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How Does Film Industry Work On The Example Of Two Films

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For the average person living in North America it is very difficult not to get caught up in the capitalist machine. Companies are constantly bombarding citizens with advertisements and logos. As North Americans are becoming more desensitized to advertisements corporations have become more creative and forceful with both the volume and placement of their logos and slogans. The following quote from the anti-corporate book ‘No Logo’ by Naomi Klein details this new phenomena. In No Logo, Klein speaks of the loss of both public and physical space to corporations and their advertisements. From parks, to buses to bathroom stalls advertisements seem to encroaching on our daily lives. Corporations have even gone so far as to engulf the once sacred area of art. Many art galleries, concerts and book tours have become sponsored and branded by corporations and their logos. One of the more aggressive areas of art that the corporate world has taken over seemingly unnoticed is that of the cinema. Over the past two decades there have been a growing number of advertisements, slogans and logos found in Hollywood films. Hollywood California, in the United States of America, turns out a large number of the movies the world watches Hollywood has also created a significant number of the top grossing movies made worldwide. Movie making companies have incorporated corporate logos into film to such an extent that the fine line between business and art in the movie industry has blurred. This paper will look at this fine line and attempt to create a better understanding of how corporate advertising became so prominent in the film industry and how this relationship affects the industry, the artist, the movie as an art form and most importantly the audience. The effects of corporate logos in film on the audience will be examined in original case studies that will look at the films Cast Away which is directed by Robert Zemeckis and had its theatrical release in December of 2000 and Josie and the Pussy Cats which is directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan and had its theatrical release in April of 2001. I will use semiotics which is most simply defined by Arthur Berger in his book, Cultural Criticism as “Semiotics is literally speaking, the science of signs” The analysis of these two very different films should produce a glimpse into just how far the film industry has gone to implement these signs and how the audience both consciously and subconsciously interprets these signs.

When a studio uses visible name brand products in their films it is known generally as product placement. Product placement can mean anything from a company’s billboard seen in a road movie to a character drinking a can of name brand soda. Product placement benefits both the studio and the company placing the ad. Generally speaking the studio received money or the use of free props in exchange for corporate visibility during the movie. The visibility that movies provide can be superior to other advertising mediums. An independent research firm did a study for Fox films and found that product recognition is 2.5 times that of regular advertisements.

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This recognition can be quite useful for products such as cigarettes and alcohol, which are either found to be frowned upon or illegal in the conventional advertising arena. The concept of product placement in films gained its roots in 1982 with the Steven Spielberg film ‘E.T.’. E.T., a movie about a young boy’s experience with an alien featured the candy, Reeses Pieces. It was reported, sales of the candy went up 300 percent as a result of the movie. A few years later the Tony Scott directed film, ‘Top Gun’ gained similar results when heartthrob, Tom Cruise wore Ray Ban sunglasses and drank Coca Cola. With the rising budgets of movies such as Top Gun studios were looking for some financial relief from the risk of making high price movies. Corporations were there to relieve those burdens. By the end of 1986 both studios and corporations were wise to the benefits of product placement. Since that time there have been an increasing number of products found in popular film. The buy out of many major studios by such multinational conglomerates as Gulf + Western, Coca Cola, Sony, Matsushita, Viacom and the News Corporation has allowed the opportunity for cross promotions between the corporations owned by the multinationals and film studios. Many times these cross promotions will not only have product placements in films but will feature the film in more traditional media advertisements of the corporations such as television and newspapers. Many of these multinationals have taken further advantages and created entire films. Such films as the Mighty Ducks and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been the centre of an empire of spin offs of everything from action figures, to clothing lines, to cartoons and comic books. In the case of the Mighty Ducks, a National Hockey League hockey team was introduced and promoted via the movie. In these cases and others like them the films fall under the category of “place based medium” Place based mediums work under the guise that the medium is only there to convey the message of the product placement. In many of these scenarios the so-called entertainment that is centred on the products is friendly to the product. Companies do not want their products associated with negative characters and situations. This plays a factor in the studios choices as to which films get made. The studios and their parent multinational do not want to take risks, and often films that will draw in advertisers are naturally a safer business choice. If alterations to a film need to be made to suit advertisers, then many times it is done.

In some cases corporations have gone so far as to sue studios. In one case the company, Orkin Pest Control sued the makers of Pacific Heights when an Orkin employee said the word “shit” as part of the movie. The suit was settled out of court and the word was removed from the video release. In yet another case of disgruntled companies, in 1990 Black and Decker sued the makers of Die Hard 2. Die Hard directed by (Renny Harlin ) , shortened a scene with the main character, John Maclain (Bruce Willis) using a Black and Decker product. The company felt that the cut portions of the scene would cost the company one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in promotional costs for tie-ins planned around the product placement

Semiotics, which has been previously defined as the “the science of signs.” It is one of the main tools used in attempting to measure an audience’s response to signs. It is these signs that many corporations hope that the audience will pick up on an number of messages about there products. The signs they place in films can come in such forms as a jingle, logo or slogan. Every sign no matter what form it comes in is made up of two components, the signifier and the signified. With out either one of these entities, a sign means nothing. The signified in the case of product placement is represented by the actual entity being placed on the screen no matter what format it is in, auditory or visual. The signifier is the concept or meaning that the company assumes the ad will associate with material presented. For example if a Pepsi logo appeared on a wall in a film and no one had ever seen that logo before they would not associate it with anything. Certainly not such associations as a refreshing drink that will make you youthful and fun as Pepsi would like. By looking at the relationship between the signifier and the signified a study of desired effect and possible audience interpretation is possible. In a film when a character that the audience has become familiar with uses a product and is satisfied with its results, the audience can interpret any number of things. For example, if a character is extremely charming, athletic and has sex appeal such as a James Bond style character, there is a high possibility that when this character drinks a certain type of name brand vodka that their attributes are transferred to the vodka itself.

The transference of positive attributes to a product could occur through a character who is loving, kind, a good mother and wife in the movie and they give their movie family a brand name product like hot chocolate after a traumatic event. Like the James Bond character, the attributes of the good mother and wife are transferred to the hot chocolate but the situation that is set up by the film comes into influence. If during the scene while the family is drinking hot chocolate, the dramatic event is resolved, then the audience is subconsciously left to believe that the name brand hot chocolate helps solve problems and bring people together. The two main benefits that product placement in film has over other media in terms of advertising is; the audience does not have its guard up against advertising while watching a movie. Unlike television where a large number of viewers either channel surf or simply don’t pay attention during commercials, a movie audience doesn’t have this prepared strategies to avoid potential corporate propaganda. They feel they are watching entertainment and therefore they are unknowingly more open to viewing the ads. The second advantage that product placement has is the sheer amount of time the audience has with the characters and consequently the products.

For example in the previously mentioned film E.T. which runs a hundred and fifteen minutes, the audience develops a close relationship with the movie’s two main characters, the young boy Eliot and his alien friend E.T. By the end of the movie when the audience is crying it is because of the separation of these to friends and the close emotional attachment that has been skilfully created by the director and actors. If, in the movie an association between these characters and the name brand product Reeses Pieces has already been established, then automatically the emotional attachment the audience feels for the characters is relayed to the product as well. Once the movie is over and the audience goes home, E.T. and Eliot no longer exist due to fact that they’re fictional characters. The product Reeses Pieces is not fictional and the association previously made can create a link to the audience’s much loved fictional characters. In this way the film becomes a referent system for the product. Julia Williams gives the following differentiation in her book Decoding Advertisements “The system which provide ads with this basic “meaning” material – a grist of significance for the ad mill are what I call referent system” The exploitation of film as a referent system for products is working towards discrediting film as an art form if this current trend continues.

The movie, Castaway is a about a work obsessed Fed Ex systems engineer Chuck Nolan who is played by Tom Hanks. Through unfortunate circumstances, Chuck is stranded on a desert island. The film is full of product placement. The most prevalent logo that is seen throughout almost the entire movie is Fed Ex. Throughout the movie the Fed Ex logo next to Hanks himself becomes the most predominate image in the movie. This is manifested on such items as: trucks, vans, planes, jackets, coffee cups, floor mats, napkins, microphones, news stations, hats, banners, stickers, building signs, name tags, tractors and of course the packages that survive the plane wreck and are shown during the hour plus that Hank’s character, Nolan is on the island. Although Fed Ex is obviously the most predominate company being promoted via the movie I counted at least 21 other logos in the movie aside from the FedEx logo. These included everything from characters ending their day with the ritual of falling asleep watching CNN to a Russian child being rewarded for doing a good job, with a Panasonic CD player. Chuck Nolan’s apparent obsession with his job during the start of the movie creates an association between Chuck and his job. Nolan is Fed Ex; there is no discernible difference between him and the company. From actually working to talking about work with his girlfriend to even explaining work at the Christmas dinner table, Chuck’s main focus is Fed Ex. Judith Williams talks about this idea of a product and its meaning being interchangeable in the following quote. On the subject “When two things are made interchangeable and hence equal in value, they may be used as currency for one another” The currency that is being exchanged are the character’s attributes and identities of both Hanks and Fed Ex. When Nolan is seen as someone who can adapt in tough situations, the same goes for Fed Ex. While on the island the packages that survive the crash end up ultimately saving Nolan and greatly aid in his survival. Nolan while on the island saves one of the plane wrecked packages so that he can finish its delivery path. This dedication by a Fed Ex employee is seen during the final moments of the film leaving the audience with a very positive out look on the Fed Ex company. Woody Baird a journalist for the Associated Press got the following quotes from Gayle Christensen, director of global brand management for Fed Ex Services. “We’re really a character in the movie. We play a much larger part than product placement… It says all the right things about our brand,” when asked about the negative connotations from the plane crash in the movie…. It’s clear that the plane crash is an act of God and the pilots do a really good job” Over all her impressions of the movie were ” Millions of people around the world will see this movie and it is definitely worth millions of dollars to us in the favourable impression people will get from this,”

Robert Zemicas during the commentary points out that the movie received no money from Fed Ex. He also speaks of the film taking advantage of the use of Fed Ex jets, trucks, vans and the head of Fed Ex aviation. Although it is not clearly stated I believe the movie received the use of these and other props in exchange for the placement of the Fed Ex logo. When asked on the Charlie Rose television show why use Fed Ex, Tom Hanks the lead actor/producer/co- creator of the movie answered:

The thing that’s great about Fed Ex is it exists like clock work. For a job that’s completely open end it never stops. There will always be a Fed Ex. It’s almost a living breathing organism. Now that you can not imagine a world with out Fed Ex it was the perfect place to put Chuck Nolan.

Hanks’ response to this question shows a number of interesting points. First Hanks’ positive remarks about the choices the filmmakers made, also doubles as a commercial advertisement and positive remarks for Fed Ex. This is because the movie, its main characters and FedEx are inseparably integrated. The line between the business of product placement and art has seemed to fade. The second point that can be drawn from the quote is a defence for the use of product placement in film. Both Hanks in the quote and Zemeics during the DVD commentary felt that by using Fed Ex instead of a fictional company, a level of realism was created in the film. Although the product placement does create realism, at what cost does this happen? Companies do not want to have their products associated with risky stories that might create controversy for their products. This quest for realism actually encourages studios to make safe movies with positive endings that will create a good environment to surround products.

Aside from Fed Ex, the second most predominant logo in the movie is that of Wilson Athletics. While on the island in one of the Fed Ex packages Chuck finds a Wilson volley ball. The ball ends up becoming Nolan’s in-animate companion while on the island. This in-animate ball companion is conveniently named Wilson after the company that created it. Along with countless references to the name Wilson, Nolan connects the audience with the “Wilson” the volleyball to the point that one of the climax scenes in the movie is when Nolan looses the ball. Along with the Fed Ex packages being returned at the end of the movie, the Wilson Athletic company (Fed Ex’s product placement co-star) gets a plug with Nolan having a new Wilson volley ball in his car. This positive ending for both products, with the hope that is instilled in the audience by the films main character Chuck Nolan, works great to fulfil what is in my estimate the 18-45 adult dimorphic that both Fed Ex, Wilson and the film share.

Josie and the Pussy Cats is a film based on the comic book/ cartoon by the same name. Although the movie does have product placement, unlike Cast Away, Josie and the Pussy Cats use of product placement is much more self reflective and is used in a satirical form. The filmmakers did not receive any gain form the companies of the over 80 plus logos that appear in the movie. The film’s main plot is about a young girl rock band that is made instantly into the next pop sensation by two executives at Mega records. The company is conspiring with the government to place subliminal messages in pop music to create conformity among youth and to brain wash them to purchase name brand products. On the DVD commentary, the film makers explain that it was a tough sell to convince corporations to allow their logo to be used in a film that criticises the values of a brand based culture. In the movie the main characters eventually realize what has been put into their music and the villains are sent to justice. During the scene when confronted with the government’s involvement in the subliminal music, a government agent had the following to say. ” We have found that subliminal messages work better in movies” Following this quote, a message reads on the screen exclaiming the Josie and the Pussy Cats is the greatest movie ever. The almost numbing amount of logos used in the film does not allow the audience to connect any one product with a character. Instead such things as an American on line hotel with MacDonald and Revlon themed rooms and a Motorola phone themed plane cause the aware audience member to question the use of the product placement both in the film and possibly in society. The girls in the movie who are virtually logo free at the start of the movie become logos themselves as they gain their fame. Although the film is primarily a comedy its satiric message about branding and product placement places it in the company of only a few other big studio popular movies that have started to emerge over the last few years. Movies like Josie and the Pussy Cats are acting as a catalyst for change and working to raise awareness among the public about product placement in film.

As film studios continue to be bought out by multinational corporations the film industry is becoming more of a business and less of an art. With ever skyrocketing movie budgets and competition from other mediums for entertainment dollars such as computer games, the Internet and television, movie producers will continue to look to other companies for their financial support in return for the placement of their product. Through the use of semiotics in studying the messages and over all influence of the films that these product placements have on the audience a better awareness of product placement can be created. Films like Josie and the Pussy Cats that take a satiric or critical look at product placement are helping the process of raising awareness among the movie going public.


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