Two of the five finalists will be chosen for airtime. About 3,000 would-be Mad Men contributed ads this year, the seventh year of the contest. Should Callner’s 30-second short story make the cut and be judged the game’s top ad by USA Today Ad Meter rankings, he could win $1 million and the chance to work with Michael Bay on the next “Transformer” movie.
That would mean he could probably move out of his girlfriend’s parents’ basement.
A freelance director who is part of the talent roster at the Decatur production company Pogo Pictures, Callner has tried the Doritos contest before, but this is his first time in the final rounds. He credits his mentor and Pogo founder Steve Colby, who keeps two goats at his house in Druid Hills, with sparking the idea.
Watching goats eat chips is funny, the two reasoned. What can we do with that?
About three weeks before the Nov. 16 submission deadline they began brainstorming story lines. Without much time for casting, Callner tapped his friends, who agreed to work at reduced rates. For the protagonist they found British actor Mark Ashworth, whose reddish beard was a perfect match for Moose’s rufous coloring.
The story follows Ashworth as he buys a goat at a yard sale and delightedly shares his Doritos with the four-footed chowhound, filling his pantry with bags of the chips. Then the poor fellow is driven insane by the munching. The end of the affair occurs when Moose discovers that Ashworth has raided the pantry and is hoarding all the chips in his own room, where he’s painting a “Goat 4 Sale” sign.
The discovery requires a scream from Moose, supplied in voice-over by Callner’s childhood friend, Keith Bahun. But getting the goat to open his mouth and “baa” on cue was tricky. “If we don’t get this shot, we don’t have the ad,” Callner told Colby.
Enter Kudzu, Moose’s fellow goat. Concealed from Moose, behind the camera, he called out to his friend, again and again. The crew waited with bated breath. Then Moose answered back. “It was magic,” Callner said.
The crew filmed the ad inside Colby’s yellow-brick home, which is where Callner and Colby met to reminisce about Moose’s star qualities. In the meantime Moose and Kudzu somehow snuck inside Colby’s sun porch, where they nibbled his banana plant and uprooted his asparagus fern.
“They’re like piranha!” Colby, 52, said as he shooed them back outside. “He’s the head goat,” Callner said of Colby. “They follow him anywhere.”
Callner attended Pope High School, and his parents, Scott and Christine Callner of Marietta, helped out on the “Goat 4 Sale” set with script supervision and craft services. The son developed a strong interest in film as an undergrad at Georgia Tech when he participated in the Campus MovieFest, a worldwide festival for college students.
The prospect of having his ad appear on the most-watched program of the year, where 30 seconds of airtime sells for $3.5 million, is overwhelming for Callner, as is the prospect of working with Bay. “It’s surreal,” he said. “It’s a different planet. You never think your own life is going to intersect with that.”