In 2001 BMW commissioned a series short films to be made specifically “for the internet”. For context, this was four years before the first video was uploaded to YouTube in 2005. The series centred on a nameless protagonist, an expert driver, who was often hired to take on difficult extractions or deliveries. Clive Owen was cast as the lead and each film featured a different car from the BMW line. Well-known directors were tapped to put together each episode with budgets rumoured to be in the millions of dollars. Clive Owen was a favourite to play the new James Bond at the time, and these films felt like an extended audition or a preview of things to come.
Although I haven’t seen any published stats increased car sales as a result of the campaign, I really enjoyed watching these actors, directors, and crew push storytelling to new heights within the constraints of what is essentially a long car commercial. A DVD edition of some of the films was made available for a limited time, packaged with Behind the Scenes videos, and I was quick to snap up a copy. It is difficult to pick just a few to highlight because each one stands out, in its own way.
Here are my favourites.
- Ambush (directed by John Frankenheimer, featuring the BMW 740i)
- Hostage (directed by John Woo, featuring BMW Z4 3.0i)
- Star (directed by Guy Ritchie, featuring the BMW M5)
- Powder Keg (directed by Alejandro Iñárritu, featuring the BMW X5 3.0i)
With the rise of social media platforms, branded content has snuck its way into all kinds of formats. It’s great to see skillful and innovative creatives pretty much invent it in 2001, proving that good visual storytelling can be used to make campaigns memorable. BMW’s “The Hire” campaign was viral branded content before the age of viral branded content.
(directed by John Frankenheimer, featuring the BMW 740i)
“While escorting an elderly man to an undisclosed location, the Driver is confronted by a van full of armed men and is warned that the old man has stolen a large amount of diamonds. The old man claims to have swallowed the diamonds and that the men will likely cut him open to retrieve them. The Driver decides at the last minute to help him, participating in a car chase and shootout with the van.”
For me, this one was all about the elaborate set-up of the chase scene. Frankenheimer knows a thing or two about doing this well (See ‘Ronin’ if you haven’t seen it. See it again if you have seen it). This short film will get your heart pumping.
(directed by John Woo, featuring BMW Z4 3.0i)
“The Driver is hired by the FBI to help defuse a hostage situation. A disgruntled employee has kidnapped a CEO and has hidden her, demanding $5,088,042 for her release. The Driver delivers the money, writing the sum on his hand as instructed by the hostage taker, and is then ordered to burn the money. As he complies, the federal agents break in and attempt to subdue the man, who shoots himself in the head without revealing the woman’s location.”
If I recall correctly, this is the only short film that featured a convertible. You won’t see doves flying in slow motion, but you will see shell casings fall in slow motion, and the film has an undeniable ”John Woo” feel and a memorable ending.
(directed by Guy Ritchie, featuring the BMW M5)
“The Driver is chosen by a spoiled and shallow celebrity to drive her to a venue. Unbeknownst to her, her manager has actually hired the Driver to teach the celebrity a lesson. Pretending to escape her pursuing bodyguards, the Driver recklessly drives through the city, tossing the hapless celebrity all around the backseat. They arrive at the venue, where she is thrown out of the car and photographed by paparazzi in an embarrassing end on the red carpet.”
Madonna and Guy Ritchie were married at the time and it was entertaining and hilarious to see Madonna make fun of herself playing the superstar diva.
(directed by Alejandro Iñárritu, featuring the BMW X5 3.0i)
“The Driver is chosen by the UN to rescue a wounded war photographer named Harvey Jacobs from a hostile territory. While they are leaving Jacobs tells the Driver about the horrors he saw as a photographer, but he regrets his inability to help war victims. Jacobs answers the Driver’s curiosity about why he is a photographer by saying how his mother taught him to see. He gives the Driver the camera film needed for a New York Times story and also his dog tags to give to his mother. When they reach the border, they are confronted by a guard who begins to draw arms as Jacobs begins taking pictures, seemingly trying to get himself killed. The Driver drives through a hail of gunfire to the border, but finds Jacobs killed by a bullet through the seat. The Driver arrives in America to visit Jacobs’ mother and share the news of him winning the Pulitzer Prize and hand over the dog tags”.
If I had to pick one, this is my favourite. It introduced me to Iñárritu, who went on to direct films like ‘Babel’, ‘Birdman’ and ‘The Revenant’. His BMW short film is quiet, and ends with an emotional punch. An added bonus: The film also stars the incredible Stellan Skarsgård, whose skill I have recently come to appreciate even more, watching the Star Wars series ‘Andor’.
Web Designer, Editor, Film Reviewer
Jith Paul is an independent filmmaker based in Ottawa. While pursuing a career as a software engineer, he decided to take a detour to follow his passion for film and filmmaking, establishing Treepot Media in 2010.
He is a co-founder of the Ottawa Canadian Film Festival, and editor of the film613 blog.
When he is not busy fighting crime, he coordinates the efforts of an international team of software developers and service providers as the Team Lead for Digital Development at CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel.