January 28, 2010 at 9:20 a.m.

Beer commerical contest is opportunity to tap into his film making passion

Beer commerical contest is opportunity to tap into his film making passion
Beer commerical contest is opportunity to tap into his film making passion

It may take Erik Johnson years, but for now his dream of making a name in the film-making industry is on the upswing thanks to a Minnesota beer that few people would equate with the arts scene.

As first place winner in the Grain Belt beer t.v. commercial contest; Johnson, of Lindstrom, plans to leverage the $1,500 prize to distribute CDs of a documentary that was his inspiration for the winning beer commercial. There may even be enough prize money leftover to pay entry fees for documentary film competitions, he adds.

Johnson's Grain Belt beer spot won out of a field of 23 commercials. "It must have struck a chord" with people who went to the website grainbelt.com, said Johnson.

He was honestly surprised when the first place finish was announced at an event that brought contestants together earlier this month in the Ritz Theatre, in northeast Minneapolis.

'Will work for beer' is more than just a cute T-shirt phrase when it comes to the commercial's cast and crew. First prize also included a year's supply of Grain Belt for those involved.

The commercial features Johnson's friends from Lucky Bastards Car Club, traditional hot rodders who should have lived in the late 50s and early 1960s. Four of them (including Johnson) have come together as "The Violent Shifters," a garage-rock-a-billy band.

The documentary that Johnson hopes to get more exposure for, is a 35 minute short he made a couple years ago that delves into the "subculture" of the hot rod scene. The winning t.v. commercial prominently features Grain Belt as the clubbers' beverage of choice and features a definite 50's vibe in costumes and set.

Johnson said he's always enjoyed taking abstract ideas and transferring them into a visual form. He worked in television for about 13 years and freelanced for a time in video and film productions. In 2008 he earned his Masters Degree in film making and he teaches film at U-of-Wisconsin River Falls.

Technological advances and digitized equipment are making it easier and less costly to produce well-crafted film and video, Johnson explained. "Things have changed a lot, are still changing," he continued. "It used to be we had to have expensive cameras and editing machines" to be taken seriously.

We first met Johnson when those whacky Red Bull people announced he'd won a prize in the international Red Bull beverage can art contest. Entries are made entirely of Red Bull cans. Johnson and his sons entered a lighted, punched tin object d'art.

"I am starting to sense a theme in my life revolving around beverages," Johnson chuckled.

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