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“It’s really a huge opportunity for our career— which we’ve been struggling with for a long time. I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life.”
JR Burningham
Utah native interviewed before his Doritos Super Bowl spot won $1 million


You know, I’m all about the little dogs doing big things, and the Dortitos commercial that aired during the Super Bowl last night not only featured a pug—but was a total underdog itself. The spot was directed by JR Burningham for $500. and ended up earning him $1 million in a Doritos/PepsiCo competition in which more than 5,000 commercials were submitted.

Burningham’s commercial featured a small pug knocking a door down on top of his master in his quest for Dortios. The spot tied for first on the Super Bowl Rating Meter even beating out the VW Star Wars spot in popularity. And while the 31-year old Burningham has been called in some articles “a part-time web-designer”—there’s a little more to the story.

Burningham is originally from Salt Lake City and after he graduated from the University of Utah with a B.S. degree in computer engineering & computer science, he went on to get an MFA in film production at USC in 2008. At USC one of his films received an honorable mention at the Student Emmys and he also met Tess Ortbals who became his partner at Mythmakers after they graduated.

Ortbals, who has an MFA from USC on the producing side, wrote the script Terra Incognita with Burningham which recently finished in the top ten of both the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition and The Script Department’s Silver Screenwriting Competition. Ortbal’s undergraduate work was in ancient storytelling and mythology, and she graduated with a BA in anthropology. Producing a winning commercial wasn’t just blind luck.

Burningham & Ortbals set-up their shop in Burbank, CA and while their dreams are big , so is the debt from their student loans. So it wasn’t beneath them to gather some film school friends together in hopes of creating something that could bring them a little attention.

“This commercial was a last-ditch attempt to make something happen. It’s just a very difficult industry.”
JR Burningham

Mission accomplished.

They rented a Cannon 7D camera package, gathered some film school friends together, and shot  for a day in Ventura. And the rest is history. A history that is beginning to repeat itself. A trend that began a few years ago when major advertising production outsiders began to make inroads in the granddaddy of advertising venues.  In fact, this year 3 of the top 5 rated commercials during this year’s Super Bowl were made from people that represent Main St. more than Madison Ave.

In fact, when I last checked the most  watched ad of all time was the Doritos ad Snack Attack Samurai that ran during last year’s Super Bowl. It was made by a couple filmmakers (Ben Kruger & Cole Koehler) in Minneapolis. (I was fortunate to work with one of the actors in that spot, Mike Rylander, last year on a production I was producing/directing.) Kruger & Koehler spent less than $1,000.  for a :30 spot that was viewed by 116,231,920 people. Big return on investment as they won $25,000.

And don’t forget the two unemployed brothers (Dave and Joe Herbert) of Batesville, Indiana who also won $1 million for their Doritos commercial that was chosen as the best commercial during Super Bowl XLIII.

“As digital media continues to expand, entrepreneurial filmmakers like ourselves must blaze a new model that includes making great movies for less money while expanding distribution avenues. It has to change on both ends. The true masters of the 21 century filmmaking will be those who can be extremely business savvy without compromising the quality of the craft or the meaning of their story.”
JR Burningham

Entrepreneurial filmmakers—that has a nice ring to it.

Congrats JR & Tess, I look forward to seeing your feature films in the not to distant future. (And I read where they just got engaged.) And congrats to the team just east of Iowa, the Green Bay Packers, for the big Super Bowl win.

And just for fun here’s a Doritos spot that I did last year as a one man crew (producer/director/writer/cameraman/editor)  for the total cost of less than $8 (two bags of Doritos). It didn’t win anything, but it was a nice experiment. (Best to double click on it as WordPress frames it kind of funky.)

February 9, 2011 Update: The spot I made with spray paint artist Paco Rosic fit my creative temperament, but doesn’t quite fit the commercials that usually win the Super Bowl challenge. Those usually have to do with pain, hulliliation. (Using sophomoric humor is a plus if you want to rise to the top.)   “The thing about the Crash The Super Bowl contest is that you’re not playing to ‘your’ audience. Meaning, this commercial isn’t about what you necessarily think is funny or what the people you show your work to thinks is funny. Quite simply, it’s about what is formulaic AND funny AND plays to the widest demographic of people.” Ben Krueger  (who along with Cole Koehler, won $25,000. for their Doritos spot in 2010).

Febraury 10. 2011 Update: The Chevy Camero ad during the 2011 Super Bowl became the most watched ad according to Nielsen Co. beating the 2010 Doritos with 119.6 million viewers.

Scott W. Smith


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