A TOUR OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Cast members from Cooper  the Castle Hills Gang, a 51-miinute movie that developer Bright Realty financed to showcase its Castle Hills community outside of Dallas.

Photos: Trey Hill

A TOUR OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Cast members from "Cooper & the Castle Hills Gang," a 51-miinute movie that developer Bright Realty financed to showcase its Castle Hills community outside of Dallas.

It’s the ultimate product placement.

Castle Hills, a 2,500-acre mixed-use master-planned community in Lewisville, Texas, served as the set for a 51-minute family friendly film, “Cooper & The Castle Hills Gang,” which the community’s developer, Dallas-based Bright Realty, produced with an eye toward creating a unique marketing tool.

“Marketing is no longer about selling. It’s about engaging,” says Tracy Lucas, Bright’s director of marketing. Initially, Bright Realty intended to shoot a seven-minute infomercial, “and 10 years ago, that’s probably what we would have ended up with,” says Lucas. But the filmmakers hired to make that video, Ditore Mayo Entertainment, convinced the developer’s owner, Chris Bright, that something more ambitious might be more effective.

The film, which cost an estimated $500,000 to produce, according to The Internet Movie Database, debuted in April at the Dallas International Film Festival’s Family Day. It was then screened for 2,000 guests at the community’s Village Shops and Plaza. The movie is now available for free viewing online at www.castlehills.com.

Once it was posted online, Bright Realty saw a 40% increase in traffic to the Castle Hills website from the previous month and an 85% increase from the same month the year before. Lucas tells Builder that while the Internet traffic from the movie has receded a bit, Bright Realty thinks the DVD could have “a pretty indefinite shelf life.” It’s available in the sales offices of all the builders active at Castle Hills (including Bright’s home-building division, American Legend Homes). It’s showing on the flat-screen TVs in all of the community’s model homes. And it’s being distributed as collateral marketing material to third-party buyer leads, such as people relocating to Dallas.

This Fourth of July, the movie will be rescreened during the community’s three-day “Freedom Festival.” And Bright Realty has received a number of inquiries from companies about its marketing efforts, including GDR, a London-based trends consultancy specializing in retail and?hospitality. GDR produces a global innovation publication called Global Scanning, which focuses on forward-thinking concepts. It’s planning to run a feature on Bright Realty in a coming issue, according to Jamie Hawkes, a spokesperson for the developer.

The movie is a coming-of-age drama, set on the Fourth of July, about a precocious 11-year-old Cooper Callaghan, who lives in what he calls “the best neighborhood in the entire world.” The plot involves Cooper and his posse of friends helping an elderly, retired attorney, Jack Wilson (whose last name can’t help but evoke the irascible Mr. Wilson in the “Dennis the Menace” comic strip) find his wedding ring before Wilson’s wife returns home from a trip to Phoenix.

That mission sets the kids off on a journey through Castle Hills, with stops at several of its amenities—its pool, the golf club, trails, and gardens—to retrace Wilson’s steps of the previous few days. (The movie includes some creative animation to highlight the community’s commercial and retail components.) Along the way, the self-centered Cooper learns about the value of teamwork and community, and even how to get along with his annoying older sister Penny.

The ring is found, of course, with fireworks going off in the background. “Everybody got what they wanted or needed,” says Cooper. “Everybody got happy.”

These life lessons, though, are secondary to the movie’s real purpose: to show off Castle Hills, which when completed will have 3,324 homes whose selling prices start in the $200s and go up to more than $3 million in the community’s gated Enchanted Hill, which is prominently featured at a key juncture of the film.

John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Dallas, TX.