BMW's Z4 car appears in all-star feature film

BMW is taking brand-funded programming into new territory in the UK with its own all-star mini movie, which will play alongside feature films in cinemas across the country.

Tony Scott directed the film, which stars the soul singer James Brown, Gary Oldman, Clive Owen and Marilyn Manson, and marks a break with traditional advertising by the German carmaker.

Although it supports the June launch of the Z4, BMW's two-seater roadster, it is not a conventional commercial. Instead, the car plays a supporting role in the film, which has high production values and is intended to be seen as a piece of entertainment in its own right.

The new format is part of a response by major advertisers to fragmented media and the arrival of new technologies that allow viewers to skip commercials.

The film, called Beat the Devil, is one of a trio of films developed by Fallon in Minneapolis, BMW's US agency, for a total reported cost of $10 million.

All received their premieres on the internet but, from Friday, Beat the Devil will be seen in UK cinemas alongside such movies as Welcome to Collinwood and The Life of David Gale.

Described as a dark comedy, Beat the Devil features Brown playing himself in a story that suggests he once sold his soul to Satan in exchange for fame and fortune.

Now in his twilight years, Brown tracks down Satan, played by Oldman in drag, to a derelict Las Vegas hotel casino where he asks to renegotiate their agreement. Satan promises Brown he will get a second lease of life if he can beat him in a drag race through the Vegas strip.

The UK cinema deal, which will run for forthcoming months, was negotiated by BBJ Communications. Piers Taylor, its planning director, said: "Although there's a lot of advertiser-funded programming, nobody else is making films like this. The car is an integral part of the script and BMW had little control over the final production."

The Hollywood-style films reflect the fact that the Z4 is being built in the US, which is expected to account for half its sales. The model, which will sell at about £26,000, will compete directly with the Porsche Boxter. Up to 4,000 of the cars, which have a top speed of 155 mph, are expected to have been sold in the UK by next year.

Paul Andrews, BMW's UK marketing communications manager, said screening Beat the Devil in cinemas "is not only a natural extension of the BMW premium strategy but will make it a major talking point for those who see it".

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