The good Apple

Director Rian Johnson, known for the science-fiction thriller Looper (2012), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) and the murder-mystery Knives Out (2019), made a startling revelation oh-so-casually earlier this year during an interactive feature he was doing for Vanity Fair magazine.

He said that while Apple lets Hollywood directors use iPhones in their movies, he revealed that they also don’t let bad on-screen characters use an iPhone on camera!

(the particular quip starts at 02:50)

This is SO VERY Apple. And also evokes so many questions.

What does ‘use’ mean? Can’t directors/producers any phone/product as they want? Do they need to seek permission from every brand that is shown on screen?

I researched this subject and it looks like this: while they are free to use any brand as they deem fit, it is usually safer, legally, to seek necessary permissions from the brands. It seems most brands are extra careful to observe their products being used negatively on screen in a way that the representation damages their reputation.

Most famously, Louis Vuitton sued Warner Bros. for a scene in The Hangover Part II, in 2011. In the scene, the character Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis, carries a bag marked LVM. When it gets pushed, he admonishes another character by saying, “Be careful, that is a Lewis Vuitton”.

Louis Vuitton argued that the bag featured in the film’s 25-second scene was actually made by the Chinese-American company called Diophy, and that the scene harmed its brand by infringing its marks and creating consumer confusion!

Louis Vuitton lost the case! The judge offered this explanation for his ruling: “Alan’s terse remark to Teddy to ‘be careful’ because his bag ‘is a Lewis Vuitton’ comes across as snobbish only because the public signifies Louis Vuitton—to which the Diophy bag looks confusingly similar—with luxury and a high society lifestyle. His remark also comes across as funny because he mispronounces the French ‘Louis’ like the English ‘Lewis,’ and ironic because he cannot correctly pronounce the brand name of one of his expensive possessions, adding to the image of Alan as a socially inept and comically misinformed character.”

Apple’s clause is different, of course.

Apple has one of the most easy identifiable and recognizable range fo products, all of which have a prominent Apple logo. I had written about how they showcase the logo on MacBook laptops in TV series and films very recently, in another context.

Now, a producer and director can obviously go ahead and choose any kind of phone for their characters. But if they go against Apple’s clause, then they need to be extra careful to not let those characters say anything specific against those phones. Also, given Apple’s incredible clout in Hollywood (including Apple TV+ that produces films and TV series now), it is always a bad idea to be on the wrong side of Apple.

And, in many cases, brands such as Apple also officially work with producers for paid product placement. Given all this, it makes simple business sense to agree to Apple’s clause.

But as Rian says, this is a potential clue that film fans can use to find out who is the killer, so to say 🙂

It also looks like Apple has had this clause for a long time. There are theories online that talk about Mission: Impossible (1996), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) use Macs while Max, played by Vanessa Redgrave uses an IBM ThinkPad!

Ditto with the TV series 24. In the series, the ‘good guys’ use Mac, while the ‘bad guys’ use Windows machines!

It goes beyond ‘good vs. bad too – it looks like they also plan or approve placements in a larger positive frame of reference: like Legally Blonde, where the out-of-the-box thinking free-spirit Reese Witherspoon character is the only person in her class using the Mac, while everyone else has black Windows boxes, and You’ve Got Mail, where the sweet character of Meg Ryan uses a Mac, while the predatory character of Tom Hanks uses an IBM ThinkPad!

Incidentally, if you notice the Legally Blonde scene, you’d see that the Mac logo is inverted, for us, the viewers. This is the period before they changed it – what I wrote in my earlier post 🙂

When asked about this theory, noted film reviewer Roger Ebert, in his Q&A section in Chicago Sun-Times said, “Tom Clancy sends e-mails with this signature line: “Never ask a man what computer he uses. If it is a Mac, he will tell you. If it is not, why embarrass him?”

Apple’s clause is not ‘bad’ at all, to pun on their own word. This is being very, very specific with attention to detail, something Apple has a legendary reputation in. They are so keen to guard their reputation in so many situations even far beyond their direct control that they look out for their product usage even in films. Now, directors can still go ahead and do what they want, but Apple’s outsized clout ensures that they stay on top of most such intentions and get their say somehow.

Given all this detail, I was thoroughly amused when I recalled an iconic and very successful campaign by Jaguar that literally revels in the ‘bad’.

For the 2014 Super Bowl commercial, Jaguar launched a campaign called ‘Good to be bad’, featuring three British actors famed for portraying villains: Tom Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley and Mark Strong. The film was directed by a British too – Tom Hooper (of The King’s Speech fame)! The logic there was about being evil, nasty, but about doing what you do with style, panache! The ad film was conceptualized by Jaguar’s in-house ad agency, Spark44.

The Super Bowl version:

The Director’s Cut (2-minute version):

What a contrast to Apple’s line of thought!

Jaguar even produced a sequel to this campaign in 2016 where they roped in Professor Stephen Hawking to play a supervillain!



2 thoughts on “The good Apple

  1. I’m not sure how closely this policy is adhered to, or what exceptions showmakers can expect.

    On Apple TV+’s Defending Jacob, coincidentally starring Knives Out’s Chris Evans and Jaeden Martell, Jaeden’s titular character Jacob is a pretty disturbed kid (although his character is gray-er in the TV series) and uses his iPhone quite a lot. Interestingly, so does everybody else — the message being, if you’re upper middle class in Massachusetts, you can’t be without an iPhone.

    Similarly for Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, where Steve Carell’s character, a workplace assaulter and, we later find, a rapist, uses an iPhone. Again, the show strongly implies that iPhones are ubiquitous in its setting (TV business in NYC).

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