Morgan Spurlock talks the phenomenon of 1D and One Direction: This Is Us, in theaters August 30th
Almost 10 years ago, director Morgan Spurlock broke onto the scene with his enormously popular documentary Super Size Me, and since then, he has spawned a non-fiction empire, of sorts. Along with TV shows such as FX's 30 Days and his brand new CNN series Inside Man, the filmmaker has directed a number of popular non-fiction films such as Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Mansome and Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope. The director returns to give 1D fans and non-fans alike a glimpse into one of the biggest pop sensations in the world with One Direction: This Is Us, debuting in theaters August 30. I recently had the chance to speak with the director over the phone about this project, where he followed the group One Direction (Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson) on and off the stage, and everywhere in between. Take a look at what he had to say.
I loved your Comic-Con documentary, having gone for the past few years now. That sort of fandom is vastly different from the 1D phenomenon. Did that experience prepare you for this at all?
Morgan Spurlock: That film and that fandom, I think, is one of the biggest reasons I got the job. Apart from proving to Sony that I can actually make a movie that I'm not in, that I don't have to be on camera for. I think, once they saw that, they went, 'Oh, he can make a movie where he doesn't have to put his ugly mug in. Great.' Then, being a geek myself, I wanted to make a film that would show respect to the fandom, and show the really positive side of being a fan, and what that means. I think that really helped for a movie like this.
How much did you know about this group's astronomical rise to fame, and how much did you delve into researching them before meeting the guys?
Morgan Spurlock: I was in the U.K., shooting a TV series for Sky Atlantic a couple of years ago, and I was there kind of when this U.K. explosion was happening. I remember when the blow-up was first starting, and you couldn't open up a newspaper without hearing about these guys. That much I was aware of. Once I started meeting with them, that's when I dove into each of their personal histories, learning more about them as individuals, finding out where they were from, what their families and upbringing was like. That was the research I did before going in to meet with the managers and the band, etc.
I would imagine that a movie like this, where you're just shooting as much as you possibly can with the band, is so much harder than a regular movie where you can go off the script. I read that the guys gave you pointers on things they wanted to include in the film. Can you elaborate on that kind of collaboration you had with them?
Morgan Spurlock: From the beginning, I wanted to make sure that the band felt ownership in this, and felt really involved. The minute I was brought on, I had a real sit-down for them, to see what they wanted the movie to represent. At the end of the day, it's going to be their mug and their face on this film, and I wanted to make sure it's representative of who they are. The biggest thing for them is they said they wanted to show the fans what it's really like to be in this band. For me, there were a few things that that really meant. One was really seeing all the work that goes into being in this band. I think people think that these guys wake up, play some music, make a million dollars and go home. There's a tremendous amount of work that goes into it, day in and day out. It's a non-stop, grueling schedule. I think that was part of it, and I wanted to show, not the pitfalls, but I guess the residual effects of fame and success. Harry's stepdad said in the film that he went off to audition (for Britain's The X Factor), and he never came home. That's a big thing to think about, and I think a lot of people don't realize, again, that these guys are gone, a majority of the year, traveling around, continuing to build on the success they've achieved.
It really something too, to think about how huge they are and how young they are.
Morgan Spurlock: When I think back to where I was at between 19 and 21, Harry is the youngest at 19 and Louis is the oldest at 21, I was in college and doing things that college kids do. I didn't have responsibilities. These guys have 200 people they're on the road with, who are there for their income to support their families. That's a lot of pressure for young kids.
I read you shot in a few different formats throughout the production, whether it be just you with a handheld camera, or these huge concert shots where you need hundreds of people. Was it refreshing to switch it up like that, or was it taxing?
Morgan Spurlock: No, it was fantastic. To be able to do something of the scope and scale of shooting in true native 3D, was phenomenal. We're doing these live concerts and there are already 200 people on that crew, and then getting down into those intimate moments, where you have a doc crew of like five or six people. As much as I love pushing the camera people and sound people, at some point you have to tell them to go to bed and stop shooting. Then it's me by myself, working as a one-man band. It's exciting to be in those situations and those moments where it's literally just you and a camera, telling a story. Moments like that take you back to the roots when I was a first-time filmmaker and was literally doing everything myself.
I also heard that you were shooting as recently as this past June.
Morgan Spurlock: Yeah. The very last thing we shot was their concert in Mexico on June 9th.
Were you shooting and editing at the same time then, essentially?
Morgan Spurlock: We were editing and shooting from Day One. We started filming with the guys in Japan in January, when they went to Asia for the first time, then we were literally shooting the whole time from January to June, and we had to deliver the movie to the studio seven days after that date, so on June 16 we had to get them a cut to the studio, so we could start finishing and make our release date.
Since this is your first film in 3D, can you talk about your approach to shooting in native 3D, and how that altered your style, if it did at all?
Morgan Spurlock: All the concert footage was shot native and all the doc footage was shot regular and then post-converted. That way, we didn't have to worry about having 3D camera rigs in the field, which was great. It started with the team, and having the best people to help me understand the best way to push the technology. Tom Krueger, our DP, he did U2 3D, a brilliant director of photography. He really came on and helped us push the technology. I think he out-did himself. I think the 3D in this is the best concert 3D I've ever seen. It's fantastic. Doug Merrifield, our production designer and executive producer, who came from the Jerry Bruckheimer $300 million school of filmmaking, plus these specialty movies that he did like Metallica Through the Never, to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never to the Hannah Montana movies, he came in and helped us understand how to best utilize the technology. I also called other filmmakers and talked to them. I called Jon M. Chu, who did the Bieber film, about the caveats and things he remembered that were problematic for them. The best thing about it is the technology has changed so much along the way. Literally, every year, things are moving forward. The biggest thing for me was that we tell a really cohesive story. I think if you watch a lot of these other films, it feels like there are two movies that they have wedged together or have forced to be together. They don't really feel like they marry well. With this film, I wanted to weave the concert footage seamlessly with the doc footage, so everything felt like one story. That there was one voice moving the story forward, and that really comes across in the film and I'm really proud of that. It never feels jarring, you never feel like you're taken out of something. Everything feels like it marries really well. That was the most important thing for me.
Can you talk about the writing process for a documentary like this? Is it something where the script is always evolving?
Morgan Spurlock: The core idea of what the film was, when I first pitched the studio, I said this is a movie about dreams and family. It's a story about these five guys who have incredibly supportive families, they gave them the freedom to go off and chase their dreams, and now that those dreams are starting to be fulfilled, the family can't really give them advice anymore, they can't be there for them in the same way, so now they have a new family. Each one of these guys has four new people, this band of brothers, that are there to keep them grounded, give them advice, to keep them in check. That was always the core idea of the story, that continued to translate and drive the whole story line of the movie. When we were shooting things, we'd go, 'How does this take us back to that core part of the film? Does it make sense?' Everything feeds us back into that circle, and with a documentary, you find new things that take you in different directions, but for me, it rarely happens that whatever idea you had at the beginning, continues to feed in at the end, and what I love about this movie is the core DNA of dreams and family is still there. That's very much intact in the film that we finished. I think that's beautiful. It is an evolving process, you're still continuing to shoot and find things that will help you tell the most compelling and honest narrative.
I read a quote from (executive producer) Simon Cowell where he mentioned that you make it seem that they don't realize they're being filmed. Did you find there were moments that they were so caught up in the moment that they forgot they were being filmed, or were they completely comfortable in front of the cameras?
Morgan Spurlock: The thing that was a real plus for us is they have spent the past two years in front of cameras. They have been performers, non-stop, from 2010. When we were brought on, we already had guys who were camera-ready, they were comfortable around cameras. What they weren't comfortable with is, as soon as they'd be done with interviews, they got to leave the room and the cameras were left behind. Now, suddenly there are cameras following them home, following them to the bus, hotel rooms, so there is a new level of trust and comfort you have to achieve. I think we got to that place pretty quickly with these guys, where the camera just became something else around. You catch these beautiful moments with them being vulnerable, talking to one another and their families. Those are great things to have happen, and a lot of that is a testament to them. It takes a lot of openness and courage to be willing to put yourself out there on camera, and they were on board with doing that from the beginning.
You go back to each of their hometowns in the film. Was that something that was always part of the plan, to see where these young men came from?
Morgan Spurlock: Completely. From the very beginning, I wanted to make sure we went back to see their roots. To really understand where someone's going, you have to see where they're from. Their roots and their family is part of the reason why I think these guys are so successful and so loved and adored by their fans, because of who they are. They have this incredible charm and they're very likeable and very normal. Part of that stems from the relationship they have with each other, but much more from the incredible parents and families who made them who they are. These guys come from the humblest of humble beginnings, so to go back and see their families, see that good stock that made them who they are, I think was important.
I read that during the course of production, you have seen over 30 1D concerts.
Morgan Spurlock: I think, at this point, it's over 35 now, yeah.
Morgan Spurlock: Was there a specific city or region that had more rabid fans than the next?
Morgan Spurlock: When they were traveling through Europe, it was their first time on a European tour, so they were going to countries they had never been to, where their bus is getting chased down the street. The fans in those places were so hungry to meet them, to see them, to touch them, to experience the band. It was remarkable to witness. There were thousands of people, everywhere you went. Mexico City, which is the culmination of the film and where we stopped shooting, is their first stadium show, and the launch of 'what's next' for this band. To see, not only that there were 1,000 people camping outside their hotel in Mexico for five days, which was an unbelievable thing to witness, but to see 70,000 people at a concert, that gives you a sense of where they're still going, that the elevator is still very much going up.
Is there anything you're developing now that you can talk about? Either film projects or TV projects?
Morgan Spurlock: Yeah, we just did an incredible series with CNN called Inside Man. We just did the first season of that, and we're really proud of that show. To do a show that is really the nuts of bolts of who I am and what launched my career, with really smart, engaging social issues, is fantastic, while, at the same time, being able to do a mass appeal pop doc that is going to get released on more screens than any other movie I've made in my life, that's a balance I really love, and hopefully I'll be able to keep doing that. That show I'm really proud of, and hopefully we'll get to keep doing that. Film-wise, I'm hopeful that we'll be able to move on to a narrative film next. There are things we're developing and meeting with people about, so I would love to go from this into a scripted, studio film.
Is there a certain genre you want to tackle?
Morgan Spurlock: Right now, we're open to things. There is a film that I've been attached to for a few years with Leonardo DiCaprio's company, that's a very Erin Brockovich-ish type of film. We're hoping we can make that at some point. You know, I'm a geek, and I grew up loving sci-fi and horror films. I love those genres, so to cater to that geek side of my brain, would be amazing.
I read that you want all One Direction fans to bring a non-One Direction fan to the film. Is there something in particular you'd like to say to those non-One Direction fans about why they should give this a shot in theaters?
Morgan Spurlock: Ultimately, because I think this is a great film. I really enjoy this film. I think this is a fun movie. I think people who aren't fans are going to enjoy this film, and the biggest thing is I think it will change the way you look at a pop band like this. It will give you a different appreciation for them, and I think you will leave this film liking these guys and who they are. Their hearts are in the right place, and you have to be careful. You might actually enjoy this movie.
(Laughs) Excellent. That's my time. Thank you so much, Morgan. It was a real pleasure.
Morgan Spurlock: Cool, man. Thank you.