Monday, May 9, 2011

James Bond, Product placement and the not-so innocent Quickie

The old days of moviemaking, when a simple Coke-can might give us a quick innocent flash on the sidelines of the overall story (semi-accidentally) are long gone. These days it is all about the business and cross-promotion.

In "The Social Network" all the computers were conveniently old-school Sony-apparatuses, to boost the sales of the parent company producing the Facebook-epic.  The two "Sex and the City" movies were blatant advertising towards females from beginning to end, much like the tv-series they were based on. "Cast away" was nothing but a long commercial (for which we moviegoers paid!) defending the glory of Fed-ex. "Up in the Air", while still having some artistic value, was basically showing us how cool "American Airlines" is- look, even George Clooney likes to travel with it! In the eyes of the mass public, there is no difference between an actor and his/her character. We buy for a multitude of reasons, and a lot of the choices are anything but rational. Or so they say. They, you might ask?

These days, when actual commercials are easy to miss with TIVO, illegal torrents and just plain growing resistance to direct messages, the (M)ad Men have gotten ever more creative. Believe it or not, there are actual people making a living planning all those wicked marketing moves to be shown on film. Sometimes it is grotesque and obvious, often so subtle and fast that you might blink and miss it. But images are never unintentional. The idea is to plant a seed, make the viewer desire the product and not even realize what hit her/him. At the moment this beast of a business is valued at $ 3 billion.

One of the professionals in the mind game business of today is Norm Marshall, whose official title is "entertainment marketing consultant". Former car salesman has made a living arranging fertile unions between brands and Hollywood, and sees no harm in what he does. But even Marshall admits that there has to be a balance between the creative forces and the marketing forces: "otherwise it is just one big commercial". He himself only watches period movies anymore, due to boredom with contemporary flicks and their constant ads.

And how does this get us to the "Man with a licence to kill"? The production of the next earth-shaking spy thriller was almost halted due to difficulties in arranging financing. But alas, a few calls to quite a few companies, and the budget is back in order. So much so, that practically a third of the overall budget of the next James Bond- classic is coming from product placement. In total that makes a nice $45 million dollars, and with that kind of money, we are sure to see brands names from beginning to end. If you want to pass them, you might as well pass the entire action adventure.

Morgan Spurlock, the ever-curious American filmmaker on the loose, has naturally chosen this sexy topic for his new documentary, "POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie ever sold". In his customary satirical way, he exposes the modus operandi behind the entire business, and manages to sell some visible space in his own film, as well. All in all, he has about 20 brands sponsoring his cultural critique, making one question what his overall goal is in the first place. According to Spurlock, even the first short clips of film were filled with advertisements: Thomas Edison shot the famous train scenes with ads plastered on the sides of the train. Spurlock´s intent is good, yet his idea seems to lack teeth on the actual agenda. These days, the few glimpses of a Coke-can or a  brand name cigarette  are increasingly being upgraded with actual script inserts, making movies (or tv-shows) seem like occasional, well,  plain commercials.(Fast-rewind to previous example on "Cast Away"). Problem does not lie with marketing itself: nowadays it is hard to walk through a street without being offered something. The issue lies within ourselves as a society, and our increasing acceptance to become targets for messages masquerading as innocent cultural texts. Or, does it all really matter? Are we consumers above all else?

Even the genius auteur himself, Mr. David Lynch, is not immune to the allures of commercialism. Besides making brilliant and mind-boggling art films every now and then, he has also ventured into the world of commercials. Perfume, pregnancy tests, cars, game consoles, antacids... Lynch is first to admit he does these for money and access to latest technology. But product placement for him putrefies.


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