When the producers of DreamWorks’ “Need for Speed” cast Aaron Paul as the lead in their film version of Electronic Arts’ racing videogame franchise, they found themselves with another major role to fill: the hero car.
As part of the deal, Ford will back the release of the film around the world through a considerable worldwide marketing campaign that will involve traditional and online media buys. Film’s release coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Mustang, taking place a month later on April 17, 2014.
“We can use a movie like this to celebrate what Mustang has meant to us all these years,” said Steve Ling, car group marketing manager at Ford, who oversees the Mustang brand.
Because of that, “Need for Speed” will be Ford’s biggest film promotion in 2014, the company said, enabling it to tie-in with what DreamWorks hopes will be the launch of a new film franchise but also the popular gaming series, itself. Ford previously spent considerable coin around Warner Bros.’ “I Am Legend,” with Will Smith’s character also driving a Mustang.
Popular on Variety
DreamWorks’ film revolves around a street racer, fresh out of prison, enters a grueling cross-country race from New York to Los Angeles in order to seek revenge against the wealthy business associate who put him behind bars.
Ford specifically designed the 2013 Shelby GT500 Mustang that Paul is driving, outfitting it with a wider body, unique 22-inch alloy wheels, and larger air intakes to feed the supercharged V-8 engine under its classic Mustang twin-nostril hood. (See below for a still of the car from the film).
“While our hero drives a bunch of different cars in the film, we always felt the hero car should be an iconic American car,” said Patrick O’Brien, executive VP of EA Entertainment, who is producing “Need for Speed” with screenwriter John Gatins and Mark Sourian. “There’s nothing more perfect for him to drive than a Mustang,” given that the character is from a blue collar town from upstate New York.
“Need for Speed” is the kind of movie most car marketers long for – projects developed to showcase the cars as much as the characters driving them. Universal’s “Fast and Furious” franchise has also been embraced by automakers, but that film has relied more on older customized version of cars, rather than newer vehicles. The “Need for Speed” franchise is well-known for its lineup of exotic sports cars.
SEE ALSO: Audi Back With Hero Car in ‘Iron Man 3′
Ford saw the “Need for Speed” film as a return to the car culture movies of the 1960s and ‘70s like “Bullitt” and “Gone in 60 Seconds,” which also featured Mustangs in prominent roles.
“Ford Mustang is a symbol of freedom and optimism that allows you to be the person you dream of being, making it the perfect fit for this story,” said Ford’s executive VP, global marketing, sales and service Jim Farley.
When lining up a car partner, DreamWorks said it was looking to pair up Paul with a car that was “rooted in Americana,” according to DreamWorks partner and co-chair Stacey Snider.
The Mustang is getting used to being in the spotlight. Altogether, it’s appeared in over 3,000 movies and TV shows since 1964’s James Bond entry “Goldfinger,” Ling said. “It’s been woven in the fabric of pop culture through movies.”
When looking for roles for the brand, “I’m not looking for a cameo appearance,” Ling said. “I want to have it where the car plays a central role and even a central character. If it’s just a prop sitting in the back of a scene that somebody may or may not notice, that doesn’t do anything for Mustang.”
Ford also provided the film production with an F-450 truck, nicknamed “the Beast,” as well as another Mustang to serve as a specially-designed camera car to capture car racing action.
Other vehicles represented in the film include a McLaren P1, Koenigsegg Agera R, Spania GTA, and Lamborghini Sesto Elemento.
Many of those vehicles are regulars in the “Need for Speed” franchise, which have sold over 140 million units since the first installment was released in 1994.
Not surprisingly, the Mustang seen in the “Need for Speed” film will also be playable in EA’s upcoming “Need for Speed Rivals” when it’s released Nov. 19 for Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4. It however will not appear on the game’s cover, a position that is going to Ferrari, instead, through a separate previously announced deal that makes it the game’s specific hero car.
EA said it’s still working out the logistics of how the Mustang will be offered, perhaps as a piece of downloadable content. But the car will be available with the launch of the game, the company said.
Ford’s Mustang also has been a fan favorite in the games. “Ford’s already proven to be a great partner on the game,” O’Brien said. “We’ve worked with them for 19 years,” with the carmaker appearing on packaging for previous installments and as a marketing partner.
What wound up winning Ford over for the film version, however, was Waugh’s approach to how the Mustang would be portrayed. He wanted to tap into the personality of the car.
“He understood what Mustang meant in people’s hearts and minds,” Ling said.