Branded, the new dystopian movie about the evil world behind advertising, was written and directed by two marketing executives (Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn). And the movie's terrifying imagery comes straight from their extensive experience in the field.
But what's this bizarre-looking movie really about? What are these strange creatures bubbling behind out soda pop ads? We sat down with Bradshaw, and he told us everything — including the most dangerous advertising entity in the real world.
You used to be a marketing executive?
Jamie Bradshaw: Still am!
How does that lifestyle and experience influence this film?
My marketing experience as well as my filmmaking partners' experience, has been confined to movies and television. But yes, we always believed that a work of art is the work, plus the packaging. For us, those two things very organically go together, like the yin and the yang. What we were trying to do with this film is to tell a story that we'd never heard before. We felt that as newcomers, one thing we could try and potentially do was tell a powerful story you hadn't heard before, that in some way would be relatable about the world we live in today.
When we both had that goal in mind, the first thing that came to mind was marketing. This is a world defined by marketing. Marketing is the power to control your desires. This consumer society that we live in is basically using primary technology for marketing. We decided to use that world as a springboard for the story. The world we both were quite intimately, bound up in. The truth to us (both my partner and I) has always been very ironic. We both studied philosophy and I think that we both found that the truth usually takes a very ironic form. So the idea that we are inside the system and are in some way architects, and that we're criticizing it at the same time is part of the, shall we say, fun factor of it. Part of the vantage point that we think you need to have in order to criticize it.
There's that German poet who used to write, "at the edge of the abyss, that's where the saving power grows strongest." You have to get to the heart of the matter, in order to be able to do something about it.
What are these ads actually doing to the human race, what are we seeing in the trailer? You call advertising a work of art, but this movie seems to be saying that advertisements are evil.
I think that we live in pretty dark times. Otherwise we wouldn't need art. Art comes up when you need it. It helps transforms things. Well, not our society because there are other, better ways of transforming our society than with art. But it transforms our spirit. Hopefully [the movie] has that sort of transformative power. I think this poster [pictured] represents pretty well how I see the world around us.
But is advertising evil, per se? I have a problem reducing it down to an ethical manifold. I have a hard time saying the world is just evil. And that's what I feel like that says, because marketing is so fundamental to our world, if we simply say advertising is insidious it's literally saying, "I condemn the world." I don't like condemning the world. One, because I think it makes us all passive, there's nothing we can do about it. And I don't believe that I think we all have power. A lot of power that we don't even know about.
In my movie, I think you'll see that there's an awful lot of ancient, almost ritualistic powers that our hero is able to discover and use to change the world, that people don't know about. There's a lot of power and opportunity that if you call it just evil outright, you're stripped of. But there is an ironic sense of a work of art that tries to tell things the way they are about consumer society. Because it, itself, is a consumer product like everything else. We are very aware of that meta irony. And that meta irony is a big part of the film, for sure.
Now falling back on the basic plot point, what are the aliens gaining by hanging around on our planet… it's aliens, right?
Why did you think it's aliens?
I feel like the trailer is implying that it's aliens.
Well I can tell you that the place that the rabbit hole that this movie actually take you is far more sinister and far more unpredictable than aliens. It's something otherworldly, for sure. And something very real, but not aliens. Per se.
Was it always on this planet?
It depends on how you define planet.
Is it supernatural?
Yes and no. That word is so genre at this point, I'm a little scared of it. It implies a certain oeuvre of movie that it's not... The plot of the film is that this brilliant, young executive of advertising in Russia, finds that this gift he has for controlling the desires for other people, that he never has understood exactly where if comes from, is actually on some level a course. It puts him at the center of a global conspiracy that destroys him. And ultimately confuses him as to what his actual cause in life is. And then finally becomes the technology that he uses as a weapon to undermine our way of life, and change the world forever.
And on top of that you have these really bright, distorted images. Are they creatures, is it an entity?
I think a being or an entity is an interesting way of characterizing that. But there is something very much there that at some point in the film, as part of that global conspiracy the character is able to decode and understand. And it's really there. He's able to get to where he's empowered to see that aspect of the world that others can not see.
Why was it so important for you to make these entities so abstract?
One of the things about this film was we are trying to do things differently. There's something very different about advertising. Something that requires a certain kind of meta irony in which to make the creatures and those aspect of the film. The creatures, if they are on some level a part of advertising, are not like any other creatures that I've heard of before. They shouldn't look like Guillermo del Toro's gothic creatures from Hellboy. Because they don't have the same origin. They come from a very different time, they come from a very different cause.
Advertising in itself is a very beautiful thing, its colorful. It's inciting — if it weren't, it wouldn't work. Clearly at some level it has an intoxicating quality. Almost like Man-of-War on the beach are, they have this beautiful shimmering quality to them. But you know there's something very dangerous about that Man-Of-War that makes you feel a certain anxiety. But you're still intrigued by its beauty. We tried to have our creatures inspired by that, and take the beauty and the color and the emblematic nature of advertising. and has that look to it.
So will Branded teach us the secret history of advertising?
We give you the origin of advertising — we know [that] it came from a very different place than you'd ever expect, not what's in any book. The people who knew the history of it — they're in the former Soviet Union. That's why the film is there. And it has a lot to do with the former Soviet Union, we had to do a lot of research there to prove it. We went there to do that and we found these things and these people to tell us the truth about advertising.
What do you think is the most pernicious ad campaign right now?
This is a very new era. This is not an era of advertising in the way that anyone has written books about it or conceives it. You can no longer say that we are over here and corporations are over there, and they are attacking us through subliminal advertisements or making us passive subjects. They're no longer acting upon us with their ads. We are now the brands. We are now spreading the messages with the "likes" and the shares that we do.
I'm talking about the YouTube era. YouTube has 800 million people (I believe) and 4 billion views daily. YouTube is the new marketing. That's the brand, I would say, that I think I would say is the most pernicious. YouTube is at once, a new kind of site that gives people the freedom to become brands. We are all now brands, and we all, for free, spread the messages of the advertisers. We have become the messages of the advertisers. Our whole way of life is about choosing which kind of brand to become. And we all have to make that choice. My son is forced to make that choice. It's literally the culture now. You have to be a brand. That, I think, the YouTube world is the world of tomorrow.
What do you think when you walk around places like Comic-Con?
I think it's a fundamental reflection of our world. Here you have a powerful, resistant spirit, and I think it's undeniable, because there are people here who have decided to choose to come here that is (by nature of the fact that it's a unique thing) resistant of the system. But, at the same time, if you want to call it parasitically or whatever, they invite all these brands to basically be at the center of it, essentially. It's paradoxically free and unfree, or whatever you want to say.
Do you think this is a hyper reality? Do you think it's like bringing the world we know to a boil?
There's a certain kind of microcosm quality to it, for sure. That's the thing about it, in a way. And that's the things about works of art, they take the world and they kind of bracket it for you. I think Comic-Con at some point does that, if you look at it from the right point of view. Taking our world and putting it under a microscope. You're walking back to your hotel, and it looks like Times Square all of a sudden.