Pepsi is developing a script for a feature film starring Uncle Drew, the character played by NBA star Kyrie Irving in ads that have been viral hits online since debuting in 2012, a PepsiCo spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday.
The film concept was conceived and developed by PepsiCo's Creators League unit. The company formally launched the unit last year to serve as an internal production arm for scripted series, films, music recordings, reality shows and other content distributed for TV, online viewing and services such as Amazon Prime.
The Creators League is partnering with Temple Hill Entertainment on the Uncle Drew film, the PepsiCo spokeswoman confirmed. She described it as a "Blues Brothers-meets-love-of-basketball film." She said the "whole point is to continue to build this ecosystem and franchise around Uncle Drew."
The project was earlier reported by Variety and ESPN.
"Every day, we continue to extend the equity of our iconic Pepsi brand beyond the bottle," Lou Arbetter, general manager for Creators League Studio, said in a statement. "Today's consumers want to live the brand as much as consume it, and the tremendous success we've had with the Uncle Drew franchise is a perfect example of how we're building ecosystems around our flagship brands."
This is not PepsiCo's first foray into movie-making. As Ad Age reported last year, the Creators League has a deal with The Firm, a management and production company, and hip-hop artist Tip "T.I." Harris, to make what is described as a coming-of-age feature film that has been described as an urban "Pitch Perfect." That film will not carry Pepsi branding, the company spokeswoman confirmed this week. No release date has been announced.
The Creators League studio is overseen by Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo's global beverage group, and Kristin Patrick, senior VP-global brand development. The studio's aim is to pump out branded content while also striking distribution deals with film studios, online publishers and other outlets for brand-agnostic content. Eventually, PepsiCo executives envision selling enough unbranded content to cover the costs of creating ad content that does fuel product sales, Mr. Jakeman and Ms. Patrick told Ad Age last year.
It is unclear now much Pepsi products would be featured in the Uncle Drew project -- if at all -- because the script is not finalized. The PepsiCo spokeswoman confirmed Variety's report that the script will be written by Jay Longino, whose movie writing credits include "Skiptrace" and "Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation."
Uncle Drew debuted online in 2012 as a five-minute video for Pepsi Max featuring Mr. Irving playing a sweatshirt-wearing elderly man. In the video, by Davie Brown Entertainment, he was shown at an outdoor basketball court where he starts out slow but ends up schooling a much younger player. The video amassed 10 million views in less than a month, prompting Pepsi to convert it into a 30-second TV ad that ran in 2012 during the NBA Finals.
Pepsi and Mr. Irving developed it into a franchise with several follow-up videos. The marketer this week introduced a dedicated portal for the series at uncledrew.com. Fans will be able to buy Uncle Drew merchandise at the site, including hats and T-shirts. The apparel will also be sold at a pop-up store this weekend in New Orleans during the NBA's All-Star weekend.
New videos will be posted to the site, including one released today featuring Uncle Drew chatting about the All-Star game with old-man characters played by NBA star Baron Davis, who plays "Louis," and actor J.B. Smoove, who plays "Angelo," who have previously appeared in Uncle Drew videos. The new video is by Creators League and Marc Gilbar, who is also involved in the film project. New Uncle Drew short videos will continued to be released throughout the remainder of the NBA season, according to Pepsi.