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Patty Fantasia

CinemaCon 2011 Presents Documentary Filmmaker of the Year Morgan Spurlock

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CinemaCon 2011 Presents Documentary Filmmaker of the Year Morgan Spurlock

By Patty Fantasia

There was no mistaking Morgan Spurlock as he walked into the Coliseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon the evening of March 30, 2011 to accept his award for Best Documentary Filmmaker of the Year just before the screening of his new release “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”.  He was easily recognized because aside from his clever wit and warm smile, at both the award ceremony on Wednesday night and during interviews the morning after Morgan was dressed in a black jacket covered with logos and insignias from the advertisers in his film, which explores the world of product placement, marketing and advertising.  The idea for the documentary came to him after watching a scene from the television show “Heroes” in which Hayden Panettiere’s character is promoting the Nissan Rogue.  The next day Spurlock talked about this blatant use of product placement to his writing partner Jeremy Chilnick and soon the idea was in development.

The film is not without its share of ironies, including the fact that no fast food restaurant chose to come on board as a sponsor. “We’re trying to make a documentary blockbuster.  You can’t have a doc buster without a fast food partner, so we called them all,” Spurlock admitted.  He contacted McDonalds, Burger King, In and Out Burger, Taco Bell and Denny’s without any luck.  Although he wasn’t surprised that McDonalds wasn’t interested after their role in his earlier documentary “Super Size Me”, he was surprised not to receive positive responses from one of the others.

Since he couldn’t find a fast food partner he turned his attention to convenience markets including 7-11, Circle K and Sinclair, only to meet with failure again until a friend of his who lives in West Virginia suggested contacting Sheetz, a place the two of them went to while attending West Virginia football games in high school and college.  “We got Sheetz, which for me ultimately at the end of the day is 42% funnier,” Spurlock said.

Morgan Spurlock
Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

Morgan Spurlock
Photo credit: Patty Fantasia

When asked why he had such difficulty finding sponsors, he related, “A lot of people said no because they didn’t trust me.”  He added that they told him, “We already saw what you did to that other company.  There’s no way we’re going to become part of this.”  Another consideration was that potential advertisers wanted approval of how they would be portrayed in the film and have some control over it, which Morgan refused to give them.  Among the sponsors who are in the documentary which includes Old Navy and JetBlue, Hyatt is probably the most conservative brand and yet, they were engaged and positive from the first meeting.  Then, there’s Mane n Tail, a shampoo that can be used by horses and humans alike that Spurlock came across during a brand recon mission in New York City.  This required spending hours walking up and down the aisles of grocery stores and pharmacies looking at every product on the shelves and compiling lists of companies to contact.  Then at a King’s pharmacy in New York he literally stumbled across the brand and had to include it.  Now, friends text him pictures of the shampoo whenever they see it in a new location and a trial size sample was included in the swag bag handed out to CinemaCon attendees.

In one scene of the film Spurlock is seen in a bathtub watching his son’s hair and they have a pony in the tub with them.  In fact, the boy in the scene isn’t his real son, but a “stunt kid”, who also appears in a shot with JetBlue as well.  Actually the only time Morgan’s real son Laken appears is at the end of the film we’re the two of them are walking by a riverbed.  Originally, Laken was supposed to play himself, but he had a meltdown when his father started washing his hair.  Interestingly enough, being in the tub with the pony didn’t bother him at all.  After spending several minutes trying to calm Laken down, Spurlock summoned the child actor or Faken as he called him to the set.  In the end the filmmaker believes it made perfect sense that he has a fake son in the movie considering the subject matter.

Speaking about his earlier hit film “Super Size Me” Morgan related that losing the weight after the shoot was difficult.  Over an eight week period his cholesterol, liver function and blood pressure all returned to normal, but it took 14 months to lose the 25 pounds he’d put on.  “I lost the first 10 during that eight week detox.  That food is so full of sodium you’re just retaining water,” he said.  In another three months he lost the next 10 pounds, but the final five took him nine months to lose and keep off.  “Those were the yoyo pounds.  I was up and down every weekend,” he shared.

Spurlock will be following “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” with a documentary about ComicCon, which is now in editing.  Titled “ComicCon Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope,” Morgan has teamed up with Joss Whedon and Stan Lee for the production and related that in spite of having such talent attached to the project finding investors was still a challenge.   “Once you have one investor it’s a lot easier to get three,” he stated, believing that persistence is the key.  As for his current release, “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”, he’s happy seeing his baby up on the screen.  “You want to make sure everybody knows how great that baby is,” he added sounding like a proud new father.  Set for release on April 22nd, the filmmaker was heading back on the road travelling to San Diego and the Dallas Film Festival to promote the documentary after making this stopover in Las Vegas.

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