In the age of social media, we hear the terms “influencer,” “brand loyalty,” and “brand integration.” But what does it mean to be a “brand agent?” Celebrities and public figures are well aware that they are a marketable product, with many creating their own personal brands that allow them to remain in the spotlight. But with every celebrity comes an attached luxury item and good.
That’s where brand agents like Hollywood’s Lorenzo Rusin come in. Rusin, an Italian brand agent, known for his work on Beverly Hills Cop 4, Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), and Bad Boys for Life (2020), is the guy you want putting those luxurious and exotic cars, sunglasses, and other products in your cinematography.
Grit Daily spoke with Rusin about what it takes to be a Hollywood brand manager.
Grit Daily News: How would you describe the role of a “brand agent” or “brand manager?”
Lorenzo Rusin: A “brand agent” or manager, works with both individuals and the products themselves. In my role, instead of being an agent of a physical person, I am an agent of a corporation that has a brand, service, or luxury item (car, wine, sunglasses, etc.) related to its showcase in a movie, tv show, or anything in the entertainment industry.
GD: Okay, so we’ve just hired you to work on a major film production. Where do you come in?
LR: Great question. There are two ways in which I am brought into a production—sometimes, I’m hired by a production company, or I represent companies on a retainer fee basis, where my sole task is to inform them of potential and/or existing opportunities. This is the best way in which I can do my job, in my opinion. I work with all the major studios, producers, and teams that are involved with a particular movie and/or tv show.
GD: Can you provide us with an example?
LR: Let’s say I’m presented with a major movie production and just read the script—Mr. John comes home with [an exotic car]—but the script doesn’t specify the brand of that exotic car. My corporation does not want me paying a visit to every brand out there and offering them this potential opportunity to be placed into the film/production. Rather, they want me to already have an existing portfolio of clients, with one or two clients in mind, and then pitch them that opportunity. The reason behind this is because the producer is usually considered to be the “owner” of the work and they protect their “baby.”
For Brands, Scripts Have Gone Digital
GD: Let’s talk technology. When you are looking at a script, is it still mailed to you, traditionally speaking?
LR: Another great question and extremely timely. Traditionally, they would send you the script through snail mail. However, with today’s digital age, we now have specialized software in which we are able to receive and view the script, digitally. While every production company operates differently, there are always non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) in place to protect all parties.
GD: You get the script. Break down the process for us of presenting to your client and obtaining a placement.
LR: Step one, we ensure all the appropriate paperwork and NDA’s are signed, allowing us to receive the script and associated materials.
Step two, once we receive the script, it is immediately delivered to my team so they can read it and break it down into parts/segments for product and service identification.
Step three, as my team is reading and breaking down the script, we are identifying segments which could be associated with a particular brand(s). Anything we identify to be clear placement, but are not our clients or someone directly within our reach, we then reach out to our connections and network to offer them a potential placement opportunity. Remember, my job is to tell the production what the product is and why the brand we are presenting to them for association, is the most appropriate.
Step four, once we have identified potential placements, my job is to then contact the company and present them with the opportunity. Almost always, I will disclose the name of the project (which changes along the way) along with some of the cast, and of course the production company. This also includes sharing the synopsis. It’s important to remember, all this is done without violating the NDA’s and sharing too much information. At the same time, because I am going into my network of contacts, many of them trust me to send them a good piece of work (no negative placements) and they will of course agree. The answer I’m looking for in an email is “yes or no,” in whether they want to move forward or not.
Step five, if they say yes, we schedule a phone call to explain more about the project, and learn what’s new in the company’s product line in relation to the film’s release date. Often, we will use a company prototype for a new product—especially for sunglasses or clothing (jacket).
GD: We notice you spend quite a lot of time on production and film sets. Why?
LR: For one, I love it. Two, sometimes you have to be there in order to observe specific angles in how a company/brand would fit into a particular scene. I want to ensure that everything looks and feels right. Of course, I am always looking to meet new people and extend my network.
Integrating Social Media with Proper Product Placement
Today, social media platforms, particularly Instagram, have taken product placement to the next level. Made for individuals with short attention spans who like to “see” rather than read, Instagram has modernized the way in which brands and products are integrated into everyday life.
For brand agents like Rusin, social media outlets are the perfect way in which to immortalize products. When it comes to platforms such as Instagram, the way in which content is delivered changes, but the content itself lives on, forever.
Think back to that “accidental” placement of Starbucks in the final season of Game of Thrones—that had to be one of the most ingenious forms of product placement of our time, even if misplaced in time, literally—doubtful that Starbucks existed in Westeros at that time. Producers say it was an accidental placement due to one of the cast members leaving their Starbucks coffee cup in the scene—highly unlikely. Regardless, Starbucks has become forever associated with Game of Thrones in that scene, even if accidental.
“There are movies out there that are at least ten or twenty years old,” Rusin reminded us, “and those items that were featured in those films will always be there. Why? The format in how they are delivered can change, and have changed over the years.”
“Think about how our distribution mediums have changed over time—we’ve gone from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray to digital streaming. You still have people watching the classic James Bond 007 Collection, and still see those iconic watches and sunglasses on Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. Those items—cars, watches, sunglasses, suits, wines—they are immortalized for eternity, regardless of their distribution medium.”
Every country, particularly emerging nations such as China, India, and Russia, have their own entertainment industry, comprising of local celebrities, films, and tv shows. But, according to Rusin, what’s important to take note of is that 90 percent of movies and tv shows that we are accustomed to watching worldwide, are American productions.
“These productions are shot in these countries, but are American productions. You think that because these movies are shot all over the world, that the industry is very large. Ironically, the industry is extremely small, because everyone knows each other. When I go to an award ceremony or an association like SAG Awards, we all know each other. Consequently, the industry is built upon personal relationships. When you are the producer that is making a huge film that costs $200M, that cash money isn’t as important—it’s the exchange that brands can give to the work. This is known as “cross-promotion.”
While Rusin’s task upon receiving and reviewing a script is to identify scenes where placement would be appropriate, there are also times where with Rusin’s experience, he will identify potential scenes where no placement has been identified, and create specified placement.
“I mentioned earlier that the industry is built upon personal relationships. I always do my job and take care of the appropriate people. At times, I will ask the production company for the same in return, especially where I see a potential opportunity to insert a product or brand, which may not have been realized or identified in the script.”
GD: What is one of the biggest challenges you as a brand agent face with placement?
LR: Ensuring that we never place a product or service in a “negative light.” Let me share an example of both product placement and service placement:
Many years ago, I represented a luxury brand that sold purses and bags. The scene at the end of the film, featured a beautiful actress walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, where someone would come up from behind and snatch her bag from her. Unfortunately, while filming, the bag broke. This would be a negative placement, and we would have to make sure our placement is always displaying positive.
Let’s transition to service placement. For films where there is a bank robbery scene, have you ever wondered why the bank’s name is one you’ve never heard of? The names are almost always made up or fictitious. This is because a bank will never agree to have its used because it never wants to be the subject of a potential robbery—again, negative placement.
GD: Are you working on any exciting projects currently?
LR: Currently, I’m working on a possible sequel to Pretty Woman.