If nothing else, this year's sophomore version of the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival is providing more clarity for both the automaker and the filmmakers.
And if the ten 10-minute short films that bowed at last weekend's Extreme Filmmaking Premiere in New York are an indication, upstart directors are willing to ply their crafts in an environment heavily influenced by consumer product companies.
DaimlerChrysler's branded film festival— essentially a 10 month contest where 25 filmmakers compete for a $1 million theatrical movie production deal— moved to the finalist stage as the 10 contestants were whittled down to five. The shorts— which featured the 2004 Chrysler Pacifica and/or the 2003 Chrysler Crossfire— were judged by a blue-ribbon panel comprised of industry execs and journalists.
The five finalists are Paul Cotter, director of "Last Hand Standing," where a man, while competing to win a Chrysler Crossfire, falls in love with his competitor; Victor Buhler, director of "One Man's Castle," a film about a successful Manhattan businessman living— quite comfortably— in his Chrysler Pacifica; Tanja Mairitsch, who helmed "The Fortune Teller," about a man on a quest to find the love of his life; Stephen Marro, who directed "Delivery Boy," about a nine-year-old boy with an active imagination, who goes on an errand to the bakery for his mom; and Andrew Mudge, director of "Gabriel Y Gato," about a man waiting for the car and the girl of his dreams.
This year the results have been more of what Chrysler has been looking for.
"We did a better job balancing the art and commerce," says Doug Scott, exec VP-marketing for Hypnotic, the production company, who along with Chrysler and Universal Pictures are partners in the festival.
Earlier this year, at the Chrysler-sponsored branded entertainment workshop at the Sundance Film Festival, Dave Bartis, Hypnotic CEO, said: "Last year was more art and less commercial. This year we are going to shift it to the commercial direction— to be blunt."
Last year, filmmakers had little to go on. "[Last year] filmmakers had one month to write a script," reminds Scott. "They were never briefed by Chrysler executives. They received nothing more than pictures of a car. They did not have the opportunity to touch the cars or talk to product specialists. All of it happened in binders and by telephone."
To remedy this at Sundance, Chrysler's workshop indoctrinated the filmmakers in the specifics of the brand, the cars and the marketing behind the cars.
Lest it appear that the directors were at the complete whim of Chrysler, one executive involved with the project gave his assurance that there was no meddling.
Chrysler agencies BBDO West, Detroit, and The Arnell Group, New York, offered notes— just like studio executives do for top theatrical features, but "we really didn't try to interfere. We were looking at it from the perspective of Chrysler to make sure the integration was appropriate," says Sam Aljuni,creative director of BBDO West. "We tried to focus on the story telling."
"They gave us like a shopping list of things we could feature," says Scott Perry, whose film "008" a James-Bond spoof of sorts, made it to the round of 10 semifinalists. "I used [a shot] of the control panel [of the Crossfire]—it looks like a cockpit of a spaceship. I [also] featured the back of the car. It reminds me of those old Aston Martins. They let us do what we wanted to do— as long as we weren't wrecking the car."
But overall, filmmakers were left to their own devices. "It was refreshingly not a commercial," says Kevin Burke, a Los Angeles-based semifinalist with "One Ring Circus." "Essentially you had to make a story featuring a car."
According to Aljuni, there was a range of adeptness at product integration displayed by the filmmakers. "Some were more gratuitous than others— some of the filmmakers were inexperienced with branded entertainment."
In the final stage, the five finalists will live together at the Chrysler House in Los Angeles this summer while each develops a feature film production package in partnership with an entertainment industry mentor.
In September, the finalists travel to Toronto, where they will pitch their projects to a panel of judges that will award one lucky director the $1 million production deal.
"There is no such thing as a totally independent film— unless you pay [for] it with your own money," asserts Cotter. "If I'm looking for $3 million to $5 million dollars, then an investor is going to have a say whether I like it or not. Storytelling is a business."