About 20 minutes into the movie Citizen Duane, one of the most anticipated moments of the Toronto International Film Festival finally arrives for Jason Silver: The Charmin bathroom tissue makes its first appearance.
He takes out his BlackBerry and begins tapping out notes in the darkness. As the head of the product placement agency FTWK, Mr. Silver studies the background of 60 or 70 new movies a year to see if brands his company represents show up. What's unfolding before him has the makings of a tour de force.
Soon after the toilet paper cameo in a busy supermarket scene, the film's two main characters pause in front of shelves stocked with Tampax. Mr. Silver counts the seconds.
When the lights go up, Mr. Silver will send Proctor & Gamble notes on its products' exposure. Was the package in focus? Did the star pick it up? Was the brand mentioned?
"That's a pretty good placement," he says afterward as the festival crowd spills out of the theatre. "We got about 15 to 20 seconds for Tampax. That's what you hope for."
Toronto's film festival has a reputation as a hot spot for world premieres. It's also become a must-see for people like Mr. Silver, who dashes to movies as soon as they are released to gauge his company's impact for clients.
With more product placements finding their way into movies over the past several years, particularly as a way to defray the cost of production, the industry has become a $7.4-billion (U.S.) business straddling both film and television. A recent study by PQ Media, a research firm based in Stamford, Conn., predicts that figure will soar to $14-billion by 2010 as advertisers look to reach consumers who are tuning out traditional commercials.
A quarter century after high-profile products such as Reese's Pieces in E. T. the Extra-Terrestrialand Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses in Risky Business were the exception, such placements are now the norm. Critics call the rise in placements a form of "ad creep."
However filmmakers are increasingly looking to real products as an integral piece of a movie's authenticity. Brands such as Corn Flakes or Pepsi are more believable than using conjured packaging, such as Flakes or Cola, which found their way into 1970s and 80s films.
At least four Canadian product placement agencies compete for screen time in movies shot here, while as many as 40 firms now operate in the United States. Products are lent to the studios free of charge, which brings down the cost of acquiring props. In exchange for supplying televisions, cellphones and cars, companies get exposure.
Since artistic control rests with the director and the editors however, placement agencies have little say in what makes it on the big screen, unless they negotiate a paid sponsorship.
At the Toronto festival, Mr. Silver is following four movie debuts for clients such as Proctor & Gamble, Kellogg's, Labatt, Sanyo and Toyota. As with Citizen Duane, he won't know how many of those brands actually appear in The Last Kiss, Snow Cake and Everything's Gone Green until the curtain is raised.
The process begins almost a year earlier when the script arrives from the studio. Agents at FTWK in Toronto sift through more than 150 scripts a year, highlighters in hand, hunting for places to insert products. Scenes that take place in kitchens, laundry rooms, bars and supermarkets are usually gold mines
A quick computer scan of the Citizen Duane script by Mr. Silver turned up 12 mentions of beer -- a potential bonanza for Labatt. But when FTWK read the script over and realized the scenes involve under-age drinking, they passed. Agencies only seek placements when it won't cast the brand in a negative light. As a result, the film's main character ends up quaffing fictional suds.
Having studied hundreds of films, Mr. Silver notes the appearance of fake products in a film is usually a cinematic giveaway that something untoward is about to happen. Why? Name-brand beer bottles are never wielded in bar fights, he says.
Companies such as Proctor & Gamble will pay product placement agencies retainers of $30,000 to $60,000 a year, which guarantees them at least six or eight placements. In a busy year, however, that number can soar to 50, depending on the product.
"It takes a few hours to go through a script. If it's Kellogg's, we look at the character and determine: Is he a Corn Flakes guy? Is he a Froot Loops guy? Or maybe he's a jock, so he's a Vector guy."
The scripts are strictly guarded by the studios, often arriving at FTWK's offices bearing a watermarked code that will identify the source of the leak if the script changes hands or is photocopied. In the most sensitive cases, Mr. Silver flies to Los Angeles to read drafts on the studio lot.
Relationships with film crews and prop managers who set up the scenes are crucial. They are often the ones who choose which chocolate bar sits on the counter or which brand of coffee is placed on a shelf. But there is still no guarantee a placement will succeed, even if the product is picked as a prop.
Watching Citizen Duane, Mr. Silver notices that when two characters buy their groceries, the boxes of cereal mentioned in the script for that scene aren't visible on screen. The way Vancouver director Michael Mabott has chosen to frame the shot, the grocery clerk's hands are obscured as the boxes are scanned.
"We usually have a 50-50 success rate," Mr. Silver says. "Sometimes a scene might get edited out, or maybe it goes to a competitor. You never know."