With his latest movie "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" (opening April 22 from Sony Picture Classics), documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is selling out – and he wants everyone to know it. Using money from various products shown in and around the film (headed by bold drink POM Wonderful of the title!) Spurlock’s movie is also an examination of such marketing and advertising practices and it’s an ironic conundrum indeed. Starpulse is celebrating the arrival of the picture with some candid chat with controversial documentarian Spurlock, followed by my five-star review of the undeniably hilarious new film. So insert the ad if you will and welcome...
Director MORGAN SPURLOCK
On the idea for the film:
MS: We got the idea from a terrible episode of "Heroes" where Hayden Panettiere was given a Nissan Rogue by her dad and she said Nissan Rogue like six times and it cuts back to the car again. We thought it would just be a great way to explore this world of advertising and marketing and product placement by get companies to actually pay for it. The fact that people said yes is remarkable.
On Guerrilla Marketing:
MS: I think Guerrilla marketing works – I came from it. I went to film school, started working in the film business and then worked for a grass roots event marketing company. They’re really great ways to get an idea out there, to get people talking about things and to build buzz and excitement. I think I learned more during that time then I’d learned through years of film school.
On which company involvement surprised him most:
MS: The company that I was most surprised that was in the film was Hyatt. I think Hyatt is traditionally an incredibly conservative company and they really made it a point to want to change the perception of who they are. I mean we’re staying in a Hyatt (referring to the hotel where the interview is taking place) – the Andaz is a Hyatt, (pitching) greatest hotel you’ll ever experience! (Smiles) And what they also did by them coming on board was they made a lot of other people say Hyatt’s doing it – a fortune five hundred blue chip company that has a real name.
On the company he wanted most that passed:
MS: In-N-Out Burger! I wanted a fast food partner so bad for this movie because we wanted to make a docbuster, a documentary blockbuster. And if you’re gonna make a docbuster, you’ve got to have a happy meal, you’ve got to have a kids meal! So I stalked In-N-Out. I called them every week for weeks and weeks and said, 'This is gonna be great and amazing – we can make an Un-Happy Meal!' And they were like, 'No thank you – it doesn’t sound amazing at all.'
On the possibility of using former foe McDonald’s as a sponsor:
MS: When I called McDonald’s they didn’t call back!
On sponsor reaction to the film:
MS: Once the Sundance announcement happened, all the companies started calling saying, 'We need to see this movie before Sundance!' We said to them, 'You should come to Sundance – you should see the movie there.' And of the fifteen brands we had on board, eleven of them came. The film played through the roof, had a great response and all of them were ecstatic.
On the advertising free city of Sao Paulo, Brazil:
MS: I think they wanted to start to deal with the real problems. I mean Sao Paulo was a very dangerous place for a long time. When I was there in 2003 people were getting kidnapped, I was being driven around in a bullet proof car and there were neighborhoods that had guys with sub-machine guns at the end of the block to protect the people who lived there – it was a very sketchy place. So one of the things they wanted to do was address all these problems. And to address them and the pollution they took away all the distractions. So by taking away the billboards and the noise, they forced people to look at the city. It’s a brilliant thing because what’s happened now since then is crime has gone down, quality of living has gone up and the only jobs that were affected by this are the people who put up the billboards. I interviewed eighty people in that city and not one of them said, 'I wish all the advertisements were back – I really miss all those bus stop ads!'
On bonus footage and extras for future DVD and Blu-ray release:
MS: We shot three hundred and seventy-five hours – there were so many amazing scenes we shot. The interviews we did each one lasted probably an hour. There was a great scene where we took kids shopping and we talked about how kids will buy anything once you slap a character on it. So we put Iron Man on motor oil, SpongeBob on a box of Tampax, Spiderman on a box of Trojans and sure enough the kids started going down the aisles and they were grabbing these things with these characters on them. It was a remarkable scene that just didn't make sense in the movie – but it will be great in the DVD!
That’s the skinny fans – and for a look at the movie through my eyes, check out the review below!
Title: "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"
Genre: Documentary, Comedy
Cast: Morgan Spurlock, Ralph Nader, Brett Ratner, Quentin Tarantino
I’ve heard some folks refer to documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (the man behind "Super Size Me" and "Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?") as the poor mans' Michael Moore. In terms of topic approach I would have to agree, as the mighty Moore goes into subjects with a full arsenal of facts and figures (not to mention a sharp wit!), whereas the spirited Spurlock uses his flicks as a springboard before diving into the pool of doc movie knowledge. Frankly that’s a big part of the charm of Spurlock’s 'everyman' persona – he gets his info the same time as the audience. This time around he takes on the world of product placement, marketing and advertising all the while being funded by, you guessed it, product placement and advertising. It’s an irony that does walk a fine line (the damn movie title has the POM Wonderful product as a header!), but thankfully never crosses it and is just a sheer hoot for the viewer – the sass of Spurlock strikes again.
Confused and dismayed by the amount of painfully obvious product placement in various films and TV shows that seem more like a commercial then simple storytelling, Spurlock decides to go deep into the unspoken of world of sponsorship and marketing. He does get some answers from top brass including experts in media placement and communications, A-list directors like Brett "Family Man" Ratner and Quentin Tarantino (love that he kept writing Denny’s conversations in his films - and they refused to let him shoot there!) and even consumer advocate Ralph Nader, but it all falls a little short of experiencing the real thing.
Which is why Spurlock’s idea to fund the film with actual blatant product placement money is such a stroke of genius. Getting through doors and into meetings he couldn’t possibly witness as just an observer, Spurlock boldly places himself and his reputation into the process headfirst and the result is both revealing and hilarious. From picking products that fit the bill (he loved the Mane ‘N Tale shampoo and conditioner because it catered to both humans…and horses!) to pitching commercials that would run in the film itself (POM Wonderful didn’t seem to like the idea of Morgan touting the more body healthy benefits of the beverage - complete with raging boner!), Spurlock scores big laughs. Plus it’s interesting to see him finally faced with the dilemma of having to tread lightly to not overtly offend those who pay the bills, while at the same time delivering the honesty his audience demands – and ultimately he succeeds.
Some might say that the products that funded this picture are the butt of the joke, but I beg to differ. It’s their willingness to be candid, to take a strange leap of product placement faith, to dare to do something different that makes them rise above the forgettable fray. (Go POM Wonderful, Amy’s Kitchen, Ban, Aruba, Carrera, Solstice, Get It Free Online.com, Hyatt, jetBlue, KDF, Merrell, Old Navy, Movie Tickets.com, Petland, Seventh Generation, Sheetz, Ted Baker London, Thayer’s Natural Remedies and yes, even Mane ‘N Tale!) In that sense they’re perfectly on par with their rebellious pitchman of choice Spurlock - and it’s a match made in documentary dreamland.