Published on July 27, 2021

Why the movie ‘Breakdown’ took Texaco by surprise

By Janice R. Edwards
The Bulletin

Last week, I told you about getting to approve Texaco product placements for movies.

The ones I told you about were movies I had reviewed and approved – or not. I never got into any trouble with the company’s legal department or the big bosses with the movies I reviewed, but there was this one movie I never heard of that made the big boss exit his corner office and roar, “Jan, get in this office, NOW!”

Briskly walking to that office, I made a quick inventory of what I could have possibly done to rate that roar. I came up empty. I had no idea. When I got into the office, the door shut – not a good sign. He was on a conference call with corporate legal. Lucky for me, it was the lawyer who liked me. “Jan, did you approve the movie “Breakdown” (starring Kurt Russell)?

I was never so glad to say I had no idea what she was talking about. It had just been released and would never pass Texaco’s standards. It was a story about a couple driving cross-country to California when their car broke down in a desolate region – and the wife disappears. The husband conducts a desperate search for his wife and discovers a chain of crimes. It is very violent.

In my book, that would have quashed it right there, but this movie had a second, even more heinous glitch: the scene where the confrontation between Kurt Russell’s character and the bad guy in the pick-up takes place in a very branded Texaco station.

If that’s not bad enough – and this is what made corporate legal livid –there was a prominent scene with someone pouring Pennzoil into their vehicle. At this time, Texaco and Pennzoil were entangled in a take-over attempt.

No one knew who had approved the Texaco branding being in this film. They had been trying to find out for weeks. Corporate Legal asked if I could research how this happened. I thought, if corporate legal can’t find out, how am I going to?

During the conference call, I saw an ad for the movie, and it listed its studio. I told the group that I would try and asked if I could use long distance to call California. (Peons like me could not make long-distance calls on office phones.) My boss said, “Yeah, anything you need.”

An idea formed in my head. Maybe I could call information and get a hold of someone in the studio production department. I called information and got the number for the studio.

I called that number and told them I was “representing” Texaco, and I needed to know who had approved the Texaco station and their brand in that movie.

I guess they thought I was a lawyer. Anyway, it wasn’t very long until someone came on the phone and said, “Give me a few minutes, and I’ll call you back.”

When I told them I preferred to wait, they got in high gear, and about three minutes later, I had the name of the man who approved the movie.

It turned out that he owned the Texaco franchise where the filming took place, and he had given the producers carte blanche of his station – even shutting it down for business for a couple of days – for a fee. I asked for his contact information, and got it. This took all of 10 minutes.

I called corporate legal and gave them the information. They wondered how I had done in a few minutes what they and their team had not done in a couple of weeks. I told them I love doing research, and I looked at things differently than they did.

But, truth be told, I was lucky. I think the guy who approved the use of his station lost his franchise. He did not know he could not approve the use of branding of his station.

The studio kept the scene in but paid some kind of restitution, and made it less prominent. After all, they had gotten approval in good faith. And me, I got a really nice lunch out of it.

(Write Janice in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)