When he's not talking his way out of Oscar gigs, Brett Ratner is known for directing big studio action movies. But the garrulous one has another, less prominent business: as a pitchman of sorts.
The director runs Brett Ratner Brands, a production outfit that helps brands as varied as Mitchum deodorant and the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.
On a panel Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival, Ratner explained why he can’t get enough of Madison Avenue.
"I had a not-so-good experience making 'X-Men [: The Last Stand].' All the brands in the past would go to studios directly and say, ‘We'll give you X millions of dollars [for product placement],” Ratner, who is also on an award jury here at the festival, said.
Sometimes, he added, a representative from a company the studio had made a deal with would come to the set and try to coordinate the product placement. "The problem is, I'm the director, and I decide what goes in the movie… I’m, like, ‘Who is this guy? Get him off the set.’”
But Ratner said he soon came to see the error of his ways, and he became more open to product placement. "I realize I need these brands. I need a car in my movie.”
He grew even more enamored after a conversation with Bobby Kotick, the controversial Activision chief.
“Bobby had this game called Guitar Hero. Actually, it wasn’t called Guitar Hero. He was paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with a name.” So, Ratner explained, he suggested the name. (According to Businessweek, Ratner did come up with a name connected to Guitar Hero, but only the “World Tour” appendage for a later version of the game.)
Ratner said he then decided to make a commercial for Kotick's property. “Every celebrity from Kobe to A-Rod to Michael Phelps called me and said, ‘I want to be in a Guitar Hero commercial.”
From there, he said, things blossomed, and he now does work for a variety of companies. “Mitchum sales have been stagnant, and we think it’s the best brand out there in stopping perspiring. So I said, ‘What if we came up with a contest looking for the hardest-working man in the world?'”
Ultimately, Ratner said, he’d like to not only make commercials for these companies but even see himself and others use their money to wholly finance movies.
“Filmmakers are having a hard time getting their movies made,” he said. “Five years from now, brands like Chipotle will go directly to the talent.”
— Steven Zeitchik in New York
Photo: Brett Ratner. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times