WBEZ swag cut from 'Source Code.' Should we blame Dunkin Donuts?

April 12, 2011

I recently overheard a water cooler conversation here at work about the new movie, Source Code. An employee was disappointed. No, not in the movie but in the fact that WBEZ swag was cut out. Wait, back up!

The movie Source Code was set in Chicago, but was shot in Montreal, Canada. The producers sought to make sure that the film was authentic and reached out to several Chicago institutions to ask for set and prop donations. They reached out to WBEZ, too. It turns out the production designer was a big fan of This American Life with Ira Glass and Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! We sent them a few items (hats, shirts, mugs, etc.) and our marketing department was giddy that we would get some nice face time in several scenes (because the movie plot has the main characters reliving the same scene over and over). But when Source Code came out, not only did we not show up in the film, but the prominent product space was occupied by Dunkin Donuts (including an actual Dunkin' Donuts kiosk on the Metra train). Did Dunkin' Donuts pay for that space, therefore bumping public radio from the spotlight?

No. Well, maybe. But the official word is no. After talking to people close to the movie, it was revealed that Dunkin' Donuts did pay for the product placement. If you watch the movie, that's obvious. What I was told is that it didn't replace us. We were intended to be on a travel mug that a passenger spilled coffee out of repeatedly (the marker that the scene was repeating). But in the movie, it's a generic mug. Here's how it was explained to me: Set and prop materials are chosen by prop masters, who give choices to actors. The actor chooses a prop and the director must approve. Most of the choices are not made because of the product name, but more for visual aesthetics (color, size, etc). This usually happens minutes before shooting on a set. So our swag was placed on extras in the train cars, but those scenes were unfortunately cut or out of viewer range.

Digging deeper, here are some of the things used to make this movie look like it was filmed in Chicago. You can spot these (and probably others) if you watch the movie in slow-motion. Which is how all movies should be watched.

  • There are multiple Chicago shots in the movie, including the aerial shot of the train coming in from the South Loop (they made up the name of a suburb that combined the names of two northern suburbs). The other shot was at Millennium Park. The rest was shot on a set in Montreal.
  • To make the set look like a suburban Metra station, the producers worked with Chicago newspapers and publications to donate newspaper boxes. So in the movie, you can see vending machines for Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, Daily Herald and Apartments.com. Now, you can also see other publications too, including a train rider (extra) reading a Crain's Chicago Business.
  • WGN-TV supplied the graphics for the weather report.
  • The Field Museum supplied several pieces of swag, including a poster on the wall behind the actors.
  • Adler Planetarium offered t-shirts and some posters, which I believe were hung in the bathroom.
  • Shedd Aquarium gave t-shirts.
  • Northwestern University and Second City both gave materials too, but it was unclear if either made the final cut.
  • And of course, WBEZ. Again, we did not make the cut.

When I asked about where our swag went, my sources could not track whereabouts. Which leads me to believe some crewmember is kicking back with a new TAL hat and a Car Talk mug. And I'll bet they aren't even High Fidelity members.

So we didn't get free publicity from Source Code. But on a side note, I am enjoying my Tropicana Coolattta.