Why investing in indie filmmakers could get your brand an Oscar

Photo: Thinkstock/Quarta_
Photo: Thinkstock/Quarta_

Brands can play an essential role in the dreams and successes of young filmmakers, says the VP of global client engagement at Branded Entertainment Network.

Oscar season is upon us yet again, and this year the Academy has ushered in a fresh crop of talent. While seasoned veterans like Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro have their seats at the table, this year also welcomes first-time directors Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig and Kumail Nanjiani.

For young filmmakers there is no end to the doors that can open once they’ve had their taste of Oscar gold. That, of course, is not without years of hard work building up to their directorial debut. For first-time directors, the relationships and support they’ve established in the beginning of their careers often are key factors in pushing them over the threshold of success. Brands can play an essential role within this supporting cast. 

One of this year’s nominees for best picture is a great example of how a brand and filmmaker can work together to tell an impactful and authentic story. First-time director Jordan Peele and Microsoft worked as creator and brand to tell the story, "Get Out," that resonated with audiences across the country at a pivotal moment in our political history, and incorporated Microsoft products throughout the film. 

As a comedian well-known for his successful Comedy Central show with Keegan-Michael Key, Peele surprised and delighted critics with his masterful, intelligent horror showpiece. Peele’s horror film pushed the boundaries for the genre and resulted in his deservingly being nominated for best picture—a rarity for both horror films and for first-time directors. 

Brands benefit from early collaboration with content creators. In the case of "Get Out," the film has gained attention—and additional impressions—as a result of its nomination. While the Oscar equation can be extremely difficult to navigate, it shouldn’t deter brands from taking a chance and working with emerging filmmakers. In order to establish a successful relationship, it is important for both brands and filmmakers to understand the following points. 

Relationship building is a two-way street.
Relationships matter. This is an unavoidable fact that brands and filmmakers need to understand before jumping into any project. Like all great partnerships, trust is and will always remain at the core of every project. This means figuring out early on if there is an authentic role for a brand to play in a creator’s story. Is there a moment in a film that would benefit from a real-life brand? 

One of the most famous examples is Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces as the candy of choice for "E.T. The Extraterrestrial." After Mars famously declined to have its products in a film about aliens, Hershey’s willingly took a risk on the otherworldly subject matter and saw sales triple within the first two weeks of the film’s release. Having the ability and access to go on-set allowed Hershey’s the chance to see first-hand how its bite-sized product would become "E.T.’s favorite candy". While every partnership might not be as fruitful, it does serve as an example of why building trust is so important. For a brand it means trusting the creator’s vision, while for creators it means trusting the brand’s ethos and establishing a unified vision for success. 

Lightning in a bottle doesn’t happen every time.
Establishing relationships between brand and creator is key, but setting and managing expectations can be equally important. While there are hundreds of scripts that are thrown around Hollywood each year, only a relative few can end up as Oscar-nominated films. That should not deter brands from investing in talent. Brands should seek to empower content that tells a story they believe in, with characters that they feel with resonate with both audiences and their brand. Supporting an up-and-coming artist’s vision is something creators remember and is how long-term relationships are built. Not every film will result in recognition from the Academy, but it does help filmmakers to know there are supporters of their work willing to invest in their next project. 

Brands need to be partners—not part of a transaction.
Maybe product integration is not right for a film. That does not mean a brand and a filmmaker cannot establish a rapport and working relationship. If either a brand or filmmaker goes into a project with the notion they are transacting and not collaborating, they should reevaluate their work together. It is important to align on outcomes and understand when a brand lends itself to a script—and when it doesn’t.

Creating long-standing relationships starts with a meeting of the minds. Hearing each other out and understanding what assets a brand owns and how they can share them with a filmmaker translates beyond the box office sales. It also lets filmmakers know they are involved in a true partnership and not simply a transaction.

Relationships are not built overnight but are developed over time and can grow into meaningful partnerships. For creators, both first-time and established in Hollywood, the relationships they make in the beginning can help define their early successes. Brands willing to take risks and invest in fresh talent can help drive stories forward that might not have been told otherwise. 

This year’s contenders are an exciting and diverse group telling interesting and important stories. For brands looking to reach increasingly elusive consumers, supporting indie filmmakers provides an opportunity to capture something potentially more valuable than eyeballs: deep relationships with tomorrow’s tastemakers and today’s Oscar darlings. 

Stephanie Dade is VP Global Client Engagement at Branded Entertainment Network.