Culture

The Escape: an action-packed short film from BMW

15 years ago, BMW achieved something quite unique with its highly acclaimed series The Hire, which fused marketing and entertainment into an online action series whose runaway success has never been emulated since. The eagerly awaited sequel has now been released: The Escape, an 11-minute dose of explosive cinematography. The leading roles are shared by Hollywood star Clive Owen and the brand new BMW 5 Series.

By
Frank Coelho

The Hire from BMW Films was lauded as “the first major marketing media event of the 21st century.” With over 100 million online views, the series made the front page of the New York Times and is still considered today to be one of the most original and effective brand content productions ever to be undertaken by a carmaker. What’s more, The Hire also had a lasting impact on a cultural level for many years, its innovative narrative structure frequently imitated but never equalled.

It is still too early to predict whether The Escape will be as influential as its predecessor, but one thing the sequel’s makers cannot complain about is lack of interest in the film. Clive Owen once again plays the mysterious, stoic and unflappable driver. Support comes from a cast that includes Hollywood stars Dakota Fanning (War of the Worlds, I am Sam, The Runaways), Jon Bernthal (Fury, Sicario, The Wolf of Wall Street) and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed, The Conjuring). The Oscar-nominated director Neill Blomkamp, who breathed new life into the science fiction genre with District 9 and Elysium, took on the project, thus following in the footsteps of some of the movie world’s most talented names who worked on The Hire. These include Oscar winners Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Ang Lee, Joe Carnahan, Wong Kar-Wai, Guy Ritchie, John Woo, as well as the late John Frankenheimer and the late Tony Scott. Instead of eight short episodes, though, The Escape is 11 non-stop minutes of explosive cinematography.

“The action and camera angles in this film are on a whole new level compared to the original series. This is mainly due to the technology. We used drones with small Canon 5D cameras, and it wasn’t the end of the world if they got broken. We even had them flying under the car.”

Bruce Bildsten

The task of coordinating the action scenes fell to Guy Norris, who worked on the spectacular Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie that won several Academy Awards.

Another major difference between The Hire and The Escape is the car. In the new film, the driver’s vehicle of choice is the new BMW 5 Series. “The 5 Series is our brand’s driving force. It represents the perfect balance between business sedan and high-performance machine. A large part of the action takes place in the car... so it’s the ideal vehicle for the role,” explains Trudy Hardy, Vice President BMW Marketing North America.

Hardy was a key player in the decision to produce a new BMW film. “There were so many meetings and conferences where somebody would always ask when the next BMW film was due to come out,” she recalls. “BMW films are not something to be taken lightly, though. They are a valuable part of our history. We have to guard this little treasure trove of ours and think long and hard about whether to produce new films. The series is part of what has been an unforgettable campaign, and we wouldn’t want to ruin that. Two years ago, we started considering whether we should celebrate the 15th anniversary of BMW Films. After all, it was remarkable that the series was 15 years old, and people were still talking about it.” In the end, it was decided to make a sequel directed by Neill Blomkamp. “The script was very futuristic and forward-looking,” emphasises Hardy. “We wanted a director who could shoot amazing action scenes, but also had a flair for science fiction. This made Neill the perfect choice, because that is exactly what he is an expert at.”

During the filming of The Escape, the use of computer effects was kept to a minimum. The aim was to create an analogue experience in the digital world.

The Escape had a direct connection to the original series in the form of leading actor Clive Owen. It was important to the team to make a film that would be minimalist and classic, yet also have a distinctly contemporary flavour.

The Escape had a direct connection to the original series in the form of leading actor Clive Owen. It was important to the team to make a film that would be minimalist and classic, yet also have a distinctly contemporary flavour.

With the help of David Carter, who was also involved in The Hire, Blomkamp wrote the screenplay, in which a shady biotech firm comes under scrutiny by the FBI because it is suspected of secretly cloning humans. Creative director Bruce Bildsten and executive producer Brian DiLorenzo also rejoined the team to work on the sequel. Here they explain how The Escape took shape.

Bruce Bildsten: The original BMW film was an extraordinary experience for all of us. We created something magical. Our assignment was to integrate a car into a film as if it were one of the actors. For the new film, we once again called on the services of Steve Golin from Anonymous Content, one of Hollywood’s leading TV and film producers. We were also able to work with the same digital colourist and the same editor. Our action scene specialist was Guy Norris, who worked on the spectacular Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie that won several Academy Awards. The action and camera angles in this film are on a whole new level compared to the original series. This is mainly due to the technology. Today’s cameras are more powerful. We used drones with small Canon 5D cameras, and it wasn’t the end of the world if they got broken. We even had them flying under the car. All in all, we used very few special effects, though. We dropped a real helicopter fuselage from the sky, we used a real 18-wheeler and the Hummer that flipped over was also real. It was only because we had daring, visionary clients that we were able to shoot the original films in this style, too. They could see that this was something special and gave us the creative freedom we needed. And all that’s true of the sequel as well. Working with the BMW team was fantastic.

David Carter: I wrote most of the eight scripts for The Hire. I’m a total cinephile, so the opportunity to work with so many great filmmakers and actors was a highlight of my career. It was the best film school of all! Sitting with these people and watching them at work was just incredible. Once it was decided that a new film would be produced, though, I soon realised we would have to do justice to the eight earlier films. When I compare the new film with the previous ones, there’s no doubt in my mind that it measures up to them. It’s a contemporary story told in a very contemporary way. The key to the success of these films 15 years ago, and hopefully of this new film, too, is that they set out first and foremost to entertain. With the new film, we have once again created a cool product that people will like because it entertains them. These are action films and we have these amazing cars to play around with. That made things easy for us in a lot of ways. It was one of the best projects ever for me personally, and I was tremendously grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the second part as well.

Brian DiLorenzo: It might sound a bit cliché, but the sequel really was a dream come true for me. To my mind, the series still ranks as The Godfather of branded entertainment. Shooting a sequel 15 years later was both a huge challenge and the greatest thrill imaginable. Needless to say, the link between the brand, the car, the actor and the fact there is a back story had an influence on the new film. The challenge lay in creating something that respects the qualities of the original work. My first job was to find out whether Clive Owen was interested and had time. It was exciting to receive a reply from his agent almost immediately: “Of course Clive Owen is interested! He really enjoyed the work he did last time round.” That was the first e-mail that went beyond just talking theoretically about The Escape. Having Clive Owen on board allowed us to pay homage to the original series while at the same time giving us a direct connection to it. It was also important to us to make a film that was minimalist and classic, yet also had a distinctly contemporary flavour. Our goal was to create the feeling of analogue action in a digital world. These days, it’s a lot easier to operate cameras from dangerous angles, and we made the most of this advantage. We’re convinced that we have created something truly authentic in the process.

The film poster for The Escape. From the very outset, the action short from BMW sought to match the standard achieved with the resources of modern-day Hollywood.

01/13/2017