At what point does the line between marketing and original film and television content blur completely? For years, automobile giant BMW has been producing a series of loosely connected short films starring Clive Owen as an anonymous character known only as ‘The Driver.’ While these films are obviously meant to help BMW sell cars  —  or at least sell a certainly lifestyle centered on their cars  —  they have also pulled in some of the brightest stars Hollywood has to offer. And now BMW Films and The Driver are back.

Yesterday, BWM released the 0:30 teaser for its upcoming reboot of The Driver series, ‘The Escape.’ The short film is directed by Neill Blomkamp and will also feature Dakota Fanning, Jon Bernthal, and Vera Farmiga in supporting roles. And honestly, if not a few too-conspicuous shots of the BMW logo in some of the driving sequences, the teaser is nearly indistinguishable from any trailer for your typical mid-range action movie.

While it’s easy to roll your eyes at the concept of ‘branded content,’ these short films  —  which average about ten minutes in length  —  have been directed by filmmakers like Alejandro González Iñárritu, Wong Kar-wai, and Ang Lee and starred actors as impressive as Don Cheadle, Gary Oldman, and Forest Whitaker. BMW also produced a limited run of graphic novels based on The Driver and his exploits, meaning that these characters have already spilled over into a second medium for a second set of adventures. The series may have begun as little more than high-end commercials for a luxury brand, but at this point, it might as well be treated like it’s own miniature action franchise.

Speaking only in the broadest terms possible, these types of films aren’t too dissimilar from, say, a batch of Radiohead music videos directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Both are video shorts meant to reflect the sensibilities of a filmmaker but also to encourage people to spend their money on some third thing. We’ve spent decades building up a resistance to product placement, but if this is the future of the industry? A wholly original series that just happens to be paid for by one person in particular? Like I said: hard to tell the difference between this and some mid-range action movie we’d be far more excited to see.

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