Doritos ad gets Charlotte man a job with ‘Transformers’ director Michael Bay

Charlottean behind Super Bowl ad to work on ‘Transformers 4’

02/08/2013 5:44 PM

02/11/2013 7:59 AM

Sometimes a human life turns around in 30 seconds.

Before his half-minute “Fashionista Daddy” ad aired during the Super Bowl, Mark Freiburger was a Providence High School (and University of N.C. School of the Arts) graduate who had written, directed or produced half a dozen small, contemplative feature films.

Within five minutes of its airing, he received 120 text messages. Within days, 700. He’ll work for director Michael Bay this summer in a still-undefined job on “Transformers 4.” Commercial production companies have bid for his services. He’s been approached to direct a 3-D IMAX documentary about the Wright brothers this autumn at the Outer Banks.

Does he know anything about 3-D IMAX movies?

“I’m meeting with a DP (director of photography) who has shot many major IMAX movies to see what it will take to make something like this. It’ll be very different for me, but it’s cool to film a part of North Carolina history.”

The surest thing in Freiburger’s life seems to be this: He’ll shoot a romantic comedy, “Under the Apple Tree,” this spring in Charlotte.

The second surest? At 29, his horizon has broadened by an incalculable amount.

A moment of wild joy

“It didn’t sink in until the next day,” he said of the tumult in the Frito-Lay skybox in New Orleans. “That’s partly because it was exciting, but there was also a piece that felt like relief. We’d put 14 weeks of work into this and campaigned so hard, and part of me was just relieved we didn’t lose.”

Five finalists in the annual Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” ad contest were invited to the skybox for the game. Online voters had chosen one ad to air during the Super Bowl; Doritos executives picked the other. The directors had no idea whose work had won.

“Goat 4 Sale” premiered in the first quarter to congratulations for its director and intensified anxiety for everyone else. “Daddy” aired during the second quarter, and suddenly Freiburger entered orbit.

“My buddy immediately started crying and dumped a whole bag of Doritos on me,” he says. “Michael Bay came up and gave me a hug and congratulations and said – in a good way – ‘If you win, I’ll kick your butt on the set.’ From that point on, I couldn’t concentrate.”

Sometimes he wandered the hall behind the skyboxes, crossing paths with singers Beyoncé and Timbaland and chef Emeril Lagasse. Sometimes he watched the game.

Fruits of victory

Almost as soon as it ended, Frito-Lay marketing vice president Ram Krishnan told Freiburger his ad had finished fourth on the USA Today ad meter – first among 30-second ads – and he would work with Bay.

“Mark’s spot caught our attention right away,” Krishnan had said earlier. “ ‘Daddy’ puts a comedic spin on a relatable situation and delivers a hilarious punch line the entire Super Bowl audience can appreciate. Mark has the talent and drive to make it in Hollywood.”

Freiburger will shoot “Tree” while Bay is in pre-production on “Transformers.” He mainly hopes to shadow Bay on the set and learn how one handles a super-sized Hollywood blockbuster project.

Freiburger’s life has become “a whirlwind now. A few production companies are courting me to sign up as a director in their stable. A lot of feature guys do that; it’s a great way to make money between movies. I’m getting meetings for much bigger jobs on the features side. I’m getting put in touch with financial planners and attorneys who represent only directors.

“It’s bizarre: This is the first time I haven’t had to explain what I do. People ask, and I say, ‘I made the “Fashionista Daddy” ad,’ and they say, ‘Oh, I loved it!’

“You can make a 90-minute, meditative drama that makes people cry or a 30-second piece that makes everyone laugh. If 100 million people see it, that makes all the difference.”

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