'Hansel and Gretel in 3D': Beyond product placement

hansel-and-gretel-in-3dLast week, it was announced that The Institute — a media company founded by Michael Bay and Scott Gardenhour that has been using its motto, “Where Brand Science Meets Great Storytelling,” in commercials until now — was set to produce its first feature film, the live-action Hansel and Gretel in 3D.

What exactly does that mean, and how is it different from product placement? “One of things that we say a lot of times here is, ‘You’ve almost got to be a marketer as well as a filmmaker these days,” Gardenhour tells EW. “A lot of times, brands will come to the table with hard dollars to help with the negative cost. But what’s almost become more valuable is brands being able to extend an entertainment project beyond the project itself, the extension that they provide through the promotion that they may develop specifically for a movie or TV show brings a tremendous amount of awareness to what we’re doing…. How we think about it is an extension of the content, as opposed to something that’s product placement. Granted, there may be things that will encompass that, but for the most part, what we really look to do is make them seamless so that part of the story could actually be worked in, say, a brand campaign that helps to create awareness for story elements and for social media games. It’s creating something that has a revenue stream like a FarmVille, where brands could participate in that game, which also helps to promote what the content’s going to be, which is obviously the most important for us — the more eyeballs the better.”

Joseph-Pepe-Na-vi-Design_320.jpg Image Credit: Joseph C. PepeGardenhour knows the motto is one that can put some movie fans (or savvy “consumers”) on alert. “Brands have gotten really savvy, and there’s been some push back from consumers where things are too obvious, where it seems like you’re trying to cram a product down someone’s throat for the sake of entertainment,” he says. “But if you’re open with them early, and you engage them early, you can get a sense of what is palatable to them and what isn’t. We get to learn what’s going to resonate early so we can avoid something or use it to our benefit.”

Will the motto be a hard sell to directors? They haven’t announced one yet, but expect to look for someone with both animation and live-action experience who can bring the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale — complete with legendary creatures of German mythology designed by Joseph C. Pepe, the lead character designer from Avatar (his work, pictured) to life when cameras roll next spring in Germany. “I think it used to be a bit taboo in the creative world. But when you come from the commercial world, and you’ve spent a lot of time with brands, there are real opportunities and ways to make really creative pieces of film that may be for a specific purpose but people don’t mind. When you look at the Super Bowl, for instance, there are an awful lot of people who will watch the Super Bowl just to see the commercials, because they’re really entertaining. And I think that’s become more acceptable because the world has become much more niche, and you have to be really relevant with the entertainment consumer. I think filmmakers are becoming more accepting of the help and the seamless relationship that brands and entertainment product can have. One can really benefit from the other. I remember Roger Ebert a couple of years ago answered a question someone asked him about whether Sundance was becoming too commercial, and he said, ‘I don’t know one director or producer here who wouldn’t hope their movie would be seen by a bunch of people.’ I think it’s kind of along those same lines. Everybody wants their movies seen, and I think now in the world that we live in where there’s such a disparate media climate, it really helps to have these things that can promote an entertainment product. Hopefully, the ultimate result is we’re entertaining the people that go see it, and we’re being honest with them.”

As for the script, Gardenhour says it will be family-friendly, and expects the mythological creatures to “add some real depth to the movie and allow for the moments while the kids are in the forest to have some real intensity. When you think about it, any kid ages 8 to 15 being out in the forest alone by themselves — that’s just a scary proposition by itself. But then you add what’s around the corner, what’s behind the tree, that’s a whole other thing. But, ultimately, the relationship we end up highlighting is the love that the father has for the kids, and obviously how glad he is when they return.”

The Institute also has another project, titled Viking Vampire, in the works. It takes place in the late 14th century and tells the story of how vampires came to be, Gardenhour says. They’re close to signing a director for that film as well. It makes us think of Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) from True Blood, we tell him. “If that helps to make the comparison, I’m happy for you to do it,” Gardenhour says.

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Comments (19 total) Add your comment
  • Jake

    This dude came to speak in one of my marketing research classes last year at UPenn.

    I nearly got into a verbal altercation with him as he tried to explain that film can still be art even if it’s purely designed and motivated to satisfy what “surveyed consumers” desire to see. It’s completely ridiculous and if he and Michael Bay have their way, every film in the future will be like Transformers 2 – makes your money while making you dumb and sucking your soul.

    Thanks guys!

    • Lam

      Jake, Don’t be ridiculous. Do you expect filmmakers to make movies that no one wants to see? Obviously their art is going to be tailored to what they believe the consumer wants to see. I’d say they are doing alot better in their chosen professions then you are in yours.

      • Brian

        Filmmakers should ALWAYS make movies that *they* want to see. The best works of art and the most entertaining stories are always the result of the creator making something they want to make — making something they’d like. Sorry, Lam, but making movies tailored to what a consumer wants to see is a bad idea. Committees don’t make good movies. I’m with Jake.

  • ObiHave

    Art and Michael Bay should not be in the same sentence unless you add a “F” which oddly enough describes Transformers 2. Loud smelly and a relief when it’s over.

    • Lam

      Obihave, which blockbuster movies have you made? I sure would like to check them out. OH WAIT YOU HAVEN’T MADE A SINGLE ONE.

      • BlackIrish4094

        @Lam, you’re just a corporate loving d-i-c-k apparently. People want to see movies to be entertained not to see new product placements. If you’re a corporate apologist have at it but most people agree with the other side of the argument.

      • Brian

        Lam, you’re an idiot. Michael Bay is sh*t. Everyone with a lick of decent taste and even the slightest ability to think critically knows that. He’s the Jay Leno of the filmmaking world.

  • Kevin

    This is the most confusing article I have ever read. Those first two paragraphs are almost incomprehensible.

  • Tim

    That’s some pretty amazing pseudo-business gibberish they’ve got going there. I’d imagine entire meetings go by and nobody has the slightest idea what anyone said.

    • mscisluv

      I agree with you and with Kevin (above); I understand the concept, but this article (and the super-long quotes) are just gibberish.

    • Harris

      No actually this isn’t gibberish at all. There are many reasons why Scott has accomplished what he has and where he is at, versus what you have accomplished and where you are at. Obviously business school and higher education wasn’t for you. Unfortunately neither was being a top man on a company totem pole.

      • BlackIrish4094

        Wow, did this article only attract @ssholes to comment on here. You and Lam can hang out and kiss corporate @ss.

      • Brian

        Seriously. Why are both Lam and Harris attacking people for not being “successful”? Product placement and movies made for the purpose of selling products or satisfying broad consumer desires are things any fan of the arts should be very wary of. Harris, my higher education is exactly what I’m drawing on to read the article above and see it for the nonsense it is. I don’t agree with every one of his ideas, but Bill Hicks would have some good things to say on this topic. Look him up, Harris.

  • pastafarian

    This guy is getting high on his own Brand-awareness supply. He’s doin verbal acrobatics to justify shilling products in movies. But hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.

  • Sydney

    Wow, I certainly hope none of the people that have posted comments so far end up in marketing. Their companies would surely be doomed.

    • Brian

      Are you kidding me? MOVIES AREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE FOR MARKETING. *Commercials* are for marketing. *Advertisements* are for marketing. *Marketing campaigns* are for marketing. The people commenting aren’t suggesting that they have a better idea for how to market products. They’re saying it shouldn’t be happening in movies or TV shows because that kind of thing compormises the movie or show and it’s also distasteful.

  • Lam

    I agree with Sydney’s comment. Scott’s comments in this article show that he cares just as much about the art as he does the marketing of the movie. How else would be people know about a movie or the movie make its money back without marketing?

    • Brian

      Again, you’re an idiot. No one who cares about art would want to make the branding/endorsing/selling of a product one of the main purposes of a feature-length film.

  • Brian

    And people aren’t taking issue with the marketing OF a movie. They’re taking issue with the marketing of, say, McDonald’s IN a movie. Do you see the difference? Probably not.

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