Documentary Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock at CinemaCon – Part 1
One of the highlights for me at this year’s CinemaCon was having the opportunity to interview Morgan Spurlock, who was awarded the Documentary Filmmaker of the Year Award during the festivities just prior to a screening of the soon to be released “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” which will be hitting theatres on April 22nd through Sony Picture Classics.
For those who may not be that familiar with Spurlock he became a household name after making the documentary “Super Size Me” for which he only ate food from McDonald’s for 30 days and filmed the process and results. Now in “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” Morgan is exploring the world of product placement, marketing and advertising. In a gesture of self-promotion he even wore a black jacket covered with logos and insignias from his sponsors, sort of the indie filmmaker version of what a Nascar driver might wear at the track.
One trait both “Super Size Me” and his latest documentary have in common is that both ideas came from watching a real life event. With “Super Size Me” it was hearing about the lawsuit in New York two girls filed against McDonald’s blaming the fast food company for their weight. “POM Wonderful Presents” was triggered by watching an episode of “Heroes” on television in which actress Hayden Panatierre blatantly promoted the Nissan Rogue.
Still, in spite of Morgan’s former success or sometimes because of it, he found an uphill battle when it came to finding sponsors, so my first question was what characteristics he believed the ones who did have in common shared. He responded, “Balls. I think that literally everybody who said yes literally had a tremendous set of balls and were not scared of taking a risk. They were literally willing to give up the preciousness, this precious idea of what their brand was. That it’s this thing that they need to protect and to hold and literally police 24 hours cause ultimately they literally gave it up and said ‘you do whatever you want. We have no final cut of the film. We have no approval of it.’”
Aside from a phone consultation to discuss product integration, none of the companies had any say in how their footage was shown or how they were portrayed Spurlock confirmed, “They didn’t see one frameof that movie before it premiered at Sundance, so the fact that they were willing to take that leap of faith is remarkable and the fact they weren’t risk adverse, I think, is why the film succeeds.”
As for getting meetings with the potential sponsors, Morgan’s reputation turned out to be a double edged sword. On the one hand, he believes the success of “Super Size Me” was a big selling point with the advertisers who came on board, but he also thinks it hindered him with everybody else. Surprisingly enough, they couldn’t find a fast food partner even though they called all of them including McDonalds. “They just said no. They just wouldn’t do it. I thought for sure we’d get a real food partner, but we did not,” he said. So, the next logical step was to find a 24/7 type convenience market like 7-11, Circle K or Sinclair, but once again they were turned down. “The minute no fast food place wanted to partner I said ‘we’ve got to go to 7-11, a place where they have collector cups.’ That’s the next link in the chain.”
Sheetz from West Virginia became that link after the other companies turned Spurlock down. A friend of his who lives in the area suggested it to Morgan, reminding him of when they would go there when they attended West Virgina football games during high school and college and the filmmaker is thrilled with the choice, believing that in the end it was much funnier making for better entertainment.
“A lot of people said no because, you know, they didn’t trust me,” Morgan related. They told him, “We already saw what you did to that other company. There’s no way we’re going to become a part of this.” Then were also other responses he continued, “They played it off as something that just didn’t match their marketing agenda, but most of them, I think, were just scared because they had zero control.” He said with a smile, “You start to realize corporations aren’t so funny. Corporations have zero sense of humor.”
Of all the brands featured in the documentary Hyatt is probably the most conservative one and surprisingly enough they were “incredibly engaged” about the project from the very beginning. Morgan stated, “They were like this is exactly what we should do.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Mane N Tail, a shampoo that touts the fact it’s good for humans and horses. “As I tell people, ‘I said listen you’ve never seen a bald horse have you?’” Spurlock laughed. He discovered the product in a King’s Pharmacy in New York City during a brand recon outing where he was shot walking up and down the aisles of grocery stores and pharmacies noting which products looked like possibilities and then compiling a list of who to call. Now, his people text him photos of the shampoo whenever they find it in a new location.
Another interesting irony is that the boy seen in the bathtub with Morgan and a pony and later on in the film during a shot with JetBlue is not his real son Laken, but rather a stand in he jokingly referred to as Faken. The only real shot with Laken occurs at the end when they’re seen walking by a riverbed. Originally the filmmaker did intend to feature his son, but the child “literally had a meltdown when I started washing his hair” although being in the tub with a miniature horse didn’t concern him at all. After trying unsuccessfully to calm him down he sent for the stand in. “I don’t know at what point I had the foresight to do this. Maybe it was from other things with working with kids in the past,” he explained. So he arranged to have his “stunt kid”, a professional about 5 years old named Joshua standing by. In view of the film’s content Morgan thinks using a stand in is perfect. “Here’s my fake kid in the commercial and we’re talking about commercials being fake, so it’s perfect, “ he said adding “It’s great that it’s not my kid. It was meant to be.”
Part 2 of the interview with Morgan will be posted later in the week, so stay tuned.