One of the more jarring things about movies for the last couple of decades, to me at least, has been the heavy product placement that comes with the price of admission. You know the sort of thing—a shot that needlessly lingers on a beer bottle’s label or a car’s badge before moving to the actual drama of a scene. Sure, it gets the product in front of the audiences’ eyeballs, but it often ruins any suspension of disbelief that was going on at the time. But on Wednesday, Audi gave us a look at the other side of that equation by posting a Q&A with Kai Mensing, its head of international product placement.
Mensing has been in his role for a decade now, during which time we’ve seen Audis show up in, among other things, Transformers: Age of Extinction as well as several Marvel movies (including the Iron Man films, where Tony Stark drives various R8 supercars) and (to my surprise, because I haven’t seen them) the various Fifty Shades films.
But the car company has been helping movie makers with cars for a lot longer—Mensing points to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as the first, which saw an Audi 5000 sedan share a little screen time with the brown wrinkly alien and his young costars. The company also provided a first-generation S8 sedan for what might have been the last truly good car chase movie—John Frankenheimer’s Ronin. (Frankenheimer was a true petrolhead and director of 1966’s Grand Prix, so the man knew how to film things on four wheels.)
Perhaps surprisingly, Mensing says that Audi doesn’t ever want filmmakers to change their story to feature a particular car. “We adapt to the story,” he says. “If the script requires a sporty car, we deliver an Audi R8, or one of the RS models, for example.”
Action movies show off cars in action
We see a lot of Audis in action movies, Mensing says, because the filmmakers “can integrate the cars in a more dynamic way” rather than just having a car parked up, stationary. As for why the four rings showed up in all three Fifty Shades films? That’s down to the source material.
“The books mention Audi cars several times, so it was logical that they would also be part of the films,” he says. “None of the scenes in the film that are showing the Audi will be raising any eyebrows, so we didn’t hesitate to cooperate.”
That’s not always the case—when Jurassic Park first made the jump from novel to motion picture, the Toyotas of the book became Jeeps and Ford Explorers, but for the sequel (The Lost World), they were replaced by Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUVs, thanks to a product placement deal with the latter automaker. And who can forget Pierce Brosnan-era Bond movies that were heavy with BMWs due to a multi-film deal between the producers and that German automaker?
Although companies like Audi place their vehicles in movies because that’s an easy way to show off products to tens or even hundreds of millions of people, those cars aren’t always models the brands want to sell. BMW’s concept cars have appeared in Mission Impossible movies, and both Audi and Lexus have created special concepts just for films like I, Robot and Minority Report.
“The process usually starts with a detailed briefing by the film studio,” Mensing says, when asked how those concepts get developed. “After that, Audi’s designers can give their creativity free rein. They put their ideas on paper and those sketches then go to the studio for approval. Our CAD designers convert the selected sketches into a virtual model, which already looks very realistic. That design is then assessed by the film studio’s creative team and adapted to the film’s aesthetics and artistic guidelines. That design then goes back to Audi for its review. Things go back and forth like that a number of times until everyone is satisfied with the result.”
Listing image by Audi