Helmers hit speed bump with ad hybrid

At $9 million to produce five six-minute films, BMW’s Web series “The Hire,” which centers on a chauffeur driven to extremes to protect his clients, is easily the priciest entertainment endeavor ever tackled for the Internet.

But it’s more than that: With high-profile directors, and stars Madonna, Mickey Rourke and Forest Whitaker, the series, heavily promoted on TV, billboards and postcards, in print ads and soon on DVD and in theaters, serves as BMW’s new official ad campaign.

But have the project’s helmers –John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-Wai, Guy Ritchie and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu — gone commercial, or has BMW gone Hollywood?

The directors normally never helm ads.

BMW “insisted it should be called a short film, not a commercial,” says Lee of his decision to join the project. “I got to do a car chase. That was pretty good. In a longer film, you have a task. I wanted to do an exercise in symbolism.”

The helmers were given scripts. The rest was up to them, with a few rules: No dead bodies could be shown in a BMW, and if other cars were in the scenes, their logos had to be blurred.

Spike Lee, who has helmed several ads, says that “The Hire” work will only help the directors in their future projects.

“Eventually, he’ll be able to use that experience (the car chase) in his films,” says Spike Lee of Ang Lee, who next directs actioner “The Incredible Hulk” for Universal. “You have to put on a different hat, but it’s still filmmaking.”

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