Interview: Morgan Spurlock – Making a More Fun Documentary

Morgan Spurlock has been around for a long time, even before Super Size Me. He got his start creating web shorts and being the host of MTV’s “I Bet You Will” which was pretty much betting people for money to do the things they do on Jackass. From there came Super Size Me, the film that ruined McDonalds for millions of people and is still one of the highest watched movies on Netflix and Hulu. (Says Spurlock himself) This wide fame (again caused by people having nothing to watch except for instant watch movies on Netflix on the weekends so they decided to watch “that documentary that everyone said is so good”) nabbed him the director spot of “The Simpson’s 20th anniversary Special – In 3D! On Ice!” a role that no documentary director could ever possibly resist.

With all of his experience beyond the four completed films under his belt, Spurlock decided to set out and tear open the secrets and the understanding of advertising in film and on TV. Using himself as the promoter while explaining the process create a strange issue of conflict of interest; bashing the idea while also using it to the extreme extent.

We were lucky enough to sit down with Spurlock to talk about his adventures in making a film that uncovers the mysteries of what it itself, is about.

You talk in the film about fighting with the brands with contracts how did you end up working it out with them to get the film released legally?

We pushed it back for months and months and months as we got contracts from every single brand we got money from. They all wanted final cut of the movie, they all wanted final approval of the scenes their products were in which we pushed back and back and didn’t happen. What we agreed upon with all of our sponsors is that they would all get non-disparagement clauses in all of their contracts, we would not disparage your product or company in the film. What will happen is that we will let you see the film before it is released in theaters. That was the concession we made. So when the film got accepted into Sundance they were like “we have to see the film before Sundance” And I was like “well it’s not the theatrical opening, it’s only a little film festival it doesn’t really matter” And they were like “No, no, no, we have to see it before Sundance” I was like “Yeah! You should come to Sundance You should come see it there. Let that be the place you come judge the film rather than sitting in a conference room with all your lawyers around watching the film in tunnel vision like here’s our brand here’s our company and oh my god we look terrible. It was a much better choice to have them come to Sundance and out of the 15 brands we had on at the time, 11 of them came and saw the film with an audience that reacted just like you did tonight. It played incredibly well and when the brands came down afterwards, I brought down the crew who worked on the movie then I brought down the companies and the companies got a standing ovation. And then a woman in the front row said, “I just want you to know, I just want to say one thing. First of thank you all you guys for being brave enough to back a film like this I think it’s incredible. And I want you to know, I’m going to buy more of your products because of that. I want you to know I’m going to support you guys, But I’m conflicted about it. Because I know that’s what the movie is about!”

Would you ever want to do a narrative film? and would you use product placement in that film?

The films I’ve been attracted to. If I did a big giant crazy movie I don’t think you could avoid that. It’s part of what the Hollywood system does now. I’m attached to a couple movies that are big giant movies that are also very independent movies. One with Abbey Wage Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company house. Both of them are smart films, one of them is a comedy and one of them is an Erin Brockovich type drama. I can’t imagine any product placement in either one of those…. When you’re making a movie that big, it’s the whole Peter Berg conversation in the film. There’s 200 million dollars he spent, he’s doing the Battleship adaptation right now, the thing about where the board game into a 200 million dollar space war movie. And this is a 200 million dollar gamble the studio is making. His whole point is they want to make movies but they don’t give a fuck about art. They want money coming back. They want to know that this is going to go out and everything they can do to create this marketing campaign around it they don’t have to pay for is great. You know in a 200 million dollar movie department your marketing budget is going to be around 75 million, just a ton of money. Anything you can do to lessen that burden, with the Happy Meals and the shirts and the Slurpee’s and the collectors cup, whatever you can do to get anybody to advertise you to create this large event. He told an amazing story we are going to put on the DVD, he starts talking about going to pitch McDonalds. The feather in your cap of promotions is a Happy Meal. 1 in 6 meals sold at McDonalds is a Happy Meal, a lot of people don’t know that but it is a core of their business. Two years in advance, he went to go pitch their Happy Meal a year ago, whenever we did this interview, and they already knew what was going to be out in 2012. So now it’s 2011 and they know exactly what’s going to be out in 2013.

How much was it to get Altoona, PA to change their name POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold?

$25,000. So on April 27th we will have a ceremony in Altoona where I will present the Mayor with a check and he will change the name for the next 60 days of Altoona to POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Awesome.

What was the genesis of this project?

We had just finished Freakanomics and we were talking about what film we were going to do next when we saw a repeat of an episode of Heroes. Hayden Panettiere comes out of school, she’s all sad and stressed and her dad says. “Hunny… your mom and I are really proud of you and we have a surprise for you” He reaches in his pocket and as he does the camera cut to the front of the car and dolly’s past the Nissan logo in front of the car, cuts back to the keys dangling in front of her face and she screams “Oh my god dad! It’s the rogue! the Rogue! the Nissan Rogue!” And I was dumbfounded. I just watched this commercial right in the middle of a TV show. This TV show that I…. Season 1 of Heroes, one of the best seasons of a TV show that’s ever been created. Season two jumped that boat like wildfire. The wheels fell of that bus so fast and one of the reasons is they started putting so much product placement in that show. And so later on in the episode again she’s leaving a part where she’s all upset and she’s like “come on guys, to the Rogue!” So I get to work the next day and I was so upset about it. So my partner and I started talking about it because he saw it too and we got to talking about all the horrible product placement we’d see in film and TV over the years and we wondered wouldn’t it be great if you made a film that tore apart product placement and got the whole thing paid by it as well. The light went off and we literally just steamrolled from there. But it just stemmed from that episode so thank you NBC and Heroes.

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2 Responses to “Interview: Morgan Spurlock – Making a More Fun Documentary”
  1. Le Anne says:

    Hey Steve,

    It’s fun to read the same round table interview from another writer. If you get a chance read mine:
    http://www.tinseltine.com/2011/04/commentary-pom-wonderful-presents.html

    Hope you liked Bridesmaids. I thought Kristen Wiig was funny but not too crazy, there was actually a decent storyline going on there.

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