Ray Richmond: Advertainment hits loft living

A couple of weeks ago, Ted Trent — a real estate salesman and sometime actor — and his life and business partner Drew Panico gathered the cast of their forthcoming full-length feature film “Hidden Hills” for a brainstorming session.

The primary question was a simple one: How many creative ways can we find to give this movie away for nothing?

“We’re Hollywood’s worst nightmare,” Trent declares. “Our distribution model is to make sure that we take in no revenue.”

This means that when the 1960s-set comedy is released on Oct. 11, it will be available at www.hiddenhillsthemovie.com free of charge for download, for burning to DVD, for embedding onto websites, for posting on Facebook and YouTube, or for screenings in your living room.

TRAILER: "Hidden Hills"

Invite the whole neighborhood if you want. Just don’t you dare collect a penny. This is, after all, the kind of piracy that involves no actual pirates.

It was, however, not produced without cost. “Hidden Hills” was budgeted at $150,000 and paid for out of Trent’s own pocket. Much of the money went to the Glendale production facility Thia Media, which provided the soundstage and green-screen for roughly half of the film courtesy of its owner Cynthia Webster (credited as producer on the film).

And Trent paid the Burbank prop house Reel Appeal plenty of cash for the props and furniture that populate the 72-minute flick.

A real movie with real actors and real music from real-life former Go-Go’s member Jane Wiedlin (as well as a real writer-director-editor in Dan Steadman), “Hidden Hills” is designed as a send-up of America’s gay marriage preoccupation.

The twist is in its imagining a parallel universe where gay, interracial relationships are the norm, straights hide in the closet, and the biggest taboo of all is same-race pairing.

“We honestly hope to make a difference and open people’s minds about tolerance with what we’ve done here,” stresses Trent, who co-stars as a character named Whitey Ford as well as serving as executive producer.

This is all very admirable. Yet the truth is that “Hidden Hills” isn’t strictly the philanthropic, socially-redeeming exercise in community harmony that it may initially appear.

It’s an ad.

Of course, Trent is hardly the first filmmaker to use movies as a tool to spawn commerce. In case you missed the memo, product placement and integration continues to be big business in the worlds of features and television as well as web series.

But he may be the first to use the power of cinema to sell lofts. His film was financed through a creative partnership with his loftlivingla.com website, and he’s made a handsome living from selling aspiring buyers on investing in downtown Los Angeles property.

Panico is quoted in a “Hidden Hills” press release saying that his and Trent’s company “has been creatively added to the storyline” of the film. So one imagines that the characters will not only be bucking the societal tide in their personal lives but also in their dedication to a certain loft-based lifestyle. We might call it Loft in Love.”

Trent insists that he and Panico are doing nothing different than a normal advertising model.

“We’ve prepared something, we’re putting the message out there and we cross our fingers. But it has a lot of advantages that a 30-second ad doesn’t.”

Such as?

“Such as the fact we can give this movie away for the next 20 years and the viral benefit to our company will go on and on. We’ll wind up making far more money this way than any commercial could generate.”

One other thing: Trent is proud that he’s giving business to Glendale, Burbank and beyond. “I’m spending my money locally and hiring sound people, production, wardrobe, everyone from the area.”’

Trent’s also convinced that this model will revolutionize the concept of advertainment — and not just because he’s asking people to watch a 72-minute piece of promotion. It’s because people can’t resist a bargain — and nothing sells like free.


RAY RICHMOND has covered Hollywood and the entertainment business since 1984. He can be reached via email at ray@rayrichco.com and Twitter at @MeGoodWriter.

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