Mark Freiburger was only 22 when he directed his first feature film. Since then, he has produced five independently financed films (two of which he also directed), directed “Fashionista Daddy,” winner of the 2013 Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, and even got to shadow Michael Bay for three months on the set of a major studio film (Transformers 4: Age of Extinction with Mark Wahlberg). Mark insists that these opportunities didn’t come to him because he was more talented than other young filmmakers. The key to his success (beyond having some very talented friends) is that he learned one very important skill they don’t teach you in film school… how to raise money for movies!
I caught up with Mark after reading his new book, How To Raise Money For Your First Movie, and caught some his passion for filmmaking and for helping young filmmakers get the money they need to make great films.
Gary: Dude, you like you’re barely 31, right? How have accomplished so much in your film career? You’re not the secret love-child of Hollywood royalty, are you?
Mark: Haha, nope. Just a crazy kid from North Carolina whose childhood dream has been to make movies.
Gary: All kidding aside, you did this the hard way. You had a great education, but you had to start from scratch as an indie filmmaker. Why do you think you stuck it out where so many others have given up?
Mark: It’s interesting you would bring that up because I’m coming up on 10 years in the business now, and just the other day a friend and I were talking about how there are so few of us that we began this journey with who are still left out there making movies. Even with the successes I’ve had, I still have at least one come to Jesus moment every other year and ask myself if I should continue moving forward. But I’m addicted. And it’s all I know now.
The truth is, in film school I didn’t even think I was as a good a director as many of my classmates. But at the end of the day, it’s the passion for this art form and this business that really keeps me going. I genuinely love what I do. And no matter how hard things have been at times, I’ve always an inner peace knowing that Hollywood is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I love this crazy industry… warts and all.
Gary: Which of your early works are you most proud of?
Mark: Probably Dog Days of Summer. It’s not a particularly great movie, but I stepped on set to direct that movie the summer that I turned 22 years old. It was something I had been dreaming about and planning for through my last couple of years of college. I put together a script with two talented writers (one who went on to write PACIFIC RIM, and the other to write on the series NCIS), raised money from private investors, and dragged 40 college students to rural North Carolina for the summer to go make my first movie.
It was the most miserable and incredible experience at the same time. I made so many mistakes and bit off way more than I could chew, but the movie got made and it was what began everything for me in this career. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. The movie itself is a fun little movie to watch, but it’s a flawed first work from a very, very green filmmaker. I’m most proud of it mainly because it was just a big dream that I managed to turn into a reality.
Gary: In my every interaction with you, I have always been struck by your remarkable combination of goal-intensity with character-integrity, how do you balance those things in such a challenging industry?
Mark: Thank you for the kind words… that’s an interesting question… quite honestly I’ve never really thought about that balance. I think I just am who I am. Integrity is a key element that we all need to strive to hold onto no matter what industry we’re in. Even though I’m intensely goal oriented, I’ve always valued integrity more. There are some things that aren’t worth doing in this industry if it means you’re going to lose that integrity you’ve been building. We all stumble in this arena at times, but it’s something worth fighting for, daily.
Gary: Not many people have directed one of the greatest Super Bowl commercials of all time. Has winning the Doritos Super Bowl competition changed things for you?
Mark: There were a lot of positive things that came out of that. Mostly, it was a springboard to begin to make the transition from directing indie movies to being considered for studio movies. It opened some doors, but it didn’t guarantee success. When the dust settled on the Doritos competition and the Transformers experience, I had 2 studio directing offers presented to me. I was the first Doritos competition winner to have already directed a couple of indie movies, so a few folks at the studio level took notice.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to make my first studio movie so naturally I was thrilled when the offers came in. But I had to turn both projects down because at the end of the day I wouldn’t have been able to sleep well at night had I taken those jobs (for multiple reasons). This goes back to what we talked about in the last question. I want my first studio movie to be the right movie for me, and it’s taken a couple of years to figure out what that project was and then to develop it, but once it gets made it will have been worth taking the extra time to develop the right project for my sensibilities and strengths.
Gary: What was it like being on the set with Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg?
Mark: It was incredible. Mark was great to be around and it was always enjoyable to watch him work on camera. And Michael and his entire team taught me so much about making movies at the grandest level. I didn’t know what to expect before I joined the team, but Michael folded me right into the group and always made sure I was taken care of, almost like he was a big brother watching out for me. He would even refer to me as “our young director” on set with the crew, whereas others just referred to me as “little Mark” since Wahlberg had the distinction of being “big Mark”.
All around, I learned so much more than I ever thought I would. And believe me, I soaked it in every day. The majority of my time was spent shadowing Michael and shadowing the VFX team from Industrial Light and Magic. Those guys are incredible and they helped me understand how to breakdown and shoot a VFX heavy movie. Before Transformers, I had zero knowledge of anything VFX related because I had only been making low budget Indies. But this experience changed that for me. The ILM team even invited me up to their headquarters in San Francisco during post-production so I could sit in and learn how they create the robots and all the VFX in post as well. The whole experience on that movie was a priceless education.
Gary: So the films, the Super Bowl, and Transformers were just your warm up acts, what are you working on now…?