''To Die For'' advertising — Independent filmmaker Gus Van Sant uses product placement to plug his corporate counterparts

By Degen Pener
November 10, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST
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If you think all independent filmmakers are at odds with corporate Hollywood, think again. In Gus Van Sant’s new film To Die For, produced by Sony’s Columbia Pictures, the logo of a Sony video camera gets a lingering close-up. And in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, from Gramercy Pictures, which is half owned by Universal, the final scene is set in the Universal Studios tour, followed by closing credits that for no discernible reason show an orangutan wearing a black satin Universal baseball jacket. In Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, from Twentieth Century Fox, Ralph Fiennes and Tom Sizemore watch the news on Fox TV.

Are the rambunctious auteurs signaling their gratitude? Yes and no. To Die For producer Laura Ziskin says, ”This is so ridiculous. We were trying to make a movie for a price. Who are we going to get the equipment from? RCA? Sony was the cheapest way to get the stuff. There was a moment, though, when we had acquired all the equipment. I said, ‘This is going to look like a Sony commercial,’ and we all had a laugh about it.”

Smith is perfectly comfortable with the notion that product placement begins at home. He also plugs his first film, Clerks, and his View Askew production company in Mallrats. The orangutan, he adds, ”showed up [at the theme park] wearing that jacket. He’s in a show up there on the actual studio tour. It wasn’t intentional. What the hell, we wanted to stay on Universal’s good side. And they kept telling me he gets cold very easily. Nobody wants to see an ape with hard nipples.”

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