Jon Bon Jovi, AOL and Current Model Vehicles Play Starring Roles

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LOS ANGELES -- Producing a movie in Hollywood can take years. And that’s if a project hasn’t been stuck in development hell.

For Chrysler, it only took three.
Chrysler's first full-length feature movie is a horror film about a serial killer and Chrysler vehicles.

Three years after signing on to sponsor the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival, the automaker’s first foray into filmmaking hits theaters next month.

The film, Cry Wolf, is a horror thriller directed by Jeff Wadlow that revolves around a group of high-school students who spread online rumors that a serial killer called “The Wolf” is on the loose. The lies become reality when students begin turning up dead, hunted by an unknown killer.

Universal Pictures’ genre arm Rogue Pictures will distribute the film on 1,600 screens Sept. 16.

$1 million production deal

Mr. Wadlow received the chance to make his directorial debut on the project in 2002, when he won the festival’s top prize -- a $1 million production deal with Universal Pictures, production company Hypnotic (The Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers) and Chrysler.

“In 2001, when we came together as a new marketing team, we asked, How could we differentiate our brands and make them more attractive to consumers?” said Chrysler Group’s Jeff Bell, vice president of Chrysler and Jeep. “How do we reach the right target audience in a nontraditional way? We felt the promotion of film, emerging filmmakers and film festivals felt right and aligned with our audience.”

Cry Wolf was shot in the fall of 2003, with a relatively unknown cast whose top names are Jared Padalecki (the WB’s Gilmore Girls) and singer-turned-actor Jon Bon Jovi. Director Doug Liman (Mr. and Mrs. Smith) produced the film through Hypnotic.

Film concept tested strongly

Rogue came on board last year after initial production dollars ran out. After testing the film and getting a strong response, the company provided filmmakers with additional funds to shoot more scenes.

The total production budget is estimated to be $1.4 million, with Universal footing most of that bill.

However, Chrysler did supply production vehicles to the filmmakers. The company’s PT Cruiser and Crossfire sports car prominently appear in the film, driven by lead and supporting characters.

Chrysler’s marketing dollars were also used to host events at the Sundance, Toronto and Cannes film festivals throughout the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival’s run.

But Chrysler didn’t ask Mr. Wadlow to integrate certain models into the film.

'A movie, not a commercial'

“Cars are a part of our lives and they’re part of the story every filmmaker tells,” Mr. Wadlow said. “Obviously, if there were going to be vehicles in the film, some would be Chryslers. But there was no mandate. They understood it’s about making a movie, not a commercial.”

Chrysler will collect an undisclosed percentage of the film's box office earnings, and will be able to use the film as a marketing tool to promote its lineup of vehicles in the future. Mr. Bell would not disclose just how much its back end participation deal on the film is, but said that it is "substantial."

Mr. Bell said that Chrysler would consider hammering out a backend deal with a studio should additional films get produced.

In addition to the auto brand, AOL also appears prominently in the film, with characters using the Internet giant’s popular instant messenger service.

“Once we’d written the script and approached production, we realized that instant messaging was a large part of the story,” Mr. Wadlow said. “We approached AOL and they showed the same foresight that Chrysler did.”

AOL's extensive marketing campaign

Separately, AOL has launched an extensive marketing campaign for the film, which includes banner ads on its instant messenger software, an online game tied to the film, as well as other content. The company’s connection to the film is also worked into the movie’s marketing campaign, with the signature sound of AOL’s instant messenger software heard at the end of trailers.

Total planned spending was not disclosed.

Mr. Wadlow, a native of Charlottesville, Va., and nephew of Katie Couric, won the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival with his project, Living the Lie, a modern day retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. At the time, the 26-year-old graduate of the USC School of Cinema-Television competed against four other finalists, who were judged on a short-film entry, a Chrysler-branded “extreme film” that was produced in Cannes, and a feature film project, which included a working draft of a script, storyboards for a scene and the production of a scene, and a theatrical poster.

Like 'film school on speed'

“The contest was film school on speed,” Mr. Wadlow said. “There was no streamlined process. For all their foresight of sponsoring arts programs, what Chrysler is good at is making cars. Taking a film from script to production is not what they do. It’s a testament to them that they let filmmakers figure things out. We became better filmmakers that way. It was sink or swim.”

The only request Chrysler made was to integrate the PT Cruiser and Crossfire into the 10 short films that were produced. Otherwise, it remained hands off. The same is true for the actual production of Cry Wolf, Mr. Wadlow said.

“They were involved the perfect amount,” Mr. Wadlow said. “They were saying to the community that this contest is legit. But at the same time, they realized it was about artistry and filmmakers expressing themselves.”

That hands-off approach also meant allowing Mr. Wadlow to make the film he wanted -- in this case a horror film. Chrysler didn’t shy away from Cry Wolf’s scarier elements, but requested that the final cut not receive an R rating. The film is rated PG-13.

“We’re very pleased with the final film,” Mr. Bell said. “It’s a super-fun film. I think we’ve got a gem here.”

Other festival winners

While Mr. Wadlow was the first winner of the Chrysler-branded festival, the Million Dollar Film Festival was originally launched by Hypnotic and Universal in 2001. David Von Ancken won with Bullet in the Brain. While he never went on to direct a film as part of his winnings, he has helmed episodes of FX’s drama The Shield. He is also set to direct the psychological action movie Seraphim Falls, to star Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson.

Andrew Mudge won the fest’s top prize in 2003, and is still actively developing his film. His winning proposal: The P.T. Johansen Field Guide to North American Monsters, revolves around the son of a noted Bigfoot hunter who must defend an alleged Sasquatch sighting against a skeptical 11-year-old Cub Scout.

Mr. Bell said that Chrysler “wants to remain committed” to projects like the film festival and is considering sponsoring a third outing, but one that would be housed more online than in the past.

“This was an innovative approach for us and we’re very happy with the outcome,” he said.
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