Dozens of martial artists, hip-hop dancers and veteran stuntmen filled the lobby of the tony JW Marriott hotel at L.A. Live as curious hotel guests looked on.
The 50 crew members and actors, some fresh off popular network shows like "Grimm" and "Blackish," were there filming an elaborate dance and action scene for a short film about two bellhops who thwart an art heist.
Only this wasn't any ordinary film. Marriott not only starred in the film but also took the unusual step of producing "Two Bellmen," which was recently filmed over 10 days at a cost of about $200,000. Since the 17-minute film debuted on YouTube last month, it has attracted 5 million views.
It's the first of several short films the world's largest hotel chain is producing to help promote its brand to a younger generation of travelers. Other major hotel chains, such as those in Las Vegas, have courted movies and TV shows to help market their properties as film destinations or to accommodate film crews.
"I've never heard of any other hotel chain doing this," said Alan Reay, president of Atlas Hospitality Group, an Irvine hotel consulting and brokerage firm. "What it does for Marriott is that it takes them out of the mainstream in terms of what everybody else is doing and makes them quite unique. Time will tell if it's successful, but it's a very clever idea."
JW Marriott Los Angeles is used to playing a starring role in cinema. The sleek 54-story building that also hosts the Ritz-Carlton has been a popular film location for such movies as "Think Like a Man," and "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" and TV series including "Arrested Development."
But Marriott is going a step further as a producer. The company has launched its own studio to make short films showcasing its diverse properties, which span 4,100 hotel properties representing 19 brands in 76 countries.
Driving Marriott's foray into entertainment are fundamental shifts in the advertising market. As millennials shun traditional ads and spend more time on YouTube and other digital platforms, hotels are having to rethink the ways they market their brands to younger travelers.
"Travel just lends itself to content creation and story telling," said David Beebe, vice president of global creative and content marketing at Marriott International. "It's a positive association with the brand so the next time (consumers) travel they will recall the time we didn't try to sell them anything."
Marriott also recently filmed its second short film, "French Kiss," a romance shot in and around Paris at the Paris Marriott Champs-Elysees Hotel. The film will premiere online and in its hotels May 19. Marriott also plans to shoot sequels to "Two Bellmen" later this year in Dubai and Hong Kong.
As part of the push, Marriott is tapping prominent members of the creative community.
"French Kiss," for example, is part of a collaboration with Ian Sander and Kim Moses, the team behind such television shows as "Ghost Whisperer" and "Profiler." The 10-minute film also features Tyler Ritter, star of the CBS comedy series "The McCarthys" and son of actor John Ritter. To help produce "Two Bellmen," Marriott worked with SubstanceOverHype, a collective of high-profile musicians, dancers and other performers.
Formed last fall, Marriott's content creation studio has about 60 people who work at the company's corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md.
Marriott's entertainment push isn't limited to film. The company is also producing webisodes, including one called "Courtyard Camera," in which NFL players make surprise appearances at Courtyard by Marriott hotels.
Marriott's Renaissance Hotels and sports and entertainment conglomerate AEG have also produced "The Navigator Live," a documentary-style series on AXS TV that features live performances at Renaissance Hotels by artists such as A-Trak and the Lone Bellow. Working with Billboard Studios, the show features interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from musicians talking about their experiences on the road.
Marriott also is reaching out to writers, directors and producers, encouraging them to stay in their hotels and use them as spaces to work on their projects. Autograph Collection Hotels, a chain of independently operated hotels, recently launched a campaign called "Tastemakers" in which prominent filmmakers, actors and others are invited to use the hotels for creative inspiration.
"It's about telling the stories of our hotels in an interesting way and inviting people who have credibility to raise awareness of our portfolio of hotels and reach new customers," said Amanda Altree, senior director of marketing of Autograph Collections Hotels, which has 81 hotels worldwide.
Javier Cano, general manager at JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles, said hotel guests were intrigued by the "Two Bellman" production.
"Having a movie being done like this tweaks a lot of people's interest," Cano said. "For us, interest draws demand and demand draws room nights. That's how we see the benefit of something like this."