How not to make a brand-sponsored TV mini-series

Everyone who works in advertising and marketing should watch What Lives Inside (above). It's an object lesson in over-pushy product placement that's everything that bit in Wayne's World took the piss out of. 23 years ago.

The four-episode mini-series is directed by Robert Stromberg (Maleficent) and stars Colin Hanks (son of Tom) and JK Simmons (Oscar-nomed this year for being incredible in Whiplash). Visual effects were out of MPC's LA office – and you can see a couple of making-of films below.

The four-part mini-series is about Taylor, whose father has just died. His father was a Frank Oz-type figure famous for a much-loved TV show with puppets (but set in a fantasy land rather than a delapidated theatre), and Taylor is transported to this land to work out his issues with his father. Or something  I gave up watching half-way through the second episode.

Taylor works in an office full of Dell computers. OK, with Dell paying for it (along with Intel), you're not going to get a room full of HP kit. But in a conversation between Taylor and a co-worker at the beginning the of the first episode, a camera pan stops with awkward framing so as to keep the Dell logo on the back of Taylor’s monitor in shot as long as possible. You could easily imagine a client rep on set saying “keep the logo in as long as possible” against the editor and DoP’s protestations .


Soon after, Taylor goes to his parent’s house. He pulls out a laptop and drops it on the bed – but not before tilting it towards the camera for no reason. “Make sure they can see the logo,” goes the voice in your head.

The bit where I gave up is when Taylor – or Dell-marketing-made-flesh, as I’m now thinking of him as – ends up in The World Beyond. So he pulls out a phablet and starts taking photos with it. And how is this framed? With the focus obviously on the phablet rather than what he's looking at. This might be worthwhile if Taylor's reaction to the world was what's important, but there's little to see there.

What Lives Inside shows the primary thing brand-sponsored media shouldn't do: make the brand look awkward. It's fine to feature one or some of a brand's product or service, especially if you can cleverly show off its benefits. But crowbarring in the logo is the worst way to go - and it's surprising that this still needs saying.

What Lives Inside's VFX

The quality of the show's VFX is much better, and MPC has provided some insight into its creation in the films below.

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