Take a look at Tom Hanks’ Twitter account — yes, he has 729,834 followers — and you’ll notice his playful, candid updates from the set of his upcoming movie, “Larry Crowne.” Hanks co-wrote the script (with actress Nia Vardalos), is directing the film — about a 50-year-old guy who reinvents himself after losing his job — and he stars in it, too, opposite Julia Roberts.
Hanks, or as he signs off on Twitter, “Hanx,” has uploaded TwitPics to his account that show him in a bright-green Ford Fiesta on set. In his Twitter updates, he repeatedly sends shout-outs to his driver, @FiestaBo.
Continue reading after the jump…
Product placement has officially gone behind the scenes on this Hollywood set where, along with Hanks, his driver Bo Stevenson (a.k.a. “FiestaBo”) is also a star. Stevenson has worked for Hanks’ production company, Playtone, for the last nine years in various roles including production assistant and most recently creative executive. In that role, he drives Hanks to and from the set every day (in the aforementioned car) while he documents the commute with a Flip camera, and gains additional, unfettered access on set to the actors, lighters, you name it. At the end of every day, Stevenson, a Raynham, Mass., native, edits his Flip cam footage into short videos that he uploads to all the expected social media wires — YouTube, Facebook, etc.
“As long as I’ve lived in L.A., people have always asked me what it’s like to work for a guy like Tom Hanks,” says Stevenson. “I want to do a real behind-the-scenes. I’m not Kitty Kelly [the biographer], but at the same time, I want to give a no-gloss version. There were moments when I would have a Flip camera inches from Hanks’ face while he was looking through the viewfinder.”
So how did Stevenson land his front-row seat to the filming of “Larry Crowne” and insert himself into Hanks’ fan base circle as his alter ego, FiestaBo? In March 2010, Playtone teamed with Stone Management, a husband-and-wife product placement company that represents producers by going out and finding brands for films instead of representing the brands themselves (most recently in films such as “The Hurt Locker”). As cars are historically one of the most frequent go-to products used in films, Stone Management approached Ford about “Larry Crowne,” but it wasn’t a perfect match.
“Ford didn’t per se see a natural love connection with the movie,” said Adam Stone. “It’s not inherently a car movie.”
Thinking outside the box, Stone Management heard Hanks’ assistant, Stevenson, was already beginning to collect behind-the-scenes footage on his own, and pitched “behind-the-scenes product placement” to Ford — a campaign that would offer inherent entertainment value while featuring the Fiesta, an affordable, super-mini currently being released in the U.S. (While Ford Motor Co. is contributing money to the film, Stevenson himself is not being paid by Ford. “I’m being paid by ‘Larry Crowne’ to do a behind-the-scenes show on the Internet,” he says.)
The idea of putting a guy with a knack for comedic timing in a bright-green car with Hanks in tow was intriguing; and with that, FiestaBo was born.
“We saw it as an organic extension of what Tom Hanks was doing with his Twitter account, which is basically ‘let’s give the audience kind of a sneak peek what’s going on,’” Stone said.
FiestaBo is what Stone calls a “true beta,” since most social media surrounding films is traditionally tied to the release of the picture or the pre-release of the picture. (“Larry Crowne,” which is independently financed and is being distributed by Universal, will be released in 2011, though Universal won’t specify what month.)
Though cross-promotion between products is not a new concept in marketing, clearly the days of clunky, blatant product placement are over. And speaking to the growing trend in user-generated content, Stevenson points out that it’s his online fan base, while interacting with FiestaBo, that is guiding the direction of his show.
“Social-media speaking, these people started having a voice back and talking to me,” Stevenson says of his 16,449 Facebook fans. “I see what they get psyched about and what they don’t. I get to see their questions. It’s an ever-evolving thing.”
— Nicky Loomis
Photo: Right-hand man: Bo Stevenson uses social media as Tom Hanks’ assistant. Credit: Cat Stone