H’wood hot rods spinning wheels

Upcoming releases 'T3,' '2 Fast' tout car pacts

The road’s getting a little bumpier for automakers looking to turn their cars into stars in Hollywood.

Automakers are already recoiling over plans by Miramax Films to broker the largest product placement pact ever with a car company for its upcoming superhero pic “The Green Hornet.” While the studio declined to disclose a specific figure, industryites say Miramax is hoping to land $35 million or more.

As part of the deal, Miramax would receive its “hero car” and millions in extra marketing dollars. The car company that lands the deal as the pic’s sedan of choice would be given the chance to help develop the pic, considering a script has yet to be written and a director has not yet been hired for the project planned for a 2005 release.

Car, driven by the Green Hornet’s chauffeur and martial arts expert Kato in the original ABC television series, was a 1966 Chrysler Imperial sedan nicknamed “Black Beauty.”

“It’s an unbelievable placement opportunity,” said Lori Sale, executive veep of worldwide promotions for Miramax, adding that she was having “lots of meetings” with interested car companies. “The film warrants the biggest marketing budget in film history.”

Yet many of those companies are balking at the pricetag to provide the Green Hornet’s wheels.

“It’s a big chunk of money,” said Julie Roehm, director of Dodge Marketing Communications. “It’s a fairly huge request. What I would want to see immediately is what the studio is doing, and the value they plan to deliver in media expenditures. The old adage of, ‘We’re the movie theater, people will be seeing you,’ that doesn’t cut it anymore.”

Brand partners no longer pay studios to have their products appear in pics. They now pay to help promote a film through additional television, print and Internet campaigns, as well as inside movie theaters, dealerships and other efforts.

The current record holder is Ford Motor Co.’s $35 million marketing deal with MGM to appear in the most recent James Bond thriller “Die Another Day,” which featured three Ford brands: the Aston Martin Vanquish, the Jaguar XKR and the Ford Thunderbird.

This summer has turned into a car-friendly season at the multiplexes:

  • “The Italian Job” prominently features three Mini Coopers as the getaway cars in Paramount Pictures’ heist thriller.

  • Toyota provided a fleet of vehicles for two big summer pics, Universal’s “The Hulk” and the Warner Bros.-distribbed “T3: The Rise of the Machines.”

  • Mazda’s new RX-8 sports coupe has already appeared in Fox’s “X-2: X-Men United.” Company ponied up $8 million to promote the car.

  • Mitsubishi provided vehicles for U’s “2 Fast 2 Furious,” ponying up $25 million to co-promote the pic. Actioner’s stars Paul Walker and Tyrese appear in TV commercials for the automaker.

  • Jeep has paired up with Paramount’s “Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life” with a $10 million campaign that shows pic’s star Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft behind the wheel of a Jeep Rubicon.

  • And Buick is the official car partner for horse racing drama “Seabiscuit,” produced by Universal, DreamWorks and Spyglass.

Yet Detroit is finding its relationship with Hollywood rocky.

While the summer blockbuster “The Matrix Reloaded” has increased visibility for General Motors’ Cadillac division, not all of the marketing that was part of the original placement deal with Warner Bros. has been realized due to differences in “creative execution.”

Cadillac all but canceled a media campaign valued at north of $50 million that would have tied the company’s newest vehicles with the sci-fi sequel. Actioner was the first time Cadillac partnered with Hollywood.

Original deal in 2001 with Warners called for Cadillac to launch a media campaign of print, TV and Internet ads around the sequel’s bow May 15.

The automaker had been promised that in return for supplying the production with its redesigned CTS sedan and Escalade EXT SUV, the film’s stars, including Keanu Reeves and Carrie Ann Moss, would appear in seperately shot commercials. That didn’t happen due to the stars’ demands to be paid for appearing in the spots. All of its TV spots were nixed.

“We wanted to use talent from the movie and we couldn’t make it happen,” said Steve Tihanyi, general director of markeing alliances and regional operations for GM.

Of the sometimes turbulent reality of marrying the interests of the studios and car companies, Tihanuyi said, “You get different dynamics. There’s not much you can do about it.”

Cadillac has already passed on Miramax’s “Green Hornet” deal.

Brands say they want more in return for giving their cars to filmmakers, namely a detailed marketing plan — and promise that they can later use the film and its stars as part of their own media campaign.

“We’ll spend the media dollars promoting our brand if it’s concurrent with the movie project,” Tihanyi said. “We’re certainly willing to promote as long as I can brand it the way I need to at GM. If we can agree to that, that’s a big part of the deal.”

As an example of a successful partnering, Tihanyi referred to Pontiac’s alliance with Revolution Studios’ actioner “XXX,” last summer, which featured the classic 1967 Pontiac GTO as the Vin Diesel’s hero car.

“That movie gave us the opportunity to build a bridge from the classic GTO to the new GTO about to be launched,” Tihanyi said. “It married up very nicely and the tie-in (which spread from promoting the film in TV and print ads to pushing the homevid release) had a lot of benefits.”

Still, he flinched at the $35 million figure being asked by Miramax.

“That’s an awful big amount,” Tihanyi said. “The partnership would have to be so incredible. To me that sounds a little outrageous, quite frankly.”