Burger King Shops Movie Idea to Studios

Hopes to Release Full-Length Theater Film Next Year

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LOS ANGELES -- If Burger King has it its way, the fast food chain will have a movie in theaters next year.
Burger King hopes to convince a Hollywood studio to back its feature-length movie plans.

Miami-based Crispin Porter & Bogusky is in the midst of developing a character-driven comedy for the No. 2 fast food chain that it hopes to start shooting as early as the fall.

Hollywood studios

The Miami-based ad agency has started shopping the project to Hollywood studios, with 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures in the running to distribute and possibly co-finance the film, according to executives familiar with the recent meetings. Other studios, including New Line, also have expressed interest in the project and meeting with Crispin.

The script is still being written by executives at Crispin, overseen personally by agency honcho Alex Bogusky. The plot is said to take place in an apartment above a Burger King restaurant.

No director has yet been hired. Casting also has yet to take place, though the movie is expected to feature emerging talent rather than recognizable stars. The creepy, ubiquitous 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. An agency spokeswoman and Burger King declined to officially comment.

Non-traditional marketing strategies

Either way, Burger King’s decision to get into the movie business comes as advertisers increasingly are seeking out nontraditional ways to reach consumers and rise above the clutter of 30-second TV spots. And nothing is more nontraditional than a marketer making a movie.

Crispin already has been reworking Burger King’s image and coming up with ways to drum up interest in the fast food chain through nontraditional means, from its web-based Subservient Chicken to the Doctor Angus diet book, a pending Xbox game line and vinyl figurines.

But the move into filmmaking comes at a time when few if any brand-backed film projects have ignited the box office.

Mountain Dew couldn’t lure audiences to its feature-length snowboarding documentary “First Descent,” which Universal distributed in December. The film earned a scant $751,000. Meanwhile the thriller “Cry Wolf,” a product of the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival, collected $10 million late last year. It certainly earned a profit on its budget of a little more than $1 million but still made far less than other teen horror films of late.

Of course, the films could do well on DVD. And then there are other ancillary revenue streams such as cable and international sales.

Interest despite other failures

With all of that in consideration, marketers have said they were pleased with the results and have not been dissuaded from backing similar entertainment projects in the future. In October, Burton Snowboards will release its own snowboarding documentary, “For Right or Wrong,” which it produced with Mandalay Entertainment. And studio executives say they are increasingly being approached by marketers to produce their own films.

Burger King’s film will be a gamble, but it won’t break the bank. During the meetings with studios, Crispin executives have said they want to create a modestly-budgeted film -- meaning under $10 million. The fast feeder’s out-of-pocket costs could drop even further if Crispin manages to entice a studio to pitch in production dollars. The studio also would help market the movie.

In the end, the eventual price tag would be small compared to the $269 million Burger King spent on advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Crispin will only benefit should the film find an audience.

Agency compensation model

It will be the agency’s latest attempt to change the typical compensation model. Crispin brokered a revenue-sharing agreement with Burger King, making it an investor in the film and a profit participant should the film succeed, according to one informed executive.

But in an unusual move, Crispin is straying away from trying to capitalize on the appeal of sophomoric goofball comedies like “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” or “American Pie,” and is aiming more for independents like “Garden State,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Raising Victor Vargas” and “What's Eating Gilbert Grape?” as it develops its film.

The latter independents were considered financial hits, and all of them hit the sweet spot of Burger King’s target market -- young fast-food loyalists who prefer Burger King’s edgier, more rebellious image over other burger chains.

For example, “Napoleon” became a cult hit, pulling in $44.5 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo, on a miniscule production budget of $400,000. It also made a star of Jon Heder. "Garden State" made $26.7 million domestically on a $2.5 million budget and spawned a highly successful soundtrack. Both movies have been strong DVD performers.

Franchisees' reaction

Franchisees contacted about the film weren’t aware of the plan but liked it. 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” film. “I hope it’s true. I think it’s a great idea,” he said.

If Burger King generates that kind of exposure with a film, it would really give the King something to smile about.

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Kate MacArthur contributed to this report.
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