FROM VANITY FAIR: As you read this, you’ve probably learned to tune out any advertisements along the perimeter of your computer screen. So many of us are inundated by advertising nearly everywhere we go these days that we’ve become fairly adept at recognizing it, and deciding in the blink of an eye what’s important and what we can ignore. If we took every word and image offered to us at face value and assigned it equal importance we might go crazy, and surely and quickly go broke. Marketers are aware of our growing ability to tune out though, and as we become more adept at doing so, they become more adept at finding ways to subvert our “Ad-dar.”
First-time director Derrick Borte toys with these ideas in his upcoming film The Joneses (April 16). Into the tony suburbs moves a family of beautiful people, the Joneses (David Duchovny and Demi Moore as Mr. and Mrs. Jones, accompanied by Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard as their teenage son and daughter). Fun to look at, fun to be around, the Jones family is a well-oiled machine of self-possession—and actual possession. They quickly befriend the neighbors, and send a ripple that reaches the more moneyed fringes of the community. It’s contagious. People are drawn to them, and to the seemingly endless river of fantastic material goods that flows freely through their hands, house, and yard. It isn’t long before the inevitable happens, and everyone is literally doing their best to keep up with the Joneses.
This is exactly what the Joneses want, but not because they’re a family in possession of grossly large egos. The Joneses aren’t really a family at all, but a team of expert salesmen put together by a stealth-marketing group to virally hawk luxury goods.
Borte, who has a background in advertising (both as a graphic designer and a commercial director), sees the idea as a natural progression from the tactics that advertisers are already employing to sell products. “I’m fascinated by the resourceful ways advertisers use to get products into people’s minds,” he says. “Many people know about the models hired to sit at bars to smoke certain brands of cigarettes. I was very curious about how far advertisers might go to sneak their product into our brains. Instead of the girl at the bar, I placed a family in a McMansion setting, and the Joneses were born.”
When asked how much he thought about product placement in a film that, in a sense, revolves around it, Borte said, “I had to make a creative decision regarding fake versus real products. I felt like fake brands would be too stylized and take the film too far into satire. I really wanted to use real brands wherever possible to help get the natural and disarming quality I felt the film needed.”
Another authentic element to the film is the chemistry between Duchovny and Moore as the faux couple who struggle with a very complicated co-worker relationship. Duchovny, in particular, shines as a man who knows his moral compass is on the fritz, but isn’t quite sure how to fix it. Both actors were drawn to the script for its complexity. “The general concept of the script was fascinating,” Moore said. “I love my role, but I love the dynamics probably even more.” They also jumped at the chance to work with Borte, who not only wrote and directed, but produced as well. “Nobody was going to let me direct unless I controlled the material,” says Borte, “and seven years of putting this together made it inevitable that I would produce as well.” Will he wear this many hats again? “I enjoyed all three jobs, but directing takes enough energy as it is. So I’ll be strictly focusing on that for my next project.” Up next for Borte is a film adaptation of Jess Walter’s novel The Zero, a darkly comic thriller whose title references Ground Zero, the site of the demolished Twin Towers post-9/11.