|Narrated by||Clive Owen|
|Distributed by||BMW Films|
|64 minutes (total of all eight films)|
The BMW film series The Hire is a series of eight short films (averaging about ten minutes each) produced for the Internet in 2001 and 2002. A form of branded content, the shorts were directed by popular filmmakers from around the globe and starred Clive Owen as "the Driver" while highlighting the performance aspects of various BMW automobiles. The series made a comeback in 2016, fourteen years after its original run ended.
The plots of each of the films differ, but one constant remains: Clive Owen plays "The Driver," a man who goes from place to place (in BMW automobiles), hired by various clients to provide driving or other services.
On April 26, 2001, John Frankenheimer's Ambush premiered on the BMW Films website and, two weeks later, was followed by Ang Lee's Chosen. Soon after, director Wong Kar-Wai was tapped to make a third film entitled The Follow, a dramatic piece about a runaway wife being followed by "the Driver". The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and received rave reviews. It was followed by Guy Ritchie's Star and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Powder Keg.
After the series began, BMW saw their 2001 sales increase 12% from the previous year. The movies were viewed over 11 million times in four months. Two million people registered with the website and a large majority of users, registered to the site, sent film links to their friends and family. The series was originally created by members of famed indie New York City film studio - Shooting Gallery - such as CJ Follini, Paul Speaker, and Eamonn Bowles.
The films were so popular that BMW produced a free DVD for customers who visited certain BMW dealerships. Due to demand, BMW ran out of DVDs. In September, BMW and Vanity Fair magazine collaborated to distribute a second DVD edition of The Hire in the magazine. The Vanity Fair disc did not include Wong Kar-Wai's The Follow. Forest Whitaker had an uncredited part in The Follow and had only agreed to be in the film if it were shown exclusively on the Internet. When the movie was released on DVD, Whitaker allegedly exercised an option in his contract which stipulated that the movie would not be released in any other format without authorization from the actor himself. The Vanity Fair disc, in lieu of carrying The Follow, contained a link to the website with instructions to the viewer to watch the movie online.
The DVD was highly sought on Internet forums after the September issue[year needed] of Vanity Fair quickly vanished from shelves and became a rare find. The movies were reviewed by Time Magazine and The New York Times, who praised BMW for creating entertaining content for "discerning movie watchers".
Season 2 debuted with a dark action/comedy piece by Tony Scott called Beat the Devil. The movie, shot in Scott's trademark pseudo-psychedelic style, featured James Brown enlisting the Driver to take him to Las Vegas to re-work a decades-old deal he made with the devil which evidently gave Brown his "fame and fortune".
Some differences were evident. Whereas the first season was serious and subdued with tiny bursts of action and comedy, the second season was all flash and fun. To fit this motif, John Woo and Joe Carnahan were hired to direct Hostage and Ticker, respectively. The other main difference was that, instead of showcasing several different BMW cars (like the first season had done), the only car showcased was the then-new BMW Z4 Roadster.
To celebrate the premiere of the second season, BMW threw a party at the ArcLight Hollywood on October 17, 2002, just a week before the film's internet debut. The party, co-hosted by Vanity Fair, was also a charity and benefit for the homeless.
A month after the premiere of Beat the Devil, DirecTV began airing the entire series in half-hour loops for five weeks, on one of the blank satellite channels the system offered. The films were a success and, as a result, DirecTV considered using blank channels to air other companies' ads.
In 2003, BMW decided to make a third (and final) DVD compilation of The Hire. The new DVD made its debut at The Palais des Festival during the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and contained all eight movies, including Wong Kar-Wai's previously absent The Follow. Once again, the disc became available at select dealerships but fans could also obtain the disc for a nominal shipping fee via the BMW Films website.
During the last quarter of 2004, Dark Horse Comics and BMW planned to publish a 6-issue comic book limited series based on the main character of the films. The books were written by Kurt Busiek, Bruce Campbell, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Mark Waid as well as other comic book talents. Only four books were produced. "Tycoon" was the last book released (in December 2005). While the comics are still able to be purchased in collector shops and some comic book stores, they are no longer available for purchase on the BMW website.
On October 21, 2005, BMW stopped distribution of The Hire on DVD and removed all eight films from the BMW Films website just four years after the first film debuted. The series was abandoned, reportedly because the project had become too expensive. BMW's Vice President of Marketing James McDowell, originator of the BMW Films project, left BMW to become the VP of sales and marketing for BMW's "Mini USA" division. BMW also split from longtime ad partner Fallon Worldwide which was the creative production outlet for the series and BMW's German division had attempted to become involved with the US division of the company, cutting costs.
The series was viewed over 100 million times in four years and had changed the way products were advertised.
Copies of the DVD are still found in Internet shops and auction sites. The films themselves continue to appear on many torrent searches and viral video sites around the Internet.
In early 2006, BMW released a line of free "BMW Audiobooks" to take advantage of the growing popularity of portable MP3 players (and the fact that most BMW's came with an iPod dock pre-installed in their vehicles). While the stories had the same pulp-action feel as The Hire, the character of "the Driver" was absent. The audiobooks were free (like the films that preceded them) but are no longer available for download from the BMW website.
On February 17, 2007, MINI (BMW) launched a new short film series called Hammer & Coop. The series is a comedic parody of 1970s action-television shows like Starsky & Hutch and Charlie's Angels, and showcases BMW's Mini Cooper line of cars as the featured product.
On September 20, 2016, it was reported that BMW Films has resurrected the series 15 years after the original production wrapped, with Clive Owen returning to reprise his role as the Driver. The first episode was revealed to be titled The Escape, which premiered on October 23, 2016 on BMW Films' official website.
While escorting an elderly man to an undisclosed location, the Driver is confronted by a van full of armed men and is warned that the old man has stolen a large amount of diamonds. The old man claims to have swallowed the diamonds and that the men will likely cut him open to retrieve them. The Driver decides at the last minute to help him, participating in a car chase and shootout with the van. The Driver eventually evades his pursuers and watches their destruction. He then delivers the old man to a town nearby and asks the merchant if he did indeed swallow the diamonds. The client merely chuckles and walks away. The Driver then leaves.
The Driver protects a holy Asian child that was brought to America by boat. The child gives the Driver a gift but says that he is not supposed to open it yet. After being pursued by many armed assassins, and being grazed in the ear, he delivers the boy to another holy man. The Boy however signals silently to the Driver that the man is not actually a monk, indicated by his footwear. The Driver defeats the impostor holy man and rescues the boy. As he leaves the Driver opens the gift which is revealed to be a Hulk bandage for his bleeding ear.
The Driver is hired by a nervous movie manager to spy on a paranoid actor's wife. During his tailing of the wife, the Driver describes the right way to tail someone. As he follows her he begins to fear what he might learn of her apparently tragic life. He discovers the wife is fleeing the country and returning to her mother's, and that she's been given a black eye, likely by her husband. He returns the money for the job, refusing to tell where the wife is, and drives off telling the manager never to call him again.
The Driver is chosen by a spoiled and shallow celebrity to drive her to a venue. Unbeknownst to her, her manager has actually hired the Driver to teach the celebrity a lesson. Pretending to escape her pursuing bodyguards, the Driver recklessly drives through the city, tossing the hapless celebrity all around the backseat. They arrive at the venue, where she is thrown out of the car and photographed by paparazzi in an embarrassing end on the red carpet.
The Driver is chosen by the UN to rescue a wounded war photographer named Harvey Jacobs from a hostile territory. While they are leaving Jacobs tells the Driver about the horrors he saw as a photographer, but he regrets his inability to help war victims. Jacobs answers the Driver's curiosity about why he is a photographer by saying how his mother taught him to see. He gives the Driver the camera film needed for a New York Times story and also his dog tags to give to his mother. When they reach the border, they are confronted by a guard who begins to draw arms as Jacobs begins taking pictures, seemingly trying to get himself killed. The Driver drives through a hail of gunfire to the border, but finds Jacobs killed by a bullet through the seat. The Driver arrives in America to visit Jacobs' mother and share the news of him winning the Pulitzer Prize and hand over the dog tags, only to discover that she is blind.
The Driver is hired by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help defuse a hostage situation. A disgruntled employee has kidnapped a CEO and has hidden her, demanding $5,088,042. The Driver delivers the money, writing the sum on his hand as instructed by the hostage taker. After he is told that he holds the life of a person in his hand, he is ordered to burn the money. As he complies, the federal agents break in and attempt to subdue the man, who shoots himself in the head without revealing where the woman is hidden. The Driver then tries to find the hostage before she drowns in the trunk of a sinking car. As a twist, the kidnapped woman is revealed to be the hostage taker's lover. She coldly taunts the dying man in the hospital.
In an unnamed foreign country, the Driver drives a wounded man who carries a mysterious briefcase, while under helicopter attack. During the attack the briefcase is struck by a bullet, causing a display on it to begin counting down, and it to leak an unknown grey fluid from the bullet hole. The Driver manages to cause the helicopter to crash, but refuses to proceed without knowing the contents of the damaged briefcase. It is revealed that the man guards a human heart for transplant to a statesman (shown in military uniform), whose life and peacemaking is needed for the continued freedom of the country's people. The case is delivered by the Driver in time for the surgery. Also present are another military officer whom the passenger had said would take over the country with tyranny if his superior died (and whose uniform matches the soldiers who had tried to intercept the heart), and US agents who ensure that he does not interfere with the surgery, and so is forced to give up his attempt to take the country by force.
The Driver is employed by James Brown, who goes to meet the Devil to re-negotiate the deal he made as a young man in 1954 to trade his soul for fame and fortune. He is worried about his ageing and the fact he can no longer do his moves like the splits, and says his lessened ability to perform means he cannot maintain his fame and fortune. He proposes a new wager, for the stakes of the Driver's soul against another 50 years for his career, betting on the Driver drag racing against the Devil's doorman/driver Bob on the Las Vegas Strip at dawn. The race ends with the Driver swerving to pass around a train while the Devil's car (a flamed Pontiac Firebird) crashes and explodes. Having won the race, the Driver leaves James Brown in the desert, but as he drives away he sees him as a young man again, who then does a handspring into the splits. The final scene shows Marilyn Manson who lives down the hall from the Devil, complaining that the noise is disturbing his Bible reading.
Four smaller movies, dubbed "The Subplot Movies" were shot and directed by Ben Younger. Lacking any real style (and appearing to be shot with a standard consumer-level DV-cam), they were designed to "fill in the gaps" between the five films and featured a man who appeared to be tracking the Driver, finding "clues" usually scribbled, in pen, on small pieces of paper. The films, at first glance, have no real connection to the Driver movies at all and made no real sense - they contained "clues" that were part of an alternate reality game that would lead intuitive fans to a party in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After the disappearance of geneticist Dr. Nora Phillips and the exposure of the Molecular Genetics company's illegal activities in human cloning, the FBI raids the facility to arrest its key people. One surviving specimen, Lily, is escorted by a ruthless mercenary and gunman named Holt to be delivered to an unnamed customer, who bought the specimen. The Driver is hired to transport the package with Holt "babysitting" him, ordering the hired driver to evade the FBI forces. At the end, when the Driver realizes that Lily has human feelings, he forces Holt to get out of the car and drives the girl to a harbor where Dr. Phillips becomes the unnamed customer and takes proper care of her creation.
Shortly after the release of the "Subplot Films", reports circulated around the Internet that Apple, Starbucks, BMW Films First Illinois Mortgage, and Susstones' all had a small, hidden link on their website that had a direct connection with the movies. Upon further investigation, three phone numbers and a web address were found in the four films, which led many viewers to call those numbers and go to that website.
Thousands took to the web, taking place in the hunt but only 250 solved the puzzle, which allowed the lucky few to be entered in a drawing to win a 2003 BMW Z4, seen in Hostage.
The final piece of the puzzle was a voicemail, instructing participants to meet with a correspondent in Las Vegas, the site of a VIP Party for BMW where the Grand Prize Z4 was given away to a couple from Bellingham, Washington. The first prize was a BMW Q3.s mountain bike, awarded to a student from the University of New Hampshire.
Several companies attempted to capitalize on the success of BMW's film series.
In 2002, the Nissan car company produced their own short film featuring their newly introduced 350Z. Entitled The Run, the film was directed by John Bruno, a James Cameron protege who worked with Cameron on True Lies, The Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The film was shown in theaters before feature films in November 2002. Nissan offered a DVD of the film for $9.95.
A few years later, Bombardier Recreational Products company introduced a series of short movies on the Internet which showcased their "Sea-Doo" line of personal water craft (PWC) while Covad Business also constructed a campy internet horror film based on their products called The Ringing with the intent of showcasing VoIP technology.
The Transporter was also based on The Hire film series as Luc Besson has said in interviews. In fact, many of the elements seen in The Hire were incorporated into The Transporter, right down to the BMW automobile.
Around the same time The Hire made its comeback in October 2016, the Ford Motor Company produced its very own short film, advertising their new car, the 2015 Ford Edge incorporated into a story, starring Mads Mikkelsen as the titular character in Le Fantôme, directed by Jake Scott, who co-produced the second season of The Hire.