Automakers Look for Deals to Get Vehicles in Films, TV

Article excerpt

DETROIT _ In John Grisham's legal thriller, "The Firm," lead character Mitchell Y. McDeere's dream car is a black BMW 318i.

When the movie "The Firm" opens today with Tom Cruise as McDeere, the BMW won't be anywhere in sight. Cruise will lust for and eventually drive a Mercedes-Benz 300 CE.

How the BMW in the book became a Mercedes in the movie is best explained by a Hollywood axiom: What the director wants, the director gets.

Sidney Pollack, director of "The Firm," wanted a Mercedes.

"We were absolutely crushed," said Donna Schmidt, a vice president at Norm Marshall Associates, a North Hollywood product placement agency that represents BMW, Chevrolet and Volvo.

BMW was prepared to spend big bucks to be associated with the movie _ cross advertising between the movie and the car, free movie posters for customers at dealerships, even a car giveaway.

But Pollack, according to placement agents, didn't want "The Firm" to be over-commercialized like some other summer blockbusters, notably "Jurassic Park" and "Last Action Hero."

While BMW was disappointed, Mercedes and its Van Nuys, Calif.-based representative, Vista Group Inc., were elated about landing a role in Pollack's film.

"The rumor around Hollywood was that we gave him a Mercedes, but that's not true," said Carol Schmiederer, manager of product placement for Vista. "We were absolutely shocked when the call came. We didn't think we had a chance."

Along with Mercedes and BMW, Japanese automakers Lexus, Infiniti and Mazda also sought to place their products in the movie.

A director's preference or a transportation coordinator's contacts often determine which wheels get a big Hollywood break.

"This is not a cutthroat business," said Bob Hadler of Hadler Public Relations in Century City, which represents Chrysler and Toyota. "It is a business of influence."

All carmakers offer movie studios the same basic deal: vehicles used on screen are free, except for insurance and the cost of any post-production repairs. No cars are provided for off-camera use by the cast or crew. …