket” aired in 2010. Willson has also directed documentaries for missionaries and organizations in countries like Thailand, Cyprus and Peru. Willson’s documentary on Free Wheelchair Mission received a standing ovation at the White House, and he has earned over a dozen directing awards. He recently shared some of his story with Biola Magazine.
I grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif. I had a lot of time where I just used my imagination, playing with Legos or G.I. Joe characters, and would always be creating stories in my head about their adventures and things. I think I was probably making little mini-movies in my head.
In high school, I’d get out of assignments in English and history classes by doing videos, and I just came alive. I was one of those weird kids who figured out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, which was to make movies.
I feel my time at Biola helped me with what I’m doing now in film. Me and my friends, we made a lot of short films, over and over again. The school encouraged that and gave us access to the equipment to make films. I got to show a bunch of my films at chapels, which was a lot of fun.
We created the BAB video movement. We did “BABheart” then we did “BAB to the Future.” And “BAB to the Future” had [former President] Clyde Cook as Doc.
My passion is to tell honest, God-honoring, meaningful stories. And in my opinion, life is a mix of pain, of joy, of sadness and laughter, and so I think the most honest stories have all of that and can be very powerful. I love good movies and I feel that’s what I was born to do.
For me, commercials are a fantastic way to tell tiny little stories and practice the craft and become better at it.
“Sling Baby” is the underdog story about how two people could not accomplish something on their own, but when the grandma and the baby team up, they can do extraordinary things.
I asked my visual effects friend, “Can you help us make a baby fly?” He said, “A baby fly? That's crazy! Do you want to use my son?”
When baby Jonah lifted the chip up in the air, which was the final shot, that was amazing to me because you never know — when working with a baby or animals or kids, you have limited control. The fact that baby Jonah was very cooperative and a happy baby made filming it more enjoyable.
I’m getting hired by Doritos to create another project with the Lonely Island guys: Andy Samberg, Akiva Shaeffer and Jorma Taccone, who are really nice guys. They’re hilarious.
They were at the Super Bowl with us, and Andy Samberg gave me a hug and he was like, “Dude, you guys put together ‘Sling Baby’ so well.”
The fact that it aired on the biggest stage in the world to over 120 million people and has received such great attention and is creating more opportunities for us I think is fantastic and a huge blessing from God.
I’m very grateful to my friends and my family. My parents have always been very supportive of this unstable, weird choice to become a filmmaker. And I also love how Biola believes it’s essential that Christians are creating quality work in the entertainment industry.
My passion and dream is to create mainstream comedic feature films that have worldwide appeal and emotionally connect with the audience, and are films that will have eternal significance.
I’m getting signed to a great commercial production company called HELLO! and Company. I’ve been trying to break through to the big leagues of commercials for many years. If I was in baseball, it’d be like I was playing in the minors and now I’ve been drafted to the major league.