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City Lights: A baby, a slingshot and $1 million

February 08, 2012|By Michael Miller

Jonah Folk truly is the Million Dollar Baby.

The 1-year-old star of the Doritos ad "Sling Baby" may not officially qualify as a child star yet, having no agent or multipicture deal, but he turned out to be quite a moneymaker for his director, Kevin Willson, who pocketed a cool $1 million after the ad topped the USA Today/Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter.

Willson, a documentary and commercial director who grew up in Huntington Beach, entered his 30-second ad in Crash the Super Bowl, an annual contest in which filmmakers submit Doritos ads to run during the big game. "Sling Baby," which depicts a crafty grandmother who propels a baby via slingshot to steal a bag of Doritos from a bully, received the most votes of any Crash the Super Bowl entry.

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When the ad appeared on screen shortly before halftime, Willson and his family and friends were ecstatic. But that turned out to be only round one.

Tuesday evening, Willson learned that his ad had placed first on the USA Today/Facebook Ad Meter, in which viewers vote online for their favorite Super Bowl ad — their favorite ad, period, Doritos or not. Among the ads "Sling Baby" conquered was a Chrysler spot featuring none other than Clint Eastwood, who directed the Oscar-winner "Million Dollar Baby."

Some puns just write themselves.

For Willson, his victory means a ticket out of the garage. The Los Angeles resident has worked out of modest confines of his home for the last few years, and he told USA Today he's on the lookout for a cozier workspace.

"It's freezing in there in the winter, and it's dusty, and it's not a great working environment," Willson said.

As for his parents, Huntington Beach residents Connie and Tom Willson, well, suffice to say they're proud.

The Willsons watched the Super Bowl broadcast from a restaurant the last two years, but this time, they endured the wait at ground zero — in Los Angeles with members of the "Sling Baby" production team. There, with about four dozen people, they sat in a room full of silly string, noisemakers and other party staples, waiting for a reason to exult.

When "Sling Baby" came on screen, the crowd leaped to its feet. Silly string and Doritos went flying. It was more than enough to drown out the halftime show itself.

"I don't think I even saw Madonna," Connie said. "I knew she was there, but I didn't see her."

So who is that Sling Baby, after all?

Well, he's the son of the film's special effects coordinator — no doubt a very proud special effects coordinator, too. Over the last few weeks, Jonah's smiling face has dominated fliers, yard signs and other materials the Willsons have spread around Surf City to drum up support for their son's commercial.

Does he understand his newfound celebrity? Probably not. But years from now, if he lands a role in the school play, he may just want to negotiate for his name above the marquee.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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