Sometimes a Friday question warrants an entire post. Like this one:
How do feel about product placement in shows? What were your experiences with it in your shows? Were you ever asked to feature something ridiculous (e.g. high-end sports gear in M*A*S*H)?
No one from Nike ever approached us on MASH. Damn! I could have used the shoes.
COL POTTER: Klinger, you horse's patoot! Of course your dogs are gonna blisters in those high heels. Son, what you need is Nike Air Pegasus+ 27 shoes, especially if you're going on guard duty!
But seriously, in today’s marketplace product placement is here to stay. Since so many viewers fast forward through commercials the only way an advertiser can get his product seen is by integrating it into the show. And that’s fine until it overrides creative decisions. If you have a scene in a restaurant that works great but you’re told you have to move it to a Home Depot because they paid a load of cash then you’re crossing a line.
And I fear that’s coming.
But if Dexter wants to cut up his bodies with an Earthquake-43cc 2 Cycle Auger Powerhead, whatever.
There’s an even more insidious use of product placement – after the fact. They can now digitally insert products into already filmed scenes. This is especially troublesome for the actors.
Let’s say it's an episode of FRIENDS and we’re in Rachel’s bedroom. Revlon products are strategically placed throughout the room. Now Clairol is just about to make Jennifer Aniston their spokesperson for a gazillion dollars. But suddenly they pull out of the deal because of Jennifer’s association with Revlon. See where that might get sticky?
The only time my partner David Isaacs and I were involved in product placement we got crucified for it. It was on the movie we wrote, VOLUNTEERS.
Tom Hanks plays Lawrence Bourne, a rich preppy asshole who ducks a gambling debt by joining the Peace Corps in 1962. There he encounters earnest Beth Wexler (Rita Wilson). They're stationed in a tiny village in Thailand. Lawrence & Beth get off to a horrible start (natch) but as the movie unfolds they begin to thaw (also natch) and we needed a device to break the ice. This is the scene and then I’ll explain the fallout.
INT. LAWRENCE’S CLUB – NIGHT
Beth enters to find that Lawrence has transformed the hut into an exotic, albeit small, nightclub. There are bamboo chairs and tables, plants, and a makeshift bar, fully stocked with liquor. Lawrence, wearing his dinner jacket, sits at the corner table smoking a cigarette. An old villager sits off to the side, trying his best to play, “As Time Goes By” on his primitive Thai sitar.
Welcome. I call it “Lawrence’s”.
I don’t believe it… even from you.
It was easier than you think.
How did you…?
Lawrence waves at the villager to stop playing.
A little elbow grease, a few connections and voila: Loong Ta’s first public service. Are you as proud of me as I am? Can I get you a drink?
What’s this for?
For a job well done. I’ve got Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam… the whole gang.
You’ve got liquor?
And wine. The house special is a delightfully articulate Chablis.
I haven’t seen a tube of toothpaste in two weeks and you have a bar?
Don’t fight it, Beth.
You’re taking the narrow view again.
She starts for the door, then stops and turns back.
Do you have a Coke?
Plain, cherry, lemon or vanilla?
Plain. A plain Coke.
Lawrence reaches beneath the bar, grabs a bottle of Coke, and with much panache, removes the cap.
(handing it to her) You more than earned it.
Beth takes the Coke, looks at it, then takes a long swig.
Oh, that is fantastic… I miss these so much. Lawrence, damn you, you’re a life saver.
(toasting her with another Coke) To friends. Would you care to dance?
Beth thinks it over, takes one more good chug of Coke, and steps into Lawrence’s arms.
(to the villager) Try it again, Sam.
The sitar player strikes up “As Time Goes By” in the same monotonous way. Lawrence snaps his fingers, ordering him to pick up the pace. THE CAMERA SLOWLY PULLS BACK, and THROUGH THE WINDOW we watch Lawrence and Beth dancing slowly around the room, Beth shyly looking into Lawrence’s eyes. Electricity flickers.
In doing research for the screenplay we learned that one of the things volunteers missed most from back home was Coca Cola.
We wrote that Coke scene in the first draft, 1980. It stayed in every draft and wound up on the screen. Originally the movie was set up at MGM. After a couple of years it went into turnaround, finally landing at HBO Silver Screen in partnership with Tri-Star. This was 1984. Tri-Star was a division of Sony, as was the Coca Cola company. No one from the studio ever asked that that scene be in. No one from the studio ever mentioned that scene period.
A year later the film was released and we walked into a major shitstorm. We were accused of shamelessly plugging Coca Cola. We were called whores. We were called cowards. Pretty much everything but child molesters. Today we'd be called visionaries.
I look back and think, all of this could so easily been avoided if he just offered her a joint.