How To

Using Product Placement In Your Serial Killer Script

As product placement in movies becomes accepted by audiences—and even appreciated—isn’t it about time screenwriters retooled their work into something the people at Burger King can really get behind? Rick Paulas has tips for turning your art-house script into big money.

Having worked diligently the past few months creating believable and extraordinary characters (especially your villain—he’s really something), tightening the methods of how your clues will lead to the next body, and adding your own personal touches—showcasing your unique artistic voice—it is now time to turn that small, art-house script into a multi-million-dollar project that will star someone like Willem Dafoe as the killer and Denzel Washington as the cop.

“How?” you ask after reading the opening paragraph.

“Product placement!” I reply emphatically through writing.

By adding simple mentions of such popular brand items as Pepsi, Turtle Wax, or Stove Top Stuffing (all found, coincidentally enough, at most Wal-Mart stores and murder scenes) your script not only will be greedily lusted after by movie studio executives, but also will be studied by artsy-fartsy types who will call your film “a taut thriller with a dash of social commentary thrown in to boot” or “a masterpiece of mystery, only matched by its own mastery of tongue-in-cheek product placement humor.” Either way, you’re in the clear.

The severed head is blocking the oatmeal shot!

Because, at least as we’re getting started here, your plot is more important than your products, it’s important to place the products where they will not interfere with the flow of important scenes—namely during dead body discoveries.

Many writers make the common mistake of cramming their corpses into Dumpsters, propping them in alleys, or letting them wash ashore on beaches. This is when the audience is paying the most attention—and where corporations will pay the most money. Thus, you should write these scenes with your pocketbook and set your grisly discoveries in more “visually interesting” locations.

The front of a convenience store will suffice, maybe next to the soda machines. Or perhaps the parking lot of a strip mall, leaning against that new Accord hybrid. But always, always, the ultimate place for finding a dead body is the supermarket cereal aisle. It not only will bring in tons of brand-name dough, but also will lead to the brilliant “We have a cereal killer on our hands” joke, offered by the detective’s comical partner. This joke will make him more human, which will be important when he’s killed at the end of the second act.

My, those killing methods sure do subconsciously ring a bell…

At least once during a fictional serial-killer investigation, the main detective, or one of his/her sidekicks, will discover that “the methods” of the murders are the most important part of the investigation. This will inevitably lead to a scene—or sometimes a montage—showing the various death settings and the common ingredients involved in each one. This is, as you no doubt can imagine, a golden opportunity for pitching some product.

You can easily have the killer’s ritual be leaving Campbell’s Soup cans (“the newspapers have dubbed him the Warhol Killer”) at the scene. Or maybe he leaves the vacuum running (“the Hoover Hitman”). Perhaps he inserts a Lay’s Potato Chip into the decapitated heads of the victims (Comical Partner: “Guess you can eat just one.”)

If you really want to get fancy, though, you can make the entire method of murder one elaborate product placement. The timing might not have been ripe for Clue, but isn’t the board game Mousetrap just dying for a serial-killer adaptation? Just think about it… the bathtub filled with blood… and what’s that sticking out of the boot? It’s a human leg! If the movie does well, Milton Bradley may even come calling to talk about a “revitalized” version of the game.

“Clues” and “Buy” have the same midpoint: U.

Next, turn the actual clues that drive the story forward into brand-name products. Here’s an example:


Well, Jack, we ran tests on the finger…




We discovered she was wearing the new L’Oréal Jet Set Shine Speed Dry Nail Enamel.


The same one that was found on Mrs. Nelson. I’d know that arresting shine anywhere.

“Hello, is the detective there? This is the killer. Yes, I’ll hold.”

A standard of the modern serial-killer genre is that moment at which the hunted finally makes contact with the hunter. That’s right: It’s time for the eerie phone call. So how can you weave relevant product placements into tight, dramatic conversation? Here are some examples. I’m sure you’ll catch on quick enough…

Example 1

“Hello… Jack… It’s me. Now, open that yellow Mead envelope I’ve left for you. As you can see, inside are instructions to the new TiVo recording box I’ve installed in your apartment while you were chasing down the wrong man in Paris. I’ve included a two-month subscription—great Christmas gift, by the way—and have taken the liberty of hand-picking your Favorites List. Enjoy. Mwahahahahahahahaha…”

Example 2

“See anything unusual in the fridge, Detective Ramos? Behind the Wonder bread? No? Above the Hellman’s Mayonnaise? Next to the three-liter bottle of Coca-Cola? It should be pretty obvious. Nothing? Hmm… maybe I stuck it in the crisper underneath the Coors Light longnecks. Nothing there? Ah, yes… Check the freezer. Under the Hungry-Man Sports Grill frozen meals, with one full pound of food in each box. Anything? Not even a child-size still-beating heart?”

Example 3

“If you ever want to see your daughter again… Ahh… Ahh… Ahh-choo! Sorry. Yes, I’m a little stuffy. But thank god for Tylenol Cold & Flu! Otherwise, I don’t know if I could bring myself to climb down into my basement torture chamber—but tonight I feel great!”

* * *

With these tips your “artfully done independent classic” will lose the “independent,” gain a “big-budget,” drop the “classic,” and add a “movie,” making it available for viewing on airplanes around the world.

Oh, and it’ll lose the “artfully done” part too. But who cares? You’re not the director anyway.