Crispin creatives have written a BK-oriented movie, plan to start shooting this fall and are shopping it to 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures, Advertising Age has learned. The Miami-based agency is looking for a financial and distribution partner, according to executives familiar with recent meetings, and while specifics haven't been ironed out,
Crispin would be an investor in the film and would take a cut of the box office if it reaches certain levels.
The arrangement is unusual in an industry where the client customarily owns the content its agency creates and is generally the only one to profit from it. But Crispin has been blazing new ground when it comes to compensation. It's received minority equity stakes in Haggar Clothing Co. and consumer products marketer Method in exchange for its creative work.
And it's sharing in the profits from some products created out of its association with Burger King, from an upcoming Dr. Angus diet book -- for which it has just secured a publisher -- and Xbox game line to vinyl figurines of the Subservient Chicken character.
As for the upcoming movie, Crispin executives have said they want to create a modestly budgeted (under $10 million) character-driven story that takes place in an apartment above a Burger King restaurant.
So far, there's no director, nor a completed script, which is being overseen personally by agency honcho Alex Bogusky and is expected by fall. No casting has taken place, though it's anticipated that the movie would feature emerging talent rather than big-name stars. Aside from the setting, the ubiquitous and controversial Burger King mascot would have no real role in the movie, said executives who have attended the meetings. Universal executives declined to comment, and Fox executives did not return calls. A Crispin spokeswoman and Burger King declined to comment.
Crispin executives have used several film reference points to describe the movie they want to make. Among them are "Garden State," "Napoleon Dynamite," "Raising Victor Vargas" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" They intentionally did not go the sophomoric goofball comedy route, a la "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" or "American Pie."
If it's on the mark, the agency stands to bring in some serious money. Cult-favorite "Napoleon Dynamite" cost only $400,000 to make and pulled in $44.5 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo. "Garden State" reeled in $26.7 million domestically on a $2.5 million budget.
And then there's the ancillary revenue: "Garden State" spawned a successful soundtrack and "Napoleon" a full line of licensed merchandise, including lip balm, that sold briskly at teen retailer Hot Topic. Both films have been strong DVD performers.
A number of brands already have tested the executive-producer waters, including Mountain Dew with the snowboarding documentary "First Descent" and Chrysler with "Cry Wolf," a product of the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival. Both projects were modestly budgeted and moderately successful at the box office, though marketers have said they were pleased with the forays into brand-financed content. But in those cases production companies worked with the marketers, and agencies aren't believed to have been involved.
The chain's parent, Burger King Holdings, will release its fourth quarter and fiscal-year-end results on Aug. 1 and host its first earnings call as a publicly traded company. Analysts are optimistic about the chain's growth potential since the No. 2 brand has the lowest average annual store volumes ($1.1 million) compared with segment leader McDonald's ($1.9 million) and No. 3 Wendy's ($1.4 million.)
Traffic figures haven't quite caught up to the pricing gains that have led to eight quarters of positive same-store sales, but franchisees are pleased so far. Based on their own results, several franchisees expect the company to report same-store sales gains in the low-single digits. After years of strife and skepticism among franchisees, most have come around to give management the benefit of the doubt -- at least as long as sales continue to hold up.
Franchisees contacted about the film weren't aware of the plan but liked the idea. While in Chicago this week, Al Cabrera, chairman of Heartland Food Corp, owner-operator of 249 Burger King restaurants, said his children gleefully pointed to a White Castle after recognizing it from the "Harold and Kumar" movie. "I think it's a great idea," he said.
Contributing: Kate MacArthur