When "The Internship," a comedy starring Vince Vaughn and OwenWilson, hits movie theaters on June 7, Google will be takingmore than a little interest in how the film is received.
In an unusual collaboration, the Internet giant was closely involved withthe film, a $58 million Fox production which features twomiddle-aged watch salesmen who are determined to get a job at Google.
Amidst the comedic hijinks, the film indeed delivers a picture of a kind andgentle Google, a company that offers free food and exercise classes and is inevery respect the place you'd like to work. Various Google products get plugsin the film, and co-founder Sergey Brin gets a cameo role.
The favorable PR comes at an opportune moment for Google, whose unofficialmotto is "Don't Be Evil" but which is often portrayed in far darkertones by privacy advocates, antitrust regulators and competitors such asMicrosoft . The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently beganexploring a new set of antitrust allegations against the company, sources toldReuters last week.
"It's a good move. It's going to enhance and warm up Google's imageperception," said former Coca Cola chief marketing officer Peter Sealey,who is an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University and worked as aconsultant for Google seven years ago.
The movie is a far cry from the Hollywood experience of rival Facebook. The social networking kingpin did not collaborate with "TheSocial Network," which focused heavily on the conflicts between founderMark Zuckerberg and his early partners and didn't make any of them look verygood.
"Movies like this are always a risk," said Howard Bragman, aHollywood publicist and vice-chairman of the Internet image-management firmReputation.com. "They can be great for employee morale or they can drag itdown."
Early signs suggest Google's gamble may pay off. The websiteMarketingland.com said the film was "A fun movie, but also a beautifulGoogle commercial."
INSPIRATION FROM "60 MINUTES"
Shawn Levy, director of "The Internship," said Vaughn came up withthe premise for the film after seeing a "60 Minutes" special thatportrayed Google as one of the best places in the world to work.
Vaughn arranged a lunch with Wilson and a group of "Googlers" atthe company's Mountain View campus, and sought the company's participation.Google eventually agreed, and Vice President of Marketing Lorraine Twohilloversaw the project.
The company did not make Brin or Twohill available for comment. CEO LarryPage said at a recent conference that Google agreed to collaborate partlybecause executives felt they didn't have much choice, but also to promotescience and technology.
"The reason why we got involved in that is that computer science has amarketing problem. We're the nerdy curmudgeons," Page said at the GoogleIO conference.
Google insisted on creative control over how the film portrayed itsproducts, Levy said. Such agreements are fairly common when auto makers andother companies strike deals for their products to appear in movies.
The company was closely involved in assuring authenticity when productionshifted to Georgia Tech, where the film crew built a reproduction of Google'scampus, right down to the slides that employees use in the lobby of itsbuildings and the "nap pods" where they can rest during the day.
Levy said the company's input was limited to technical issues rather thanplot.
Accurately or not, the film cheerfully plays into geek stereotypes.Overweight, slovenly nerds appear in many scenes. Interns are shown wearinghats with propeller blades that are painted in Google's signature red, blue andgold colors, modeled on the ones that Google employees and interns wear ontheir first day at work.
Teams of interns compete against one another in a game based on Quidditch,an invention of the "Harry Potter" books that's a favorite withcomputer programmers. Predictably, many of the interns are less than adept atrunning or catching a ball.
Google executives may have cringed at some scenes, such as one in whichinterns get drunk at a strip club.
Google complained about the portrayal of the intern group's trainingofficer, who the company thought was mean-spirited and decidedly not"Googley," said Levy. By the film's conclusion, the trainer abruptlybecomes warm and cuddly - an evolution that Levy says wasn't in the originalscript, but which he denies was done to appease Google.
The producers let Google executives see an early cut of the film, threemonths ahead of time, and were prepared for "notes" - Hollywoodspeakfor corrections - that Levy said never came.
"It was a nerve-racking moment," he recalled. "The finalmovie was definitely different than the screen play Google had read. I waspleased that their desire for a satisfying movie trumped any kind ofpreciousness about their company and culture."
Google had little choice but to cooperate, said Ruben Igielko-Herrlich,whose Propaganda GEM product placement firm finds roles in movies for clientsthat include BMW, Nokia and Lacoste.
"The movie would get made with or without a company's input," saidIgielko-Herrlich. "You have to embrace the production if you hope tosoften whatever bad things they might have in there."
© Thomson Reuters 2013