Brett Ratner, modelizer, man about town and hack director responsible for such fare as “X3” and the “Rush Hour” movies, has always been best at marketing himself as the face of smooth Hollywood craftsmanship. So his talent as an adman is no surprise. Speaking Thursday at New York’s Advertising Week on “consumer attention in a media-saturated world,” Ratner offered advice on product placement and how to do it right.
Ratner’s working on “Beverly Hills IV,” and — since Eddie Murphy will obviously drive a car — he has to figure out which one. But rather than cut a deal first and then figure out a way to force a product into the film, he stresses that it’s better to approach it organically, from the other wise. “What are my needs for the story? What car do I need that can become a character in the movie?” He then want on to explain how seeing a Porsche 928 in “Risky Business” as a young man made him want one. So there you go.
For once in my life, I’m not going to make fun of Ratner: I don’t think he’s wrong in this. It’s seems a little ridiculous to speak of a car as “a character embedded in the story,” but it’s really not that far off from how many people define themselves by their clothing choices or iPod playlists. Product placement is always product placement, even when it’s well done: E.T. was originally supposed to be into M&Ms, but when the company turned it down, Reese’s stepped into the breach. Either way, it made sense to ’80s kids and thereon: it’s hard to grow up in a corporation-saturated environment and not develop certain irrational attachments, even if you know they’ve been bought and paid for.
Trying to create characters who have those same attachments isn’t much of a stretch. There’s a memorably awful moment in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” when — in the middle of a hectic mall action set-piece — half the frame is taken up by a person, and half by a Pepsi vending machine, the kind of blatant, over-the-top ploy that’ll yank you straight out of the movie. What Ratner’s proposing is still advertising, with no designation as such, right in the middle of the movie, but if product placement has to be done — and it’s never going away — this might as well be the way to do it.
[Photo: “Beverly Hills Cop,” Paramount Pictures, 1984]