This winter’s end-zone-busting hit, Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise’s sports agent is a man torn between a greedy addiction to dealmaking and a struggle to discover his heart. Now it appears that a similar tug-of-war was going on during the making of the film. In an unusually public move, Reebok has body-blocked Sony’s TriStar Pictures with a $10 million breach-of-contract lawsuit, filed last month in L.A. The suit alleges the studio reneged on a plan to favorably spotlight the shoemaker’s gear and to show a Reebok-produced commercial with wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) bagging a Reebok endorsement over the closing credits of the Cameron Crowe film.
Since product-placement disputes are rarely waged in the open, the court papers are the juiciest read this side of Maguire’s mission statement. They contain an astonishingly specific account of Reebok’s deal with the studio. They even show that Reebok, in its eagerness to be included in Jerry Maguire, actually approved a disparaging Tidwell line (”F— Reebok. All they do is ignore me. Always have. Always have”).
And it turns out Reebok was just part of a 60-yard drive for product placement, orchestrated in part by — surprise — International Creative Management (ICM), the talent agency better known for repping Gibson and Schwarzenegger than for helping to cut deals with sneaker companies. The contretemps is a case study of how closely Hollywood and corporate America now work, even though their aims don’t always run in the same direction.
A year ago, of course, Jerry Maguire looked to be one of Hollywood’s most win-win opportunities. Its star ranks as the human equivalent of the Reese’s Pieces-lovin’ E.T. ”Stallone may wear something but nobody seems to imitate him,” says Gisela Dawson, president of the Catalyst Group, a product-placement agency. A year after Cruise wore Ray-Bans in 1983’s Risky Business, sales of the sunglasses had tripled.
By the time Maguire began filming last March, more than 25 products besides Reebok’s — including Coke, Gatorade, and Second Wind foot deodorant — had landed in Cruise’s movie. Budweiser won the coveted beer spot. Toshiba beat out Apple. Part of the allure was that since Crowe’s script is set inside the world of pro sports, which is itself awash in endorsed clothing and drinks, so much product placement would seem perfectly authentic.
In keeping with the usual product-placement deal, most of these companies say they didn’t pay for representation in Jerry Maguire. ”It’s barter,” explains Steve Ross, senior vice president at Twentieth Century Fox, whose responsibilities include product placement. ”It’s product that the production doesn’t have to buy.” Even when fees are paid, they range from a low of $15,000 to a high of $150,000. The money is collected only if the product shot makes it in.
According to two sources in the product-placement field, however, ICM, perhaps hoping to position itself as a CAA-style broker between corporations and Hollywood, had originally hoped to raise the roof on PP deals. The most ambitious part of its strategy was purportedly trying to land an unprecedentedly huge fee from a sunglasses maker to put shades on Cruise. ”Three million to put glasses on Tom Cruise. That’s what they asked for,” says one incredulous placement exec. Even though such deals are usually handled by the studios’ product-resources divisions, it’s speculated that the talent agency stepped in because it represents James Brooks, one of the film’s producers. Brooks and ICM had no comment.