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The Joneses – How Director Derrick Borte got strikingly relevant with product placement

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The Joneses - Poster details - Ben Hollingsworth, Amber Heard, Demi Moore and David Duchovny
The Joneses - Poster details: Ben Hollingsworth, David Duchovny, Demi Moore and Amber Heard © Roadside Attractions

Derrick Borte makes his directorial debut with The Joneses, which he also wrote and produced. The movie stars David Duchovny and Demi Moore as a seemingly perfect couple, Steve and Kate Jones, who along with their equally perfect teenagers, move into an upscale gated community.

But the Joneses are not what they appear to be. They are actually employees of a stealth marketing firm who move between fashionable areas in order to sell their neighbors all the latest, expensive cars and gadgets.

Where did you get the idea for this?

The Joneses - David Duchovny, Gary Cole and  Director Derrick Borte
David Duchovny, Gary Cole and Director Derrick Borte © Roadside Attractions

I was watching a 20/20 or Dateline which had a story about stealth marketing where models went out to bars in Manhattan to order a specific drink over and over again and they saw this ripple effect of people ordering that drink around them, and there was the idea.

I guess I had to figure out what to do with it, as far as do you go with a broad comedy or do you go with a psychological thriller?

I was fascinated with reality TV and this forced intimacy of throwing these people who don’t know each other into a house together and you see these relationships happen. And I felt like that’s what this really needed to be was a story about those relationships set against the backdrop of this conspicuous stealth marketing.

Can you talk about casting David and Demi in it?

The Joneses - Poster - Ben Hollingsworth, Amber Heard, Demi Moore and David Duchovny
The Poster – Ben Hollingsworth, David Duchovny, Demi Moore and Amber Heard, © Roadside Attractions

I met David a few years ago, we were talking about the role, he was interested and I got to know him a little bit. As soon as I met Demi, I knew there would be chemistry between them. The first time the three of us got together in a room, it was unbelievable; they played off each other so perfectly.

Do marketing families like this really exist?

I know it exists in various forms, I don’t know that it exists in this exact way, but there was an L.A. Times article a few years ago about these developers that had big unsold houses, model homes, and they were employing out-of-work actors to go on open house days to pretend like they were this happy family that lived there, because they found that the houses sold better if people went in and there was a happy family with cookies on the table. So I think it exists in a variety of ways.

Are you annoyed by TV advertising?

It’s important to know that what we’re being sold and how we’re being sold it, and the mediums out there have become blurred. We used to watch commercials in between our shows, and now we’re seeing our commercials disappear, because people can fast forward through them with their DVRs. We’re seeing products immerse themselves in film and television shows. It has blurred the lines between what is an advertisement and what is a lifestyle.

The Joneses - Poster women shoes details
Product placement?

Is there product placement in the movie?

Well, sure. But I think that every product in the film was based on a creative decision, not a financial decision. If we faked too many of the products it would have taken the film into a cartoon area. I really wanted a disarming, naturalism and I felt like real products were a part of that. Obviously, there wasn’t an alcohol company that was going to let us serve alcohol to minors and use their products and we had to fake that, but most of it’s real and it was all fueled on the creatively side rather than the financial side.

Was it always going to be an uplifting ending or did you ever have an indi-type movie ending?

The Joneses - Director Derrick Borte and Demi Moore
Director Derrick Borte and Demi Moore © Roadside Attractions

I not so sure it is uplifting actually. I think that hopefully there are some positive things to take from it, hopefully there are some things that continue to go on past the end credits that are positive. We looked at all possibilities and just tred to go with what we thought would be the best for the film.

This movie is strikingly relevant. It makes a lot of statements about contemporary American society, particularly in the more affluent communities. What ultimately are you trying to leave the audience with?

Just the desire to talk about anything that they got from the film; I don’t really want to try to force any message on anybody. It’s kind of like a Rorschach test, I think different people get different things from it, and if they want to talk about it that’s really what makes me happy.