The term branded content itself really took hold as a labeled marketing technique in 2001, when The Hire was produced and distributed on the internet and DVDs. BMW decided to take its $30 million advertising budget and spent it on producing five ‘mini’ feature 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, fifteen 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), getting hired by various people to be a sort of transport for their vital needs.‘BMW Films’ was an extremely brave and bold decision from a brand that has always strived to be ahead of the curve in its 100-year history.
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.
The series debuted in October 2002, with the film Hostage. The film was followed by Ticker, directed by Joe Carnahan. The series replaced producer David Fincher with Ridley and Tony Scott due to Fincher's continuing work on Panic Room.
Season 2 continued 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".
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.
Ambush (The Hire S01E01)
(2001) Directed by John Frankenheimer, written by Andrew Kevin Walker, with Tomas Milian, Featuring a BMW 740i.
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.
Chosen (The Hire S01E02)
(2001) Directed by Ang Lee, written by David Carter, with Mason Lee, featuring a BMW 540i.
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 Follow (The Hire S01E03)
(2001) Directed by Wong Kar-Wai, written by Andrew Kevin Walke, rwith Forest Whitaker & Mickey Rourke, featuring a BMW 328i Coupé and the Z3 roadster.
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.
Star (The Hire S01E04)
(2001) Directed by Guy Ritchie, written by Joe Sweet and Guy Ritchie, with Madonna, featuring an BMW M5.
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.
Powder Keg (The Hire S01E05)
(2001) Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo Arriaga and David Carter, with Stellan Skarsgård and Lois Smith, Featured the BMW X5 3.0i
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.
Hostage (The Hire S02E01)
(2002) Directed by John Woo, written by David Carter, Greg Hahn and Vincent Ngo, with Maury Chaykin and Kathryn Morris, Featured the BMW Z4 3.0i
The Driver is hired by the FBI 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.
Ticker (The Hire S02E02)
(2002) Written and Directed by Joe Carnahan, with Don Cheadle and F. Murray Abraham, cameos by Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, Clifton Powell and Dennis Haysbert as US agents, Featured the BMW Z4 3.0i
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 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.
Beat The Devil (The Hire S02E03)
(2002) Directed by Tony Scott, written by David Carter, Greg Hahn and Vincent Ngo, with James Brown, Gary Oldman, and Danny Trejo, cameo by Marilyn Manson, Featured the BMW Z4 3.0i
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 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, much to the Devil's fear.
The Escape (The Hire S03)
(2016) Directed by Neill Blomkamp, written by Neill Blomkamp and David Carter, with Jon Bernthal, Dakota Fanning, and Vera Farmiga, Featured the BMW 5 Series (G30)
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. En route to delivering Lily, the Driver develops a strong dislike for Holt's violent and inhuman treatment of Lily as an object rather than a human being. The Driver kicks the mercenary out of the car by subduing him and holding him at gunpoint. Holt pursues the Driver and tries to stop the car with a sniper rifle via helicopter, but the Driver incapacitates Holt's comrades and leaves him in the middle of the road to be arrested by the FBI, after a long and intense chase. Eventually, the Driver delivers Lily to the extraction point where she informs him that Dr. Phillips created her and three others, who are now gone. She's surprised to learn that Dr. Phillips is the actual customer, who takes maternal custody of Lily and leaves the soil with her at the docks.