From Pepsi With Love

Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi
Ain’t singin’ for Coke
I don’t sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note’s for you.

– Neil Young

The Australian recently published an article stating that “One-third of the budget for the next James Bond film is to come from brands that will appear on screen, making it the biggest product-placement bonanza in cinema history. The figure is twice the previous record, held by Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, released in 2002. Lexus, Bulgari and American Express together paid about $20m to appear in the film.” I have a few thoughts about this. The 19 year-old me is outraged, OUTRAGED that the purity of Bond be sold to corporate pigs. He will now pop Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” into the CD player and stomp around his dorm room sucking on a hand rolled Drum while smugly enjoying his own self-righteousness. Indeed, that guy had some very strong ideas about how people earn a living for someone who had a meal card and didn’t pay rent. Needless to say, my ideas about selling out and what selling out is have shifted quite a bit since then. I still have immense respect for the Bruce Springsteen’s, Tom Waits (Waits’??) and Neil Young’s of the world who steadfastly refuse to take a dollar form corporate America but I also have no problems with Bob Dylan making an ad for Victoria Secrete. Mostly because when I think of lace panties the last thing that comes to mind is Dylan, and I think the sly jokester knows this. As the Bard once said, everybody’s got to eat. If someone offered me a few bucks to put their name on this sight, I would happily do so. I’m a huge baseball fan and my team plays at Citifield where hitters can belt the ball onto the Pepsi Porch over by the MoZone and the 15th batter is brought to you by Geico where a 15 minute call can save you up to 15% on your car insurance. Ads are indeed everywhere and almost everyone who has any kind of public presence needs to ask themselves who they feel comfortable taking money from. I’ve come to see the idea of “selling out” as the flipside of the “voting with your dollar” coin. Voting with your dollar is the $ output. I for one will never step foot in a Wal-Mart or buy gas from Exxon or BP. However, I do spend money at Target and fill up at Shell. What’s the difference? Couldn’t any oil company have an accident and destroy the Alaskan or Louisiana coast? Aren’t Wal-Mart and Target both faceless generic monsters that put the local guy out of business? I guess. But it’s my little moral universe and it helps me sleep at night. On the $ input side, I pay the rent by working freelance. As such I have worked for everyone from mom and pop shops to the biggest corporations in the world. However, there are some companies, both big and small, that could offer me the world on a string and I still won’t take the gig. I may not agree with their politics, or their hiring practices or whatever, but I will not take their money. To do so, I would see myself as selling out, IE compromising my principles for money. And that’s kind of how I view selling out in the entertainment world; these artists/studios/sport teams have their own moral compass and litmus tests to determine who they feel good about taking money from and who they don’t. Do I hate the fact that The Who has sold almost every song they ever recorded to one car company or another? Indeed I do but Quadrophenia still rocks. Do I think of Sunkist soda every time I hear “Good Vibration?” Hell and yes, but I still love me the Beach Boys.

But back to Bond. The late, great Jerry Garcia once said “(The Grateful Dead) have been trying to sell out for years, nobody’s buying!” I think the Bond 23 announcement should be viewed through that prism. After all, it was only a few short months ago that MGM’s dire finical straights lead to stories all but writing Bonds obit.  If a $40 million dollar infusion of cash from a car company and a credit card or two means 007 gets to live, I say bring on the sponsors. Besides, the idea is nothing new for EON; Bond has a proud and long history of product placement going back to the promptly featured Aston Martin in Goldfinger (1964). MGM publicly and loudly crowed about the four picture deal they signed to have Bond drive BMWs in the 1990’s. What is new is the amount money involved. 1/3 of a budget is no small thing and I wonder what is going to be given to these folks for such a hefty investment. David Mamet tackles this idea in his wonderful and underappreciated film State and Maine (2000). (Everyone rightly raves about Alec Baldwin in the Mamet scripted Glengarry, Glen Ross (1992) but his turn as a spoiled Hollywood star with a thing for underage girls in State and Maine is just as fantastic. “Everybody needs a hobby” is right up there with “a set of steak knives.”) In the movie, a film crew takes over a small New England town to make a period picture called “The Old Mill.” One of the running jokes deals with the director, producer and screen writer trying to figure out how to work a dot com sponsor into a story that take place in a time long before Al Gore even thought about the internet. And that I think is the nut. Much like special effects, the on screen product placement needs to feel organic to the story and the world created in the film. If the sponsorship stands out in a way that sucks us out of the movie, or somehow compromise the film in some noticeable way, then it’s bad thing. If not, then stop worrying and learn to love Jimmy B flashing the Rolex while drinking a Kettle One vodka martini. My one request, please don’t have Q set up shop in a Wal-Mart.

Hey, speaking of product placement, has everyone discovered Netflix instant streaming by now? I hope so because it just might be the best thing to happen to movies since sound. Anyway, Netflix is making new films available to stream all the time and last night while I was spooling through the menus I saw that all the Bond films are now available for streaming! Freaking awesome, thanks so much Netflix. (Ed. Note, no one at Blog, James Blog has received any compensation from any of the companies mentioned above. Especially not Netflix. Netflix, now with Bond movies at home whenever you want em!)

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