It’s Oscar season for movie releases at cinemas in your neighborhood, but online it’s a gold derby race for branded short films.
In the last two weeks, branded entertainment — short narrative films produced by brands with award-winning Hollywood directors and talent — have premiered for a trio of elite European luxury brands: namely Prada, Moncler and Burberry.
First let’s take a look at Past Forward, starring Freida Pinto, Kuoth Wiel, Jack Huston, John Krasinski and Allison Williams in mirror roles as women experiencing a black-and-white dream world. Vogue waggishly declared the film “Dada Prada.”
The film was directed by Hollywood’s David O. Russell (known for films including Joy, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) and premiered at a star-studded red carpet premiere on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Prada’s creative head, Miuccia Prada, was also involved in the “multi-platform short film collaboration,” which simultaneously premiered to the public as an Instagram story.
This is not Russell’s first big budget branded project. In 2011, on the heels of his Oscar nomination, he directed the branded entertainment campaign Gentlemen, This Is Vodka for premium spirit brand Ketel One.
Less avant-garde is The Tale of Thomas Burberry, the new branded entertainment effort by Burberry, a holiday-timed short film which feels like the trailer for a film that someone really needs to make.
Starring British actors , the short film reimagines key events that have shaped the Burberry brand’s history and offers romance, affairs, war and passion. The film was directed by Cannes film festival winner Asif Kapadia, director of the Oscar-nominated Amy.
Burberry's latest campaign video is the greatest movie never made https://t.co/TYiEFulviA
— The Cut (@TheCut) November 1, 2016
The Tale of Thomas Burberry has received critical acclaim and been rewarded by audiences as well, racking up well over 6 million views since its release on YouTube and social media on Nov 1.
Then there is Brave, Vision, the latest project from Spike Lee, who has long run a sideline in branding and marketing with his Spike DDB “boutique ad agency” in partnership with DDB. This time, he’s lending his talents to Moncler, the French ski chic apparel manufacturer and lifestyle brand.
Through Lee, Moncler has made a video tribute to New York that helps promote its new Madison Avenue flagship in New York. It’s a concept that Lee, the bard of Brooklyn, is especially equipped to execute. The intense little film is a six-minute ode to the diversity of New York City, all set to music from the off-Broadway show Total Bent.
— Moncler (@Moncler) November 17, 2016
— Moncler (@Moncler) November 16, 2016
The plots aside, what all three of the films do excellently is capture the respective brand attitude of the luxury brands behind them. Past Forward is all Prada-structured severity. The Tale of Thomas Burberry is steeped in history and heritage. Brave, Vision is all hip adoption and comfortable urbanity, a theme that ties into Moncler’s new NYC outpost.
These films are also remarkable for throwing off the yoke of romanticism. There is no ode to the classic boy-chases-girl take, and the sweeping her off her feet romantic backbone is absent. For luxury fashion brands this is a breath of fresh air, one that is also evident in such projects as the Kenzo perfume spot in August.
Directed by Spike Jonze and starring Margaret Qualley, this week it won the Grand Prix for film in the Epica Awards.
Compare these stylish, complex short films to the 2014 short The One That I Want for Chanel No. 5 starring Gisele Bündchen and directed by Baz Luhrmann. These films have more in common with the most recent Miu Miu “Women’s Tales” web series, That One Day:
Not all luxury brand filmmaking these days results in films about the brands themselves, by the way. The recent Napa Valley Film Festival just hosted the premiere of the third annual Lexus Short Films series.
Working with the iconic producers at The Weinstein Company, the Lexus Short Films features short stories about soccer fans in the UK to kids learning about life through basketball to an epic spiritual travel adventure.
As a presenting sponsor more than a producer, the Lexus Short Films series doesn’t speak directly to the Lexus brand like BMW Films does, which recently returned with star Clive Owen after a many-year hiatus and a new director in South Africa’s rising star, Neill Blomkamp. The Escape, which debuted three weeks ago, has almost 5 million views just on YouTube:
Not that Lexus isn’t willing to have fun with itself, as the new Sriracha-Lexus mashup, timed to the Los Angeles Auto Show, proves.
And in a similar vein to the Lexus film series to find and promote up-and-coming filmmakers, there’s the Jameson First Shot project with Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions.
The Pernod-owned Irish whiskey pairs actors of the calibre of Uma Thurman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Adrien Brody with emerging directors, as you can see a sampling of below:
Expect to see more top shelf directors stepping up to create arty short films for top shelf brands. Frowned upon for decades—despite victories like Ridley Scott’s iconic Apple “1984” ad—the practice now counts Martin Scorsese (American Express, Dolce&Gabbana, Armani); Wes Anderson (American Express, Prada, Stella Artois); David Fincher (Apple, Nike); Sofia Coppola (Christian Dior, Marc Jacobs, H&M); Darren Aronofsky (Yves Saint Laurent); Jonze (Nike, adidas, IKEA, etc.) and many, many more.