By Pete Barell
Cinema is meant to be convincing, to draw you into the reality of the story, to hide away the fact that everything you’re seeing is an illusion. This effective deception is achieved through the filmmaker’s tools, one of the most critical being a believable set design and use of props, especially when a film is a period piece.
Back to the Future Day having just passed, I’m sure you’ve noticed the rampant corporate sponsorship involved. Nike is cashing in on “self-lacing” shoes that appeared in the film. Those classic movies themselves contain obvious product placement that weave into the set design. However, copyright isn’t always easy to come by, so filmmakers must use fake brands and products to fit into their created reality. Thankfully, there are already many faux products to choose from.
Ever see a character smoke a cigarette in a movie or TV show? Chances are they’re the brand Morley, a rip-off of Marlboro used as far back as in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in 1960. Consider this: the universes of “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Mission Impossible,” “That 70s Show,” “The X-Files,” and “The World’s End,” are totally separate, the events within them isolated, except the continuity of a cigarette brand called Morley.
Since airlines would be quite angry if a show or movie depicted their planes involved in hijackings and crashes, the screen world has developed brands like Oceanic Airlines, in “Lost,” to fill in. Can’t get the rights to show Google? There’s always FinderSpyder, the fake search engine used in shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter.”
Some filmmakers have developed their own trademark fake brands, perhaps in line with their meticulous, detail oriented vision. For example, Quentin Tarantino, known for his ultra-violent films like “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “Django Unchained,” has several times featured Big Kahuna Burger in his movies– Samuel L. Jackson famously describing how tasty one is after taking a bite. The popularity and the image of the burgers have led to real world restaurants featuring the name on their menus.
In an odd way, fictional brands have created their own sort of continuum that draws from the popular consumer items of a non-existent base universe. Seeing these products used so frequently in fiction, have developed their own legitimacy and familiarity. Next time you watch a movie or TV show, keep your eyes peeled for the fake brands used. You may have seen them before and not even realized it.