It’s been 18 months since BMW hinted that it was exploring the idea of bringing back its BMW Films series, which elevated branded entertainment to an art form and height it hasn’t quite regained. And now, it’s back, and with the franchise’s original star. BMW USA has released a teaser trailer for “The Escape” — directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Clive Owen, a sequel 15 years in the making.
The original collection of BMW Films—a series of shorts that were released in cinemas and online from 2001 to 2002—are now considered groundbreaking, the godfathers of the modern branded film explosion. Before Ridley Scott teamed with Lana Del Rey for the Jaguar short film “Desire,” before The Weinsteins produced “The Barn Owl” for Lexus, before Jude Law joined Uma Thurman for Johnnie Walker Blue label’s “The Gentleman’s Wager,” there was BMW Films’ “The Hire.”
And now, we’re getting a sneak peek at the return of Owen as “The Driver” with “The Escape” teaser:
BMW’s half-minute teaser will have to do until Oct. 23rd, when the full short film hits the web. The German automaker is pitching this as an official return of BMW Films, and it has the star to prove it.
In fact, BMW not only brought back Owen for “The Escape,” but also (according to its press release) Bruce Bildsten as Creative Director, Brian DiLorenzo as Executive Producer and David Carter, who in addition to serving as a creative consultant, co-wrote the film alongside Blomkamp. The trio then brought together a group of producers and designers to bring the film to life.
As with any sequel to a hit, this time around the budget is bigger and the stars just as numerous. BMW has brought in an A-list director with Academy Award-nominated Blomkamp (the South African filmmaker behind Elysium and District 9) to helm the new 11-minute short film. Owen will be joined by stars including Vera Farmiga and Dakota Fanning.
The original BMW films series were also directed by A-listers (Wong Kar-wai, Guy Ritchie —directing then-wife Madonna as a diva—and John Woo) and other big names including Gary Oldman, Don Cheadle and Forest Whitaker.
Excitement is already high. Over at popular car blog Jalopnik, editors responded to BMW’s announcement with the headline “F**k Yeah, BMW Films Are Back And The First Trailer Looks Amazing.”
The BMW Films series was not only an audience success but set the tone for the branded content explosion that is upon us now, when big name Hollywood stars and directors make short films for brands. The influence of BMW Films on today’s Hollywood is extraordinary.
As BMW notes, after the first two films in “The Hire” series debuted online, Wong Kar-wai’s third film, “The Follow,” made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2001 to critical acclaim. In the media, The New York Times said, “The BMW films tingle with zest,” while TIME added, “It surely deserves the attention of discerning movie watchers.”
“The Hire” inspired the Cannes International Advertising Festival to create the Titanium Lion in 2003, to honor creative ideas that point to a new direction for the industry and redefine the creative landscape. Besides winning the inaugural Titanium Lion, the films went on to win the top honor in virtually every creative competition. They were named “The Best of the Digital Decade” by The One Show in 2011 and were named to the Clios Hall of Fame in 2009. The Hire series was inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in 2003.
In an interview this week with the Hollywood Reporter, “The Escape” director Blomkamp said, “When I was in film school, these films were really groundbreaking. They seemed like the perfect halfway point between commercials and features.” Blomkamp, then only 20 and in film school, reached out to the producers in the hopes of directing a BMW film. “Never contact us again,” Blomkamp says was their reply. Clearly, he’s having the last laugh now.
It’s worth revisiting just how groundbreaking BMW Films was in 2001. Fifteen years ago—Hollywood A-list directors making what were essentially long commercials—was verboten. BMW leveraged its brand prestige to bring directors like Tony Scott and John Woo on board.
In the decade and a half that followed BMW Films, Martin Scorsese and has directed ads for American Express; Wes Anderson has shot campaigns for American Express and Prada and Stella Artois; Baz Luhrmann has directed Chanel ads; David Fincher has worked for Apple and Nike; Sofia Coppola has directed films for Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs and H&M; Darren Aronofsky directed a short for Yves Saint Laurent while David O. Russell helmed a spot for Ketel One vodka. Cinema-loving Gap has worked with both Coppola, Fincher and Spike Jonze. One could even argue that BMW Films popularity and acceptance paved the way for stars like Lady Gaga to partner with a big box retailer like Target.
BMW Films is just one of the automaker’s entertainment efforts, while product placement remains a strong component of how the brand features its autos on the big (and small) screen. The Mission Impossible franchise serves as a de facto BMW sizzle reel. In a 2015 interview, Claudia Müller, Head of Global Entertainment Marketing for BMW Group, told brandchannel that the brand is constantly on the lookout for meaningful entertainment partnerships. Now, with the return of BMW Films to its roots, will the art of branded entertainment regain its glory?
Below, a playlist of The Hire and subsequent BMW Films from the original series: