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Benjamin Spillman

Amateurs take crack at Vegas ad campaign

14 June 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- What happens here in Las Vegas could look artsy and authentic on television if a contest for aspiring filmmakers is successful.

A Web site that offers Las Vegas hotel rooms, show tickets and other Sin City deals says it will hire the winner of a filmmaking contest to direct a national ad campaign.

Low-tech spots in the contest are an alternative to the slick, "What happens here, stays here," campaign sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. It's part of a national advertising trend that favors homemade-style videos over heavily produced, professionally generated commercials.

The trend has roots in the Internet's entrepreneurial culture but went mainstream in advance of the 2007 Super Bowl, when beverage giant PepsiCo and automotive titan General Motors solicited ad ideas, and actual ads, for the game from the general public.

Operators of, sponsors of the Las Vegas ad contest, linked the competition to the CineVegas film festival with the hope it would entice active or aspiring filmmakers to submit entries.

"We are a fairly creative bunch," said Howard Lefkowitz, president and chief executive officer of, which for several years has produced award-winning advertising and public relations campaigns. "We realize that not all creative notions emanate within our building."

Lefkowitz said the contest attracted more than 100 entries and the field has already been narrowed to five spots. A panel of judges will choose a winner tonight at Planet Hollywood.

In addition to the chance to direct a nationally televised spot for, the winner gets $5,000. is also a presenting sponsor of CineVegas.

"I would totally love it," said contestant Eric Tsou, 24, of Las Vegas, of winning.

Tsou, who moved with his family to Las Vegas as a young child, said the opportunity to present his vision of Southern Nevada to the world would be the best prize.

"If I were able to direct, I would love to show different parts of Vegas," said Tsou, who said he would like to go beyond the Strip and show golf courses and mountains in addition to casinos. "This town is such a great idea."

Tsou may be the contestant with the most in-depth knowledge of Las Vegas. Although he wasn't born in Nevada, his early experience embedded the culture of Las Vegas in his mind.

"When we moved here we were just like tourists ourselves," Tsou said. "We didn't have an apartment and we moved to the Imperial Palace."

His contest entry is an animated spot that depicts a stressed-out office worker who develops the ability to shoot flames from his fingers. Co-workers defuse the man's ire by booking him a trip to Las Vegas through the Web site.

Contestant Patryk Rebisz of Ridgewood, N.Y., also took an escapist approach to his entry. His ad depicts a near-catatonic man shuffling through a drab apartment. The monotony only breaks when he books a Las Vegas vacation through the site.

Rebisz, an independent filmmaker, said he spent about $800 creating the spot. The convention and visitors authority says it costs says it costs bout $2.5 million to produce each "What happens here, stays here" ad.

For inspiration he researched Las Vegas history and culture online.

"Vegas is kind of an interesting place. It is just sitting in the desert yet it prospers. It has to keep reinventing itself all the time," Rebisz said. "Instead of doing your normal day-to-day existence, you can go to Vegas and do it in a much cooler way."

An entry by Brian Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky of New York City depicts bored senior citizens playing bingo and urges viewers to "raise the stakes" with a trip to Las Vegas.

Daniel Kalai of Philadelphia submitted an entry about a low-key, conservatively dressed man who doesn't attract attention from female co-workers until they see a celebrity tabloid with a picture of him at a party in Las Vegas.

An entry by Brian Lazzaro of Venice, Calif., shows a man walking down the street in Los Angeles carrying a shiny pole and a cocktail. The man fails in an attempt to convince an attractive woman to dance against the pole. The ad encourages viewers to "increase your odds" with a trip to Las Vegas.

Lefkowitz said the winner of the contest will make significant creative and technical contributions to the national ad.

"At a minimum it will likely be based on the winning entry," he said.

The result, which will be ready sometime next year, is expected to be an innovative spot by the winner that depicts Las Vegas in a modern, relevant context, Lefkowitz said.

"It means do Vegas right, tie into the emotional psychological connections ... to both the Internet and Las Vegas," Lefkowitz said of his goal for the winning filmmaker.