BMW Readies Big Screen Debut

BMW of North America and Microsoft are gearing up for the debut of the digital film series they’ve sponsored, which is designed as an opportunity to highlight both BMW’s automobiles and the Microsoft technology used to project the movies.

The companies announced Wednesday that the BMW Films Digital Cinema Series will premiere at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on Nov. 7, with a screening of Artisan Entertainment’s “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.” The movie subsequently will be rolled out to 25 theaters nationwide equipped to show digital films.

The movie itself, though, is not the main event, at least not for the two sponsors. BMWfilms.com, as the title sponsor for the feature-length film, gets the opportunity to showcase — on the big screen — the newest installments of its short film series, “The Hire.”

The original idea for associating BMW with filmmaking was dreamed up in 2001 by BMW’s ad agency, Fallon. The automaker underwrote five films in “The Hire” series, pulling in big-name directors like Guy Ritchie and Ang Lee to direct short, five-to seven-minute films that star Clive Owen as a driver-for-hire who negotiates his BMW through a series of challenging sequences. Those films were distributed only via the Web, after being promoted through television spots.

Attendees at the Motown premiere will view the next in “The Hire” series, “Beat the Devil.” The Tony Scott-directed short stars the singer James Brown playing himself and Gary Oldman playing the devil, along with a cameo by rock star Marilyn Manson. James Brown is chauffeured around in a BMW during the film.

The feature-length film following, “Shadows,” is the first of eight feature films in the BMW-sponsored series. It chronicles The Funk Brothers, a famed Motown studio band that backed up stars such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. There’s no word on whether BMW has engineered any product placement in “Shadows,” but its setting in Detroit during the 1960’s would suggest that the movie remains BMW-free.

Showings of BMWfilms.com shorts will precede every Artisan feature-length movies in the digital cinema series. BMWfilms.com plans to release two more shorts in “The Hire” series this fall, “Hostage” directed by John Woo and “Ticker” directed by Joe Carnahan. “The Hire” has gained critical acclaim, as well as 14 million viewings from the BMWfilms.com site, in the widely watched promotion designed to appeal to tech-savvy consumers.

While BMW’s message will come before the main movie, the medium is the message with Microsoft. Hoping to promote its Windows Media 9 Series, the software giant is using the occasion to showcase its technology, which it has positioned against rival RealNetworks’ digital media offerings.

“Shadows” will be shown digitally in New York and Los Angeles, as well as in its original 35mm format.

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