Product Placements v. Good Writing

Posted in Observations

Filmmakers, product placements are here to stay. At least in the realm of studio-produced films. Shrewd and cost-conscious studio executives are increasingly looking at well-known brands as a reliable source of money to offset spiraling production costs.

According to Top Gun co-writer Jack Epps, quoted in a recent New York Times article, “if you want to catch an executive’s attention right now, it’s not just selling the script, but you’re showing them how to create a brand.”  The article goes on to mention the lucrative product placement deals struck with Hilton Hotels and American Airlines for 2009’s Oscar-nominated Up In The Air.

Opponents against product placement, notably from the WGA-West, argue that such practice can essentially reduce the creative screenwriter’s job to that of advertising copywriter.

The writers make an interesting, if hollow, implication. Writing good advertising copy takes no less talent than writing a good screenplay. Really good advertising copy creates an emotional reaction in readers much the same way a well-written film moves people. I can’t help but think of Hugh Macleod’s “Sex & Cash Theory”.   Macleod reminds us that the commercial v. artistic debate has raged for years. In fact, the Times article points out that cinematic pioneers the Lumière brothers placed a laundry soap product in their 1896 film “Washing Day in Switzerland.”  Yes, products have been placed in movies for over 100 years. I don’t think placements are going away any time soon… or ever. I think Macleod’s advice to ignore the debate all together is well placed.

Photo by A3sthetix