The allure of easy money to help promote a product

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Movie executives routinely refuse to talk about their agreements to insert consumer products into films in exchange for hefty fees from advertisers, although they insist that commercial interests never take priority over artistic integrity.

But with "Sahara" some creative decisions apparently took promotional considerations into account. For example, "Sahara" producer Karen Baldwin demanded script changes to accommodate DaimlerChrysler because the German-American carmaker negotiated to have its Jeep trucks featured in the film. "You can't have the truck get almost stuck," Baldwin wrote in a March 2004 e-mail to "Sahara" executives. "I would bet that Jeep will have a heart attack when they see that. They want to show how well the Jeep handles and responds -- not that it will get stuck in a tough situation."

Four months earlier, when director Breck Eisner expressed concern during development of the film about problems with another sequence involving a four-wheel-drive truck, Baldwin wrote in a memo, "Can't cut it. Jeep to pay 3 million."

The automaker entered into a partnership with the film's distributor, Paramount Pictures, for promotional tie-ins and an advertising campaign featuring its Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

Eisner also suggested eliminating a bar scene featuring tequila because "it doesn't really work anymore." Baldwin again refused: "Need the tequila and beer scenes at some point as it means a lot of dollars (2 million from Souza and 3 from Heineken)."

The bar scenes eventually were cut for creative reasons, according to a high-ranking "Sahara" executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity. This person said that several companies backed out of product placement commitments in 2004 after "Sahara" novelist Clive Cussler filed a lawsuit against the production company seeking to stop the movie from appearing in theaters.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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