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Branded Films: The Future of Movie Production Will Be Sponsored

Probably the best panel I attended at SXSW featured a topic that will affect a vast majority of content creators. 21st century funding will have to be creative with finding sponsorship. I have a tendency to complain that movies are brands being sold to consumers, but what does the flip side of that look like in the industry? You’ve seen “branded content” on websites which mimics articles.

Content can be from a recent Sundance documentary from an auteur director (Herzog’s “Lo and Behold”) to traditional advertising (Red Bull’s campaign “The Fourth Phase”) to (James Bond films). Now branded entertainment is disrupting both advertising and film and somewhat blurring the lines with producers, directors, and marketers all in the mix. The panel discussed how working alongside brands doesn’t mean “selling out.”

The titled panel was “The New Hollywood: Making a Brand Funded Film” discussed the topic from different perspectives. On the panel included Rupert Maconick of Saville Productions, director Martin Campbell (the upcoming “The Foreigner”) and Tom Garzilli of Brand USA.

Maconick discussed a creative approach relevant to the brand, how to sell it, and know the distribution plan. Interrupted with an ad is Rupert Maconick of Saville Productions worked with NetScout to make a documentary about the internet which was Werner Herzog’s Sundance Film Festival hit “Lo and Behold.”

“He has a curious mind. It was a genuine Herzog documentary. He was in complete control the of the creative process.”

They were going to spend $20 million on a media buy, but they opted to make a documentary for a few million dollars, sold it at Sundance, and made money back. This was huge PR campaign for it. They went up 10 fold with online impressions and not media bought ones, but organic. They wanted to be a part of a conversation about the internet.

“They made an authentic film. They wanted to get people to talk about the Internet and they were branding themselves in the process.” 

The return on investment for a company like NetScout paid off big time. Tom Garzilli is the CMO of Brand USA and pitched his company and how it relates to the movie business.

“What we are really about for travelers is storytelling and driving intent…We are creating immersive content,” he said.

But what does this look like for bigger budget studio movies telling a narrative story? It is different and is something you are used to watching.

Director Martin Campbell (“Goldeneye,” “The Mask of Zorro”) discussed working with James Bond twice and how they worked with a variety of the brand, but will this artistic integrity while working with the brand. Campbell admitted that branding and product placement is hardly a new concept and he has experience maintaining integrity.

“In all honesty with Bond, it doesn’t compromise with anything,” he said.

All of the deals are made ahead of time and they try to work the brand into the storyline. Martin Campbell has been working in the business for decades and is stopping yet. His new movie starring Pierce Brosnan and Jackie Chan called “The Foreigner” opens this fall. However, just how much experience does he have with working with branding?

“All of the Bond movies and certainly the most recent one,” he confessed with a chuckle.

From crashing the Aston Martin to wearing top notch suits and Omega watches, products are as common as International locales and double entendres in James Bond movies. Other things were revealed such as trying different automobiles (BMW) which didn’t work out for them. In “Casino Royale” they had six Aston Martins and they had to wreck a few of them. Campbell mentioned one time in the Prague airport he had to stop filming because someone was putting up a Heineken ad not related to the movie.

“Brands help with advertising and for promoting the movie,” he said. You’ve got to integrate the brand so it is actually a part of the movie. You have to make sure it doesn’t stand out too much,” he said.

He admitted product placements are a way for movies to generate more revenue.

“You go looking for brands and you go looking for product placements in order to basically get more money and hopefully get more advertising dollars.”

This is hardly a new concept and actually dates more people reading this. Martin Campbell cited the original “Italian Job” as the first movie to incorporate a brand within the plot. A new car Mini-minors zoomed across the screen allowing for a key plot point to progress. It wouldn’t have worked without the actual cars.

“I think there will come a time where you’ll go a brand whoever it is and come up with a creative idea that is literally built around it,” he said.

Is this common place now? Not quite, but we are heading that way! With so many lines blurring between TV and movies in between “sponsored” and organic content, brands are blazing a trail as the curators of content. Filmmakers on lower to medium sized budget productions will have to strongly consider brands in order to get ahead of the funding frenzy.

About The Author


Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers working as special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.

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