Brewing giant Diageo is attempting to cash-in on the widespread popularity of Michael Powell, a fictional journalist and star of its recent pan-African TV campaign for Guinness, by financing a $3m (£2m) feature film based around the character.

The action thriller, which has just started principal photography on the outskirts of Johannesburg, is being directed by Jason Xenopolous, executive produced by former Guinness Africa marketing director Celia Couchman and produced by Bob Mahoney through South African production company, Moonlighting.

The film, which has a working title of The African Story, stars Powell and American journalist sidekick Ed who unite to take on unscrupulous political gangsters.

Xenopolous, whose debut feature Promised Land will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, said he had drawn inspiration from 1970sthrillers such Marathon Man and Three Days Off Condor. "It's basically a first world thriller meeting up with the concept of 'African-chic'. Sure there's product placement but no more than BMW in a Bond flick and certainly far less than FedEx in Castaway," he told

Diageo's move comes at the same time as motor manufacturer Merecedes Benz is currently riding a huge wave of public interest with a series of adverts in the form of cinema trailers

Couchman claimed the film was unique. "We first of all had to make sure we had a very strong story and that it wouldn't just be an advertorial. I believe we're creating a world first. Guinness does have product placement in the picture but that is all."