After starting at Sundance, then to SXSW, then this week’s limited release, Morgan Spurlock is ready to go global with his message movie “POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”
The director treads a delightfully thin line between “selling-out” in order to make a point about advertising saturation and simply selling-out, in his movie and in his promotional life. As for the latter, over the last 31 days, he’s bopped from city to city screening the film and fielding questions about his art; God knows, by now, he’s one hell of a pitch man.
Yesterday, during the Greatest Day Ever junket
in POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Penn. (yes, that’s the name of the town), the “Super Size Me” director had a few minutes to spare from his continuous brand and film hocking to answer a few questions about the flick. At heart, Spurlock is trying to reveal the backstage, offsite goings-on in the entertainment industry that places products in our favorite TV shows and movies.
The end of that story, though, is yet to be seen: will people remember the paying sponsors of the film more than they will its message?
On top of his contractual duties to promote the living hell out of “Greatest,” Spurlock is dead in the middle of working on another film. “Comic-Con, Episode 4: A Fan’s Hope,” another documentary, is in the editing stage right now, and Spurlock says he’s hoping to have some material ready to show at this year’s convention in San Diego. “It’s right up their alley,” he says of the movie translating to its subject and fans.
Imagine the mustachioed filmmakers wearing a garish – but fitted! – logo-laden jacket, his “formal wear,” in the following abridged Q&A...
So how long are you contractually obligated to wear that jacket?
When I first pitched it the deal was that I would only wear it on television. But then I had the suit made, I was like, "How do I not wear the suit?" Because the suit is a spectacular extension of the movie and the conversation in a way that I think makes it grabbing.
Is there any part of your deal where, say, if you go and make your film and find out JetBlue has been killing gorillas in the Congo…
It doesn't matter. It doesn't affect me at all. What happens though, if something terrible like that were to happen, or suddenly there's a POM poison outbreak, the first person that will get a call is still me. Because I am still somehow associated with the brand, even to the extension of when the movie was.
So it was a risk even taking these on.
I got a call before we made this film to be the face of a new car launch. It was some sort of an environmentally friendly car. I thought it was a pretty amazing idea until one of my agents called me up and said, "Yeah, it's a pretty amazing idea… until one of those cars explodes." Oh yeah, Morgan Spurlock is the guy who says you should buy the car that explodes. I wasn't worth it.
And these other sponsors are more solid.
Well with this film it's different, because we own the film. We made the movie and the whole film is a comment. The film was a comment upon itself. I'm not the full face of these products. I'm the face of these products while they're tied to the film. I'm not out hawking this stuff separate from the movie. Everything's a tie-in. It's straight co-promotion.
But having POM Wonderful on top of the movie title, that's forever going to be the name of it.
Forever it will be “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” And now POM, as we were finishing the movie, got sued by the FTC. So what are you going to do? I'm not going to do anything. We're going to put the movie out.
There's making the movie with corporate sponsorship, which is now done, and now you're sponsoring the town-- you're giving the money. How does that fit into the strategy?
Because I think it's an extension of the comment of the film. You see in the movie, everything that we're critiquing in the film all becomes everything we use to promote the film at the end. So this continues that narrative, continues this question of where do you draw the line between brands and your community. This asks the question, do we really want to live in a time when everything is brought to you by this sponsor.
But your movie is integral in that adoption. You're moving across the line.
On purpose. Hopefully it makes people talk about it. Hopefully people don't go, "Gosh, it's a great idea, we should start selling all of our towns away."
There's going to be a Pepsi, Tennessee.
It's already happening. That's why people need to understand, and say where do we push back. In New York City they floated a bill to city council to sell off naming rights to parks and playgrounds. So what are we going to do, we're going to go to the Bank of America Prospect Park? Do I take my little boy to the Mountain Dew playground, push him down the Twizzler Slide? I think there is a real conversation, and hopefully the irony doesn't get lost.
And it seems like the mayor, everybody who's been in involved in this specific renaming, is in on the joke. But is it a joke?
No, it's not a joke at all. It's much more scary. Ultimately we live in a time when municipalities are starving, they're dying. Budgets are being cut all the time, they have no money. Schools have n money. So should we just let advertisers into schools? Oh, it's great, corporations will come in, they'll buy advertising, it'll be so nice, they're going to make up these budget gaps. Is that the nice thing? Do we want to open up the world to where kids go to Red Bull High? That's where things are going.
Do you worry about the irony of this getting lost, say three or four steps down the line of people reporting about this?
I think that anybody who would believe that has not watched one frame of anything I've made in my life. I think it would have to be someone who has been living under an entertainment rock. I think that's impossible.
You’ve immersed yourself into corporate sponsorship. You’re surrounded by logos. How do you feel at this point? Do you feel like going to stare at a white wall?
I feel like these are the greatest sponsors a movie could ever have. [Laughter] All the rest of them are terrible. You should never buy a Volkswagen.
You’re gonna need to take a long shower after this.
What are your plans after?
I’m gonna get on a JetBlue airline and I’m gonna take the greatest vacation in Aruba, the greatest vacation destination you could ever go to. I will close my eyes every night in a Hyatt and I won’t think about any of it.
You’re living your movie, and the subject of your movie non-stop, at movie festivals and things.
I just saw the Virgin Mobile Lady Gaga concert at Madison Square Garden. I was invited to a Mets game at Citi Field. I caught the subway at the Atlantic/Pacific station, which is the Barclays Center Station. They sold the naming rights to a bank. This is happening, this is really happening. So where do we draw the line? Where do we push back? How much is too much?
How do we push back?
It comes down to what kind of society do we want to live in? For e I think there has to be a place where you draw a line. I think schools is great place to start. You have to start with kids, you have to start with saying companies aren’t always the answer for us to turn to to fix our problems. We have to find better ways to fix our problems in our budget gaps within our community. If you want to have community leaders and businesses to fill those gaps, great, do it. But don’t put your name on theside of the school. Don’t put ads up inside the auditorium. Don’t put banners up inside the gym. Do it and say we want to support the school because we believe in it . without saying we believe in it, and we want all those people to know how much we believe in it so they come buy our products.
Coming from advertisers who struggle to keep their businesses open when network TV isn’t what it used to be, internet and internet access…
In the film, there’s a scene from a city that has eliminated every bit of advertising in their whole city limits. There’s not one stitch of [outdoor] advertising, not one bit. And you know what happened? Crime went down, business profitability went up. That town changed. The quality of life went up in the community. You can make the argument, that advertising’s like “Well if we get rid of advertising, it’s gonna collapse. People aren’t gonna buy things. How am I gonna know what shoes to wear? What pants am I gonna buy? I’m gonna be lost!”
Is that a prescription that’s right for every town?
I think the prescription of pushing back is a great right for any town. We live in a time where the minute I walk out of my house, somebody’s trying to sell me something. And I think that while you may not do what Sao Paolo does – eliminate every bit of outdoor advertising – I think there are places that should still be some sacred space. Parks, kids and anything with children, those are places to start and then we can work our way out.