Jordan Yospe had some notes on the script for The 28th Amendment, a thriller about a president and a rogue Special Forces agent on the run. Some of the White House scenes were not detailed enough, Yospe thought. And, he suggested, the heroes should stop for a snack while they were on the lam.
“There’s no fast-food scene at all, but they have to eat,” he said.
Yospe was not a screenwriter, not a producer, not even a studio executive. No, Yospe was a lawyer with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. He was meeting with the writer-producer Roberto Orci, who co-wrote Transformers and Star Trek, to talk about how to include brands in “The 28th Amendment.”
In the past, studio executives made deals to include products in films. Now, with the help of people like Yospe, writers and producers themselves are cutting the deals often before the movie is cast or the script is fully shaped, like The 28th Amendment, which Warner Brothers has agreed to distribute.
Now, having Campbell’s Soup or Chrysler associated with your project can be nearly as important to your pitch as signing Tom Cruise.
“The cost of movies is going up, and that really drives almost everything,” said Jack Epps, the co-writer of Top Gun who is chairman of the writing division at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. “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.”
Manufacturers can stipulate that a clothing label must be tried on “in a positive manner,” or candy or hamburgers have to be eaten “judiciously.” A liquor company might sponsor a film only if there is no underage drinking or if the bar where its product is served is chic rather than seedy.
The more intricately a film involves a product, the more a brand pays for the appearance, offering fees ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million a film.
For the moviegoer, the shift will mean that advertising will become more integral to the movie. The change may not be obvious at first, but the devil is going to wear a lot more Prada.