On April 26, 2001, John Frankenheimer's Ambush premiered on the BMW Films website and, two weeks later, was followed by Ang Lee's Chosen. Soon after, director Wong Kar-Wai was tapped to make a third film entitled The Follow, a dramatic piece about a runaway wife being followed by "The Driver". The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and received rave reviews. It was followed by Guy Ritchie's Star and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Powder Keg.
After the series began, BMW saw their 2001 sales numbers go up 12% from the previous year. The movies were viewed over 11 million times in four months. Two million people registered with the website and a large majority of users, registered to the site, sent film links to their friends and family.
The films proved to be so popular that BMW ended up producing a free DVD for customers who visited certain BMW dealerships. However, BMW hit a small snag and ran out of DVDs. In September, BMW and Vanity Fair magazine decided to release a more public version of The Hire. Unfortunately, the Vanity Fair disc did not include Wong Kar-Wai's The Follow. This DVD was also distributed at select dealerships as the first version could no longer be legally distributed. Forest Whitaker had an uncredited part in the movie and had only agreed to be in the film if it were shown exclusively on the Internet. When the movie was released to DVD, Whitaker allegedly exercised an option in his contract which stipulated that the movie would not be released in any other format without authorization from the actor himself. The second disc, in lieu of carrying The Follow contained a link to the website with instructions to the viewer to watch the movie online.
Nonetheless, the DVD was highly sought on Internet forums as the September issue of Vanity Fair quickly vanished from shelves and became a rare find. BMW also pulled off a major coup when the movies were reviewed by Time Magazine and The New York Times who praised BMW for creating entertaining content for "discerning movie watchers".
The series continued in October 2002, replacing producer David Fincher with Ridley and Tony Scott due to Fincher's continuing work on Panic Room.
Season 2 opened in big, loud fashion by debuting a dark action/comedy piece by Tony Scott called Beat the Devil. The movie, shot in Scott's trademark pseudo-psychedelic style, featured James Brown enlisting The Driver to take him to Las Vegas to re-work a decades-old deal he made with the devil which evidently gave Brown his "fame and fortune".
Some differences were evident. Whereas the first season was serious and subdued with tiny bursts of action and comedy, the second season was all flash and fun. To fit this motif, John Woo and Joe Carnahan were hired to direct Hostage and Ticker, respectively. The other main difference was that, instead of showcasing several different BMW cars (like the first season had done), the only car showcased was the then-new BMW Z4 Roadster.
To celebrate the premiere of the second season, BMW threw a party at the ArcLight Hollywood on October 17, 2002, just a week before the movie's internet debut. The party, co-hosted by Vanity Fair, also served as a charity and benefit for the homeless.
A month after the premiere of Beat the Devil, DirecTV began airing the entire series, in half-hour loops for five full weeks, on one of the blank satellite channels the system offered. The films were a success and, as a result, DirecTV considered using blank channels to air other companies' ads as well.
In 2003, BMW decided to make a third (and final) DVD compilation of The Hire. The new DVD made its debut at The Palais des Festival during the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and contained all eight movies, including Wong Kar-Wai's previously absent The Follow. Once again, the disc became available at select dealerships but fans could also obtain the disc for a nominal shipping fee via the BMW Films website.
During the last quarter of 2004, Dark Horse Comics and BMW planned to publish a 6-issue comic book limited series based on the main character of the films. The books were written by Kurt Busiek, Bruce Campbell, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Mark Waid as well as other comic book talent. Only four books were produced. "Tycoon" was the last book released (in December 2005). While the comics are still able to be purchased in collector shops and some comic book stores, they are no longer able to be purchased on the BMW website.
On October 21, 2005, BMW stopped distribution of The Hire on DVD and removed all eight films from the BMWFilms website just four years after the first film debuted. The series was abandoned, reportedly because the project had become too expensive. BMW's Vice President of Marketing James McDowell, originator of the BMWFilms project, left BMW to become the VP of sales and marketing for BMW's "Mini USA" division. BMW also split from longtime ad partner Fallon Worldwide which was the creative production outlet for the series and BMW's German division had attempted to become involved with the US division of the company, cutting costs.
The end results were staggering: the series had been viewed over 100 million times in four years and had changed the way products were advertised.
Copies of the DVD are still commonly found in Internet shops and auction sites. The movies themselves continue to appear on many torrent searches and viral video sites around the Internet.
In early 2006, BMW released a line of free "BMW Audiobooks" to take advantage of the iPod/mp3-player revolution (and the fact that most BMW's came with the "iPod connector" pre-installed in their vehicles). While the stories had the same pulp-action feel as The Hire, the character of "The Driver" was noticeably absent. The audiobooks were free (like the films that preceded them) but are no longer available for download from the BMW website.
On February 17, 2007, MINI (BMW) launched a new short film series called Hammer & Coop. The series is a comedic parody of 1970s action-television shows like Starsky & Hutch and Charlie's Angels, and showcases BMW's Mini Cooper line of cars as the featured product.
Read more about this topic: The Hire
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