The director talks about the new term "doc-buster", why In-N-Out Burger is a bummer, and the meta-nature of making a film about making a film
POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a new documentary from Morgan Spurlock, the director and star of Super Size Me. It opens this Friday April 22nd in select theaters.
We recently had the chance to sit down with Morgan Spurlock in New York and discuss his new film which examines the nature of product placement in movies. Cleverly, he financed the entire movie with said product placement (hence the title). Over the course of our conversation we touch on the new term "doc-buster", why In-N-Out Burger is a bummer, and the meta-complexities of making a film about making a film.
Your documentaries are very interesting in that they have a sort of "received wisdom" - for lack of a better word a leftist or a liberal point of view. I was wondering if a lot of your audience is going to go into this movie thinking "I know about product placement, I'm savvy. I already know this. What's new?"
Morgan Spurlock: Compare this to Super Size Me. Everyone knows fast food is bad for you. Duh. Big deal. Everyone knows they're being advertised to. I think it's very different when you see start to see the process happen and you see how it works. You see the layers and the levels which people work on to try and and affect your decision in both TV and the movies and in the marketplace. I think that to see that in real time - to see all the pieces be put together so that ultimately when you see the film you start to recognize all the marketing and advertising that got you there. It makes a bigger difference - a realization that comes when you see POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold that you continue to think about even after you leave.
Agreed. You have a lot of great people in the movie. Heroes like Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Quentin Tarantino - some real pillars of culture - but who I am most obsessed with in this movie is ...
Morgan Spurlock: [POM Wonderful head] Lynda Resnick! (laughs)
Linda Resnick! She is so spectacular. Can you please tell me everything about her.
Morgan Spurlock: (laughs) The amazing thing is that that was a cold call. All our calls to the brands were cold because we didn't know anyone in these companies. So we called POM cold after calling every other beverage you could think of - all the Cokes and Pepsis of the world. We started calling juice companies so we called POM and spoke to somebody in their marketing department. The CMO of the company liked it and took it to Matt Tucker, the president, who spoke to Lynda who called me back personally.
Morgan Spurlock: Literally called me up out of nowhere and says "Tell me about this movie."
She's all my Jewish mother fantasies come true.
Morgan Spurlock: I tell her about the film, I tell her what it is. [Using a Lynda voice] "You should come meet me." She says "No cameras. Just come talk to me first." She wanted me to come talk to her and her husband, Stuart, because they have a very large empire. So I went and met with them and said "This is what the movie is about, here's what it is" and they said "Let us think about it." So then I left and we were in LA pitching a few companies. We met with American Apparel and they passed on the idea. We get in the car and we're leaving and we get a call from POM. They say "When you going to be in LA next?" I said "We're in LA now." And they said "Can you come meet with us tomorrow?" I was like "Absolutely." So we flew our DP and our audio guy out and went in and pitched them the next day which is what you see in the film. And they said yes.
As you alluded they have a huge empire - a wing of LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) is called the Resnick Pavillion. What do you think is the philosophy of an entrepreneur like Lynda versus somebody like Warren Buffett whom I'm assuming was never going to put his name on this movie?
Morgan Spurlock: I think it's a different thing. You speak to Lynda and Lynda is a marketer. She's incredibly savvy. She understand the value of appearance, the value of marketing - what something like this could mean to a different audience.
One of the best brands in the movie is "Mane and Tail" shampoo. At the end of the movie you said they didn't end up sponsoring the movie.
Morgan Spurlock: No, they didn't pay. What I say is "Mane and Tail" did not pay to be in this movie and I am contractually obligated to tell you that. In their contract it was required that it be made very clear that we did not pay to be a sponsor in the film. So they said "We're going to give you product. We're going to product place in the film, but we don't pay." That's what he says on the phone call you see "We don't pay. People have fun with us, they enjoy our product but we don't pay. But neither did a bunch of others - Carrera, the greatest sunglasses you'll ever wear, didn't pay. Seventh Generation didn't pay. But while we didn't get hard money we did get soft money which means they were committing promotional dollars. So if you walk into any Solstice sunglass store you'll see pictures of the movie "As seen in "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" the greatest sunglasses you'll ever wear. It's Seventh Generation letting us take over their website and sending out emails to the whole mailing list which is hundreds of thousands of people. To have that type of support from people who have gigantic mailing lists is huge.
Was there a dream brand you went after but couldn't get?
Morgan Spurlock: In-N-Out Burger. I wanted a fast food partner. If you're going to have a doc-buster (Ed. note: a documentary blockbuster) just like the blockbusters you have to have a fast food tie-in. So I really, really, really wanted In-N-Out because I love their brand. I love their burgers, I love what they stand for. I said we could do something so smart and so funny and they were like "We just don't do this." I said "That's what makes this great, that you don't do this. We have countless brands in this movie that have never product placed before - ever. We could make an Unhappy Meal or a Displeased Meal with games on the outside that talk about marketing and advertising. And little documentary filmmaker toys like the boom guy. It will be really fun." And they were like "No."
Do you think that's their corporate culture or...?
Morgan Spurlock: I have no clue. I tried multiple times over and over and over again. And they just were "We're not going to do it." It was a bummer. But after all those [fast food] companies said no that's what pushed us to 7-11. We gotta get collector cups. Let's get a Slurpee. We need something in a 7-11. 7-11 said no. Circle K said no. Wawa said no. Sinclair said no. That's when someone said "Well what about Sheets?" I called those guys up, went to see them. Told them the idea of the movie and they loved it. And now when the movie comes out on Friday there will be collector cups at all 400 Sheets locations.
Your filmmaking is very intriguing because it straddles a line between strict documentary and, for lack of a better word, memoir. How do you think placing yourself in the film influences what you're factually telling us?
Morgan Spurlock: What gets put in the film is what realistically happens. It's the real conversations, it's the real things that transpire on camera. I try to avoid turning the movie into a talking head because that's when people start to shut down. What ultimately I hope makes it into the movie are moments of realization and emotional impact so that that translates to you the viewer. The whole idea of going on this journey - it's a vicarious journey that I'm taking you on with me. As I'm getting shut down because everybody's saying no to me that it will translate to you. When people start to say yes you'll feel the excitement that you're rooting for me as the movie goes forward. And as I start to explore places that are sad or depressing or confusing like advertising in schools or the wonder of São Paulo hopefully that still vicariously translates to the audience. That what I hope happens - that there is a transference of experience.
Did you miss anything? Was there any moment that the camera wasn't on or the sound wasn't rolling that you wished you'd gotten on film?
Morgan Spurlock: We had 375 hours [of footage].
So you had plenty.
Morgan Spurlock: The bigger thing is the film is so alive. We stopped shooting most of what we had in January a week before Sundance. We had to quit so we could finish the movie take it to the film festival. Since the film is literally about us making this movie, exploring this issue, putting the film out, getting people to see it, keeping that conversation going ... We could be shooting forever because it continues to feed into the idea of how does marketing work? Do these things in the stores make people want to see the film? What about the advertisement? Seeing the press? I was like "We have to quit." At some point you have to stop shooting.
I was impressed that the movie almost went beyond my having watched it. When did you record that Jimmy Kimmel interview that closes the film?
Morgan Spurlock: In December. And it aired last night (Ed. note: April 12th).
I was wondering how long that had been banked.
Morgan Spurlock: Almost four months. I called him the second week of December. We got the idea. We were watching a cut of the film and I saw the suit (Ed. note: Spurlock's Nascar-style corporate logo covered suit) at the beginning and I said "I have to go on a show." I left the room and immediately started making phone calls. I called Letterman, I called Kimmel.
You've been on all these shows before.
Morgan Spurlock: I've been on all these shows before. The folks at Letterman liked it but said "We've got to run it by Dave." I spoke to the people at Kimmel and literally got Jimmy on the phone within a day. He said "I love it, it's a great idea. We go on hiatus after next week. Can you be here Tuesday?" This was like Thursday. I said "Absolutely. Done. I'm there." So within four days ...
Was your suit already made?
Morgan Spurlock: I don't think it was. We got the embroiderers to embroider the suit that weekend. I think I got the suit on Monday and then we shot on Tuesday.
It's been a real pleasure to talk with you.
Morgan Spurlock: Thank you.