BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, product replacement in the movies and product displacement on TV. Also Garfield crosses the pond in pursuit of fame.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media from National Public Radio.
BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Enid, the main character in the new movie Ghost World, says that she can't relate to 99 percent of humanity. One reason is that her tastes run counter to a world outfitted by the Gap and fueled by venti mochafrappachinos [sp?].
Enid and her friend the fanatical collector Seymour both love obscure music, retro clothing and quirky art. The characters in Ghost World don't have a problem with their recondite tastes, but the makers of Ghost World did have a problem with putting those tastes on the screen! Director Terry Zwigoff himself had a large collection of memorabilia that he wanted to shoot, but because of legal clearances that was impossible.
In fact, rights and clearances proved to be a big issue in bring the Dan Clowes comic book to the multiplex. As the producer of Ghost World, Lianne Halfon had to deal with all of these legal headaches. She joins us now. Most listeners know that you have to get clearances to play bits of music in movies, but do you have to get it for props too?
LIANNE HALFON: Yeah, you have to get it really for everything that's in the film; anything that's seen on camera has to be cleared, and part of that difficulty with Ghost World was that we had two different sides -- one was all the pop culture that both Seymour and Enid deride through the movie and the other side was the stuff that Seymour collects which Enid adores.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:If you can't establish a line of ownership, can you just say look, there's no way to prove who owns it, and then put it in the movie?
LIANNE HALFON: You used to be able to do that; that was called "due diligence," and I was absolutely counting [LAUGHS] on that as a defense when I presented this to the insurance company. Unfortunately there have been so many suits because the studios are considered to have deep pockets that you can no longer get that insurance.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what couldn't you use from Terry's collection?
LIANNE HALFON:God-- you know when they say 99 percent of humanity, it was like 99 percent of Terry's collection we couldn't use. He had these dolls from - cats that looked like an earlier version of Crazy Cat from the '30s, and I had to hide them on the set because they kept popping up further and further back in the bookcase, but they kept popping up, and I knew that they were going to be a, a red flag for our lawyer.
The World of Henry Orient was a, a movie b--that both Dan and I had seen in our childhood and it had been a kind of a - an inspiration, and we wanted to put that movie poster in, in Enid's room, and-- when you get the rights to the poster you not only have to get the rights to the movie, you have to get the release from the studio, but you also actually have to get the likeness clearance. You have to have that person say yes, that's okay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So Peter Seller's heirs would have to say it's okay.
LIANNE HALFON:Right. So we went through and we got an okay on everybody except one character, and so there is either a tennis racket or a - you know - some sort of stuffed animal in front of the face of that one character.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You know another peculiarity of all of this is that the massive commercialism of the world weighed down heavily on the characters, and you wanted to picture that, but you couldn't show all the signs for fast food, say, that a person would normally pass as he walked down the street!
LIANNE HALFON: Yeah. In fact the initial credit sequence which Terry and Dan had designed was a--montage of these fast food signs and a kind of crushing bleakness. I knew we wouldn't be able to use all of it, but I thought we could use a certain amount of it. And we couldn't use anything! Because unless you can put the stuff in the background -- which it isn't -you know we're - we're trying to say that it's encroaching, and unless you can put it so far in the background and say that you're not commenting-- then you can't use it.
And so for example you know initially we wanted to shoot-- Rebecca was working in a Starbuck's, you know. Terry and Dan really wanted her to be in a Starbuck's and Starbuck's said of course no.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How frustrating was all of this for Terry?
LIANNE HALFON: He was-- tremendously pissed off and it's, it's not a rare thing to hear Terry say you're killing me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He's directed documentaries. Did he have to go through these same clearance problems in the other films he's done?
LIANNE HALFON: You know what, what - there's no such thing as errors and omissions insurance when you're making a documentary--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Errors and omissions insurance.
LIANNE HALFON:Right. Which means that you buy insurance that keeps somebody who was walking in the background or somebody who says I designed that poster-- did you get the clearance - and if you didn't you have to pay me now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So here is a film about culture--
LIANNE HALFON: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:-- or the clash of cultures or, or passionate cultural preferences and yet all this imagery that you need in a film proved to be is it fair to say the biggest hurdle?
LIANNE HALFON: I think it was one of the biggest hurdles. You know what the studio said is you know we were sort of boxed in and I said what - but what do you expect me to do? You read the script. What did you think I was going to put in the room? And they said make it up. And I said like what? Like make fake signs, make fake dolls? And on the budget - first of all you know your audience is completely aware of the fact that it's not real--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well you made a fake Starbuck's.
LIANNE HALFON:We did make a fake Starbuck's, but part of the reason was - and it was a - became a kind of a conceptual idea is I never really wanted to shoot in Starbuck's anyway, because I didn't want the target to be Starbuck's in-- in particular or - you know, Banana Republic in particular. We wanted to say that there were a hundred places like this and whether it's called the Coffee Experience or Java Juice or-- Starbuck's is not really the point. It's not the fact that it's big; it's that it's omnipresent.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So the stuff that the character Seymour, which is sort of a stand-in for Terry Zwigoff, the stuff that he doesn't like - you didn't feel the same compulsion to name as he did the stuff he truly loved.
LIANNE HALFON: Yes. Part of the reason he doesn't like it is that it become a blur, and the stuff that he likes, he likes for its particularness.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much!
LIANNE HALFON: Thank you!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lianne Halfon is the producer of Ghost World.
BOB GARFIELD:With product placement on my mind I was reading the newsletter from NPR member station KCRW and I quote: our friends at UPP Entertainment Marketing, the nation's premier product placement firm, have been working on a pro bono basis to get our name out there, and they're doing a great job. Look for KCRW mugs in upcoming episodes of Ally McBeal, The Practice, Felicity, Family Law, That's Life, Emiril, Pasadena, and 23 Minutes and 12 Seconds. Ally McBeal and The Practice take place in Boston. Felicity and That's Life take place in New York. And nobody's ever heard of those other shows. So I called the president of UPP, Greg Mezzatesta, who mentioned that KCRW was also looking at The West Wing and Law and Order. My point exactly. Why would someone in Boston, New York or Washington, DC have a mug from a radio station in Santa Monica, California?
GREG MEZZATESTA: Of course all of those shows, even though they're set outside of Southern California, actually tape in Southern [LAUGHS] California, so as long as the directors and producers are fans of the brand and you know see a creative congruity, it works, and KCRW does reach those other marketplaces via the Internet.
BOB GARFIELD: Very good, and look for the morning edition Chevy which will be competing in an upcoming Nascar event near you.