Pretty Woman –
too much of a risk for Ferrari...Enter Lotus
Why did the producers of Pretty Woman choose an Esprit?
May 2020 Written by Luke Edwards
Being featured in a major motion picture can be the making of a car brand, just look at what Bond did for Aston Martin and how iconic the Back to the Future DeLorean is. However, one film challenged the international PR teams at several car manufacturers – Pretty Woman.
In 1988, Sandy Isaac was working as a production assistant to Laura Ziskin; who had the task to produce a romantic comedy. In the Pretty Woman script, businessman Edward Lewis (played by Richard Gere), finds his car blocked in at a party and is forced to take his accountant’s exotic new sports car. He struggles to drive it and ends up lost in the depths of Hollywood. There he meets a lady of the night called Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) and they strike up their first business deal with her driving him back to his hotel.
Sandy had the task to work with the studio’s product placement executive to find a company to provide an exotic sports car to fit with the script.
At the top of Sandy’s list for exotics was Ferrari. Maranello asked for the film script and a couple of days later they responded that under no condition would they provide the studio with a vehicle. This included a caveat that the studio would not be sold a car even if they offered to buy a Ferrari at full retail cost. They were allegedly outraged anyone would even suggest placing a lady of disrepute into one of their cars on screen.
Second on the list was a car the financial workers of Wall Street loved; a Porsche 911. The Germans were sent a script and yet again the response was thanks, but no thanks. Porsche had been annoyed when a 928 model was used without authorisation in the 1983 Tom Cruise film “Risky Business” and was still on edge.
Concern grew in the Pretty Woman team and preparations were being made for Richard Gere to drive an American convertible. However, Sandy had a thought and suggested it to the producer, “maybe a Lotus Esprit will work?” producer Laura looked at him blankly, “James Bond drove one” replied Sandy, and instantly he was ordered to give the Lotus team at Hethel a call.
Lotus asked for a script and after reading it they agreed the studio could have the three cars that were needed for production, however when the Lotus representatives arrived they brought a fourth Lotus Esprit which could be driven by the producers during principle photography (July-October ’89).
During shooting the Lotus’ were damaged a couple of times. Once was by a stuntwoman during a slide and the other was during the Polo match scene at the LA Equestrian Centre; where the temperature was reaching well over 100 degrees. The 1989 silver Lotus Esprit SE sat in the sun for hours and then a scene needed to be shot where Edward’s accountant and his wife exit the car while talking. On the fifth take the wife (played by Amy Yasbeck) slammed the door of the Lotus and window glass shattered everywhere. There was some perfect ad-lib about destroying the car, but the scene missed the final cut.
Pretty Woman launched on the 1st June 1990 in the UK and has since become one of the best-loved rom-coms with a fantastic soundtrack. The car companies misjudged the audience. Just to prove this, Lotus car orders in the US apparently tripled during 1990 / 1991 and Pretty Woman nearly recouped its estimated $14 million budget during its opening weekend in the US.
It has gone on to gross $463 million worldwide.