The winners of the third annual Lexus Short Films series are premiering at the Napa Valley Film Festival this week, and veteran producer Harvey Weinstein, whose studio the Weinstein Company partnered with the carmaker, sees it as a prime example of how brands should be embracing up-and-coming artists to impact and engage in culture.
"There are advertisers who know how to build brand loyalty by being cool," says Weinstein. "That's what this is, and I think people know that, and as a result you believe in the product. I sound like a salesman for it, but I'm just so amazed at the originality of these films, and working with a client who fosters that—I've worked with others who haven't, where it's just product placement, and quite frankly, I don't want to be involved if that's the case because you're being disingenuous to your audience—you're lying to them. I'd rather be with these guys who are just cool."
This year's films span a wide variety of locales and emotions, from watching the 1990 World Cup in Ireland to following a shaman around the Australian outback, from panic in Paris to playing hoops in an American gym. For the first time, Lexus and the Weinstein company are marketing the films globally and opened up submissions to aspiring directors from around the world. They received more than 4,000 entries, from which the four final films were selected. Three of the four have already been shown separately at different film festivals in Sydney, London, and Tokyo, and Lexus has been supporting each film in that festivals’ territory:
David Nordstrom, global branding department general manager for Lexus, says that the brand embraces the idea of tying its product to world-class filmmaking. "As a luxury lifestyle brand, we consider our role in the lives of our consumers and how we enhance their story by providing amazing experiences that inspire them," says Nordstrom. "We view film a fantastic means of connecting and sharing with a broad range of people, and appreciate the opportunity to support up-and-coming filmmakers and their inspirations."
Key to the films success and that of the series is the fact Lexus isn't cramming its logo or latest sedan model into the stories. In fact, you'd have to look pretty closely to see any association beyond the opening credits. "This is not about product placement," says Nordstrom. "The mission of Lexus Short Films is to support a new generation of emerging filmmakers— helping them to bring their imagination to life and realize their dream. We respect directors' creativity for assets in their films."
Weinstein says he's been pleasantly surprised to see how how genuinely committed the brand is that idea. "Unselfish, smart, they're not making anyone use a Lexus car. They're just smart enough to have just the right of involvement, so I've been thrilled," says Weinstein.
Brands have been increasingly dipping their toes (and marketing budgets) in the production of high-quality film entertainment—particularly short form—such as Spike Jonze and Carrie Brownstein's recent work for Kenzo, Intel's Emmy-winning series The Beauty Inside, and Werner Herzog's latest Lo and Behold backed by Netscout. Asked what he saw as the most significant risks and rewards for brands in this space, Weinstein said there's only one outcome if there is a commitment to quality.
"There are only rewards because you get to tell a story, and a company like Lexus gets to brand itself around that," says Weinstein. "And consumption has changed. When I broke into the business, short films were the biggest cemeteries for film, and today it's the most vital part of our industry for growing filmmakers. We learn to tell stories in a short amount of time. And the technology is so affordable now that anyone can make a short. It used to be, 'Write a screenplay,' but now it's 'Make a short.' I think it's fantastic, it's a universal language, and you put it on Youtube or Facebook, and it's global right away."
The goal, according to Weinstein, is to make Lexus Short Films synonymous with the best in emerging short-form filmmaking. "For us, there's an exclusivity about what Lexus does that we kind of like," he says. "What we liked to do with first Miramax and then the Weinstein Company is like Criterion—you see that label and even if you haven't heard of the film, you know it's going to be something good. That's how I want people to think of Lexus and our collaboration. And I want them to look forward to this series every year."