Morgan Spurlock Learns How To Get Ahead In Advertising

Cannes Film Festival

Sony Pictures Classics

"When I was a kid my father used to say that there are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and then the real side.  I think that this film does a great job in showing the real side."

So said documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock in discussing "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Film Ever Sold" his latest documentary that dives into the world of advertising.  The boundary-breaking documentary isn’t just an exploration of the subject, however.  Spurlock fully financed the film through the product placement of brands he interviewed and partnered with to promote the film.

"We’ll have twenty-three partners that will be helping to promote the film.  They’ll reach their email bases, send notes to their Twitter feeds, to their Facebook pages, putting signs in stores or flyers or giveaways," said Spurlock.  "The fact that the film is coming to the table with all that is remarkable.  It’s the first time ever that that’s happened for a documentary."

The concept behind the film began with a conversation Spurlock had with his co-writer and producing partner Jeremy Chilnick regarding the "less than subtle" product placement in a storyline of "Heroes."  With product placement infiltrating every aspect of our daily lives from sporting events to the naming rights of New York City parks and playgrounds, Spurlock decided to fashion a documentary around the concept of selling the rights to the movie.  As he approached major advertisers to participate, he clearly informed them that he would have final creative control of the film.  The cameras roll as each advertiser made various requests for how their brand should appear, allowing the viewer to see the type of creative control advertisers strive for in an artistic endeavor.  

Spurlock reached out to every tier of advertiser possible, from the most commonly seen, like cars and clothing, to the less embraced, like cigarettes and gun manufacturers.  Although some companies, such as credit card companies, banks and fast food chains declined involvement, major corporations such as Jet Blue, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Amy’s Kitchen, and key sponsor POM Wonderful fully participated and became comfortable with entrusting their brands in the documentarian’s hands.  While many of the companies featured in the film support eco-awareness, Spurlock did not actively target the environmentally conscious community.

    

"We called some of the biggest offenders, the most un-green companies that you could image," said Spurlock.  "We called every gas company that you could think of.  I called BP to be in this film, you can’t think of a less green company to be in the movie right now.  I really love the idea to have a company that needs real integrity to say yes.  A company that has such a tainted, tarnished image would have been interesting to talk about being in the film and it would have been a great thing to have included.  Of course, they said no." 

Rounding out the pitches and conversations with advertisers are interviews with a wide range of professionals, including Noam Chomsky, PhD-Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michael Levine, Founder, Levine Communications Office,  writer/director/producer Quentin Tarantino, and consumer advocate/politician Ralph Nadar.  He also interviewed the folks most affected by advertisement: the general population.  While the ‘man on the street’ willingly shared his opinions, musicians who stand to make millions of dollars in selling rights to advertisers and actors who, by appearing in a television or feature film, are relied upon to endorse products during the scope of their roles were not as willing to talk. 

"I wanted to speak to big A-list actors who literally have to hold products up in films and give a passive endorsement to these products," said Spurlock.  "I really wanted to hear from them, but we could not get an actor to go on camera and talk about it."  

Spurlock was just as concerned with the look and sound of the documentary as he was in obtaining well-balanced content.  Working with director of photography Daniel Marracino, Spurlock coordinated the set-up of each interview.  Each pitch session was shot with two cameras, all other content was shot with one, and all content, excluding three "commercials" that appear in the film, were shot hand-held.  Spurlock referenced the kinetic camera work of two television shows for visual inspiration.

 

"I love ‘Battlestar Galatica,’ the remake of that show I thought was amazing.  I love ‘Friday Night Lights.’  I love the way those TV shows looks, how active they are," said Spurlock.  "The camera never stops moving.  (In the documentary) the camera is always in some place of flux, even if it is just a subtle movement.  The camera is very alive, and it feels very exciting."

With roughly 200 interviews and nearly 375 hours of footage to cut, Spurlock hired Thomas M. Vogt to edit the film.  Wanting the movie’s tone to be "entertaining, fun and funny" Spurlock felt Vogt, with eight seasons of editing "South Park" and a number of commercials under his belt, was a great fit.  After giving Vogt a general direction, Spurlock left the editor to his craft.

"I think you should let creative people do their jobs.  I like letting my editors have editorial freedom," said Spurlock.  "We’d get back together, watch where we were, talk about the story, I’d talk about things I thought were missing, he’d tell me why he left certain things out, and then, we’d agree to put them in to look at them so we’d know for sure they didn’t work, and we’d move on.  It was a match made in heaven, it was perfect."

Spurlock was also invested in crafting the score.  He intertwined classical music, such as "The Hall of the Mountain King" and selections from "Carmen" with contemporary pop music written and performed by Big Boi and OK Go in a very deliberate means of blending the non-commercial world (towards the beginning of the film) with a commercial world (towards the film’s conclusion.)

 

As Spurlock promotes his movie, he’ll be sporting a jacket designed by Ted Baker that’s embellished with the embroidered logos of all twenty-three sponsoring companies. “It is the greatest suit you will ever wear.  I feel like its NASCAR chic.  I’m racing my movie across the country,” laughs Spurlock.  While he is having a lot of fun with “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” there is a very serious message he’s hoping the audience will take away from the movie.

“There are school districts all around the country that are letting marketers and advertisers come in and make up for budget shortfalls through advertising,” said Spurlock.  “I asked  (a sales rep in Florida who sells advertisements to school districts) ‘Why are people so upset about letting advertising come into schools?’ She said ‘School is sacred.  School is supposed to be the one place where you can go and think for yourself and develop your own ideas that aren’t brought to you by someone else.’  And what I think the film shows you is that nothing is sacred.  That we live in a time and a place where if you have a captive moment, then in that moment somebody’s going to try to sell you something.  What I think is really important for people to take away from this film is where do we draw the line?  Where do we stop?” 

 

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Film Ever Sold opens nationally April 27th.  To learn more about the film, please visit:

 http://www.sonyclassics.com/pomwonderfulpresentsthegreatestmovieeversold/