What's Real and What's Imagined in NYT's Stunning Product-Placement Survey?


On the front page of the New York Times today—for those of you still buying newspapers, it's below the fold—an article hilariously titled "Before Hiring Actors, Filmmakers Cast Products" (online it appears with the more benign headline: "Branding Deals Come First in the Filmmaking Process") tries to get to the bottom of all that pesky product placement appearing in movies these days. And while conspiracy theorists will be disappointed that it makes no mention of the Modern Family iPad episode, they'll be the only ones. This thing reads like an Onion article as written by Michael Tolkin. Even the main focus, a lawyer who specializes in branding deals by the name of Jordan Yospe, feels conjured out of the deep recesses of a screenwriter's mind. After the jump, play along and try to figure out which portions are real and which are fake. (Hint: Think real.)

Jordan Yospe had some notes on the script for The 28th Amendment, a thriller about a president and a rogue Special Forces agent on the run [which is supposedly set to star Denzel Washington]. Some of the White House scenes were not detailed enough, Mr. Yospe thought. And, he suggested, the heroes should stop for a snack while they were on the lam.

"There's no fast-food scene at all, but they have to eat," he said

Real. Though clearly Yospe has never seen an episode of 24. He has, however, seen many episodes of Survivor and The Apprentice as general counsel for Mark Burnett Production.

"People were blaming me personally for Apprentice, destroying television with so many brands," he said. Where the original Apprentice contestants were selling lemonade, he said, by the second season, they were producing M&M's candy. "You start running out of things creatively to do if you have no resources, no money," he said.

Real. Because, as always, creativity and money go hand in hand. Just ask George Lucas.

While Mr. Yospe often writes dialogue, in the meeting with [Transformers and The 28th Amendment writer Roberto] Orci, he was suggesting types of advertisers to include. (Mr. Orci's father, Roberto Orci, who is president of the advertising agency Acento, and his staff joined the meeting to discuss how brands might help market the movie.)

"You've written Gray has a Dodge Ram," Mr. Yospe began, discussing a character. "Does it have to be a Dodge?'

"What's wrong with Dodge? What have you got against Dodge?" said Mr. Orci, a soft-spoken 36-year-old.

The group began debating. In the script, Gray is described as "soldier-fit" but with "psychic damage." Could someone like that drive, say, a Lincoln Navigator?

"That's a mom's car," moaned Genesis Capunitan, an Acento executive.

Real. Hey, come on: Doesn't Puff Daddy drive one of those?

Writers say this helps them work in brands gracefully, rather than finding out later that studio executives have jammed in products at the last minute. "The pressure to integrate is always there," Mr. Orci said. "It's got to be done realistically." ...

... Where the writers saw an anchor to emotionality, Mr. Yospe saw a selling opportunity. Could they add a brand-name trinket that Anna gives Gray as a good-luck charm, something like a bottle opener from her bar, he asked. They could charge even more if Gray used the keepsake later on.

"That's cool," Mr. Orci said, nodding. "If they can have that trinket in bars with the movie's name on it? That's smooth."

"And it adds a little emotion," Mr. Yospe said.

Sadly, Real. Nothing says realistic emotion like a mass-produced bar key chain.

Look for Denzel Washington to appear in these very scenes, while eating something from Taco Bell, when The 28th Amendment hits theaters in 2011.

· Branding Deals Come Early in the Filmmaking Process [New York Times]