So this past week, Michael Bay came out and said that he wasn't a whore, just because GM was allowed to pay $3 million so that the Transformers would transform into GM vehicles.
(I tried to remember where I saw this, so I could dig up the exact quote, but I couldn't find the article. Then I googled "Michael Bay whore" and got 659,000 hits. Which says something.)
Bay's spin seemed to be that the $3 million allowed him to expand the budget and make the film even better, though when your budget is over $150 million it's hard to see how this might matter all that much.
The obvious problem though is this: are we getting closer to the point in which corporate advertising is going to increasingly impact creative decisions in films?
Of course we are. It's already happening.
If someone wants to pay a film company to position their product favorability in a movie, in most instances, cash will change hands, and the script will be reworked. Will the script be better? Ummm... probably not. And product placement will continue to infect films.
It's already running rampant on TV, where all the networks are afraid of Tivo making people skip commercials, as if people hadn't been skipping commercials for years by simply flipping over to another channel for 3 minutes. It isn't Tivo that killed the commercial, it was the remote control.
The Apprentice has become the biggest joke of all, with every episode essentially a commercial for some product. It's gotten to the point where an advertising skillset is what one really needs to win that show.
I guarantee that, as soon as someone figures out to mnake the goal seem cool, we're going to see a show in which players compete to be the next great ad exec.
Every week on American Idol, the contestants appear in a music video pimping Fords, while the judges drink out of huge Coke cups, logo spun toward the camera. Survivor has challenges that reward contestants with food, toiletries or cars, their brands prominently mentioned.
Some shows are trying to be a little more subtle. The first film challenge in "On The Lot" had the filmmakers making short films, and the same cell phone popped up in a lot of them with no explanation, though the result was ineffective (not that anyone was watching anyway).
But it's movies that are really coming under fire. When I was a theater manager in the late 80s is when commercials were first shown in front of movies in the theater.
There was real concern that the consumer would be pissed about this, so to ease the consumer in, the theater companies made sure that the initial commercials were all visual, high-quality ones, as well as commercials that one hadn't already seen on TV.
The consumer bought it; though people used to boo when commercials came on before a movie, they don't any more.
And now some theaters show about 15-minutes of pre-show commercials (some masked as mini-documentaries about upcoming TV shows or movies) before the film even starts.
Transformers is the current ultimately example of this: it's a movie about a toy, designed to sell toys, and tickets, and videogames, and ultimately the DVD, and GM cars. All studio movies are commercial entities, though few are quite as blatant as this.
There has been product placement forever, and there probably always will be, so it's hard to know what to do about it. But in an age where corporations are blasting their names on everything (stadiums, college football bowl games, halftime shows) it's not the status quo that worries me.
The line is moving, and who knows where it might eventually reach.