Sundance Q&A: Morgan Spurlock talks about selling out for all the right reasons
Back in 2004, Morgan Spurlock became the Cinderella story of Sundance (and eventually earned an Oscar nomination) for his muckraking stunt documentary Super Size Me about his effort to live solely on fast food from McDonald’s for a month. For his latest movie, Spurlock set himself a challenge even more difficult than pounding down endless Big Macs and Egg McMuffins: Make a documentary about product placement in entertainment — and the penetration of advertising into every corner our lives — that would actually be paid for entirely by product placements. The crazy thing is, it worked. The bitingly funny result — Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold — received a warm reception at its premiere Saturday, and Sony Classics will release the film in mid-April. Spurlock sat down with EW to talk about it.
EW: You said at the Q&A after the screening that the idea for this movie first came when you were watching an episode of Heroes that had a particularly egregious bit of product placement in which Hayden Panetierre’s character kept shouting about how excited she was to get a Nissan Rogue.
Spurlock: After seeing that, we got into a whole conversation about how pervasive product placement has become in movies and television. And that turned into a bigger conversation about how we’re marketed to everywhere we go. I mean, any bar you go to now, you use the bathroom and there are advertisements right in front of your eyes — or down in the urinal cake! So we said, “What if we made a movie all about product placement and actually got brands to pay for it?” We started calling ad agencies first, and none of them would play ball with us, because they were afraid. The last thing they would want to do is do anything to jeopardize their core relationships — especially with me. Because of Super Size Me, I came to the table with a tremendous amount of baggage. Then we decided to take our destiny in our own hands and started cold-calling hundreds of brands, and suddenly people started calling back, which was amazing.
EW: Obviously by bringing all these corporations into your project, you were risking essentially selling out your own movie.
Spurlock: Yeah, but I’m not selling out — I’m buying in! [laughs]
EW: So what are you hoping Hollywood — and the corporate world — will take away from the movie?
Spurlock: In the early days of television and radio, companies would sponsor things and say, “Do whatever you want.” If brands can stop being so precious, the more creative control they give to people who have talent — instead of just saying, “You have to hold up this can of Dr. Pepper in this shot” — the better off everyone will be. The companies who were willing to come on board this movie wind up looking great because they had the balls to take part.
EW: You’ve also been working on a documentary about Comic-Con with help from people like Joss Whedon and Stan Lee. What’s the status of that?
Spurlock: We’re in the process of editing right now. That movie will probably be out this year.
EW: And are you developing any non-documentary feature film projects?
Spurlock: After Super Size Me, people were like, “That movie was funny — let’s get him to do a comedy!” So I got sent all these terrible comedy scripts, like a Revenge of the Nerds remake, and I was like, “Absolutely not.” But now I’ve found a script that’s exactly the movie I’d want to make. It’s with Leonardo DiCaprio’s company, Appian Way. Now it’s just a matter of putting it together, which would be the coolest thing.
EW: Given that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is all about pushing the boundaries of advertising, what sort of innovative things are you going to market your movie?
Spurlock: One of the things we’re going to do is we want to find a town that will rename their town “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” And whatever town does that, we’ll bring the premiere there. And it will be the greatest premiere that ever could have happened in that town!