Product Integration, a must for Caribbean filmmakers

Movie Poster for The Skin coming Summer 2010 from Hama Films Antigua

BRADES, Montserrat (April 4, 2010)…If you ask Danielle Dieffenthaller how she was able to get the popular soap opera Westwood Park made back in 1997, she would tell you the products advertised in the shows. No, not the 30 or 60 second spots that appeared after each dramatic pause, but the bottle of beer on the table, or a shop sign that the heroine just happens to pass by on her way to confront her cheating beau.

“Dieffenthaller is one of only a handful of Caribbean producers/filmmakers, who have been practicing product integration from the onset, as a way to get upfront cash to finance their dream of telling Caribbean stories,” says Nerissa Golden, a media strategist and owner of goldenmedia Montserrat.

“With TiVo and other tape delayed options for people to zap the commercials from their favorite shows, Hollywood has gone the route of product integration. Ever wondered why all of the women in Desperate Housewives drive the same brand of car…product integration,” she added. “Hollywood won’t even consider new projects that don’t include a high level of product integration whether for television or film.”

“American Idol is one show that uses product integration quite successfully. Coca Cola and Ford are major sponsors and their products are not just strategically placed but the activities on the show revolve around their brands. For instance, the music video that involves a Ford vehicle, or the interviews done in the Coca Cola Lounge and the coke glasses on the judges table,” Golden explained.

In recent weeks, two great examples of product integration Caribbean style were the final episode of The Bachelor, a prime time ABC series that was filmed on St. Lucia at Jade Mountain resort and “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?” which was filmed in The Bahamas. A special screening was also held at the Atlantis on Paradise Island on March 29 before its US opening on April 2.

The Bahamas Tourism Director General Vernice Walkine and the Minister of Tourism Vincent Vanderpool Wallace concur that having a filmmaker like Tyler Perry shooting the movie sequel with frequent references to the islands was unprecedented. To have portions of the movie shot on Eleuthera and then a Bahamian style premiere is a marketing coupe they hope will reap dividends for years to come.

“The mind shift to integrate regional locations, products and the associated companies with the visual media has to happen from both the corporate sector as well as the filmmakers,” says Golden. “A filmmaker may have the idea and concept of how a brand can work within their story, but if the company is not ready to embrace this level of marketing, then it won’t happen.”

Howard Allen & his wife Mitzi Allen, the premiere filmmakers in the Northeastern Caribbean and owners of Hama Films Antigua and Hama TV, a cable channel.

Antiguan filmmakers Howard & Mitzi Allen know this all too well. They have made a business of integrating their love of Antigua & Barbuda into their previous three films. The fourth, The Skin premieres Summer 2010 and takes product integration to a new level.

“Our movies have become historical archives of sorts. When we shot our first, The Sweetest Mango several of the locations were destroyed shortly after and the movie brought back the memories of these old landmarks for our viewers,” explained Mitzi Allen, who serves as Executive Producer of HAMA Films and General Manager for HAMA TV, a cable channel.

“We always wanted to make movies that people would see and from the onset I look at the market potential for the films before I begin writing,” says Howard Allen, the writer and director.

This is a process that has served them well for all of their four productions and television programmes as well. The Sweetest Mango played for three solid months in local cinemas in Antigua and the Allen’s were able to recoup the 350,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars spent on the production.

“We did not start with $350,000. We started with about 50,000, but we were determined to make the movie. Along the way we got others to buy into the project and we developed relationships with local companies and our tourism board so we could complete it. If you wait to have all of the money in the Caribbean, then you probably won’t get there. You can’t use a Hollywood formula for making a big budget movie here as we don’t have those resources available. However, we have great stories to tell and great locations to tell them in. We must use what we have,” encouraged Mitzi.

“Much more work needs to be done within the region to help producers and screenwriters develop product integration partnerships that will work,” says Golden. “As in the case of some radio tracks today, they will not be played on certain commercial stations because in essence you are giving free airtime to a particular drink or activity that could bring revenue for the station. However, in video, it is possible to work out arrangements with broadcasters which will also be to their benefit to air your programming. It is possible to maintain the integrity of your story even while promoting a product or corporation within the visuals.”

Nerissa Golden, author, media strategist and owner of goldenmedia Montserrat

Golden admits that many writers and filmmakers in the region may consider focusing on making commercially acceptable movies as selling out their story but says it is possible to have both. “There are other examples within the Caribbean of filmmakers who are making product integration work for them while maintaining the wholesomeness and original intent of their story. Caribbean companies are interested in associating their brand and products with movies and television programming which reflect the positive aspects of our region. The art is in matching the right filmmaker and story with the right brands; working towards creating visually stimulating movies which everyone will be proud to be a part of; and which will have financial and social rewards for the partnership.”

The media strategist suggests that filmmakers first have a clear story idea they want to pursue, develop a budget for the production, identify locations or products which could enhance the telling of the story, and develop proposals for approaching a company showing the market benefits of having their brand associated with the movie or television show.

“If you are new in the game, it could be a challenge to get companies to buy into your story but certainly not impossible. Dieffenthaller and the Allen’s were beginners at one point and they were able to do it and still are,” explained Golden. “There is a lot of good information online about integrating products into visual stories and it’s a matter of doing your homework and finding the right people to help you through the process.”

“Practice your pitch in the mirror, to your friends or spouse until you feel confident with your presentation, but also be clear on what you are offering,” Golden added. “Be very clear on what you want out of the relationship, what you are selling and what areas of your production are off limits.”

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