When you see name brand products used as props or set dressing in a movie or TV show, it’s likely the work of a product placement agency that arranges such exposure. These days, there are more requests for Earth-friendly, natural products, and Green Product Placement, a new company founded by Beth Bell, fills that need, with such brands as Pirate’s Booty, Applegate Farms and Hugo Naturals.
Two recent examples: Kevin Spacey held a Repurpose Compostables coffee cup on Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and packets of Wholesome Sweeteners were display in “Veep.” Bell has placed items in two dozen productions ranging from TV’s “The Good Wife,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Parenthood,” “Blue Bloods,” and “Gossip Girl” to upcoming films “RoboCop,” “The Internship” and “The Go-Getters.”
Bell got the idea for the business in spring 2011, when she joined an online chat with Morgan Spurlock about his product placement documentary “Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” She recalled her time as assistant set dresser on “Runaway Bride” in 1998, when there was no one to call for natural and organic brands, and Spurlock believed that was still the case. “That planted the seed,” says Bell, who did research to confirm her suspicions, bought a domain name, launched Green Product Placement online in August 2011 and became fully operational the following January.
“We acquire clients from a combination of good old-fashioned sales prospecting, serendipity, decent search engine rankings, word of mouth, associations with others in the green business sector, what have you,” says Bell. “We want to follow the model of successful conventional product placement companies, only with an altruistic twist. We’re out to help make ‘green’ normal through media product placement.” (That's Bell, in red, and business partner Lisa Dietrich in the photo at right.)
Currently, she’s working with “a mix of food, cleaning products, beauty items, home items, liquor,” but she has a wish list that includes cars, green restaurant and hotel chains, electronics, more cosmetics and more beverages. “We are beginning to concentrate on getting more items that are considered hand props: eyeglasses, sunglasses, wristwatches, bags, etc. If it is either branded or has a brand-specific look, it can be placed," she says. "Eventually we’d also like to get into wardrobe placement in TV shows and film. We’ve already had feedback from costume and wardrobe people who say this would be a very good thing, and they, and numerous stars would welcome it.”
Reception has been so good that lining up productions to place products in “has been the lesser of the business building challenges,” confides Bell, explaining that she and her partner, Lisa Dietrich, have a combined 35 years of experience in entertainment production and many industry contacts who are clamoring for “good, cleared stuff, and they do what they can to get as much as they can free or at low cost. They’ve been using product placement companies for years, and will continue to do so. We just want them to add us to the list.”
Bell, who segued from community theater shows as a kid to the Baltimore School of the Arts and the tech side of drama in college, worked as a scene shop carpenter, draftsperson, scenic charge and prop/set decorator on every kind of production and event. She built props and dressed sets for commercials, theater, film and TV. When she took a break to be a manager at a marketing company and then ran a small production company, she learned new skills that “set me up nicely to launch this company.”
She believes that demand for her services will only increase, since productions need as much low-cost, cleared-for-use product as quickly as possible, and she’s offering attractive, eco-friendly brands. “Because entertainment media reflects real life, and influences real life, set decorators and prop people want to begin to show that characters would be seen using these products, but also that the general public are buying, using and consuming these better products.”
Looking ahead, Bell projects that 2013 will be a busy year for GPP. “We just placed in ‘A Madea Christmas’ for Tyler Perry Productions, ‘Winter’s Tale,’ a big-budget Warner Brothers movie starring Colin Farrell, Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe, and we were contacted about a pilot for CBS,” she says.
She’s a big believer in giving back, and although as part of a start-up she is unable to make major donations yet, “that hasn’t stopped us from working with Film Biz Recycling, a creative reuse nonprofit based in Gowanus, Brooklyn, that recycles media waste from commercial, TV and film shoots. They run a prop shop and facilitate donations to other worthy charities that can benefit from these donations.”
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, she and Dietrich packed her Prius full of supplies for the organization to distribute. She has supported their annual fundraiser and has provided a gift bag for auction at a Baltimore Greenworks charity gala. She’s not stopping there. “As we grow,” she says, “we’d love to not only continue our work with these organizations, but also begin to set up a donation account on Kiva to help with microloans for entrepreneurs doing good works worldwide.”
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Dietrich and Bell: Film Biz recycling
Coffee cup in "House of Cards" scene: Green Product Placement