The latest film from Morgan Spurlock, the director who found fame with Super Size Me is POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold -- about product placement, advertising and marketing in the media, told so cleverly that it will leave your head in a well-entertained, brand-induced spin.
It highlights Spurlock’s process of raising financing by selling product placement and advertising opportunities within the film. So, as conversations with potential sponsors progresses, so does the film.
Having premiered at Sundance, where the film was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, The Greatest hits theaters on April 22 with a marketing campaign of which any documentary should be envious, as each of the sponsors cross-promotes the documentary with their products – pizza boxes, bottle swing-tags, commemorative cups – just as they would with a commercial blockbuster.
We caught up with the filmmaker at Austin’s SxSW film festival a couple of hours before the film’s screening.
Movies.com: Signing sponsors seemed tough going from the outset, but now additional backers are streaming on board leading in to the release?
Morgan Spurlock: Yeah. Post the screening at Sundance, we went back to New York and called other people who, ultimately, won’t be in the movie but will come on as co-promotional partners. Like Petland Discounts, where you’ll be able to go in and buy the Greatest Goldfish You’ll Ever Buy, which is great, because one of my favorite scenes in the movie is where I talk about my son and the goldfish.
Movies.com: So the Morgan Spurlock brand has now been expanded to include your son, Laken?
Spurlock: That’s exactly right.
Movies.com: Pimping your kid out already, that’s horrible.
Spurlock: [Laughs] He signed a release. It’s like a paw print, it’s like when you see a cat sign a contract.
Movies.com: Do you think these sponsors will become lifelong supporters of the Spurlock brand?
Spurlock: [Laughs] That remains to be seen. We’ll see what happens when the movie comes out, or when we greenlight the sequel.
Movies.com: Speaking of sequels, or of what’s next, last time we spoke you were looking for a composer for your documentary about Comic-Con—
Spurlock: We’re still looking for a great composer, there’s a couple of people on our shortlist, so now it’s just about availability, because you want to have the people who make those big genre movies be the people who score the film.
Movies.com: Having Legendary Pictures’ Thomas Tull [Inception, The Dark Knight, The Hangover] on board as a producer--
Spurlock: It helps.
Movies.com: And Joss Whedon, and Stan Lee, etc. all on board as producers, do you have to take care to treat them and their character creations like sponsors, too?
Spurlock: I think ultimately I wouldn’t want to put anybody on the spot. Comic-Con is such a specific film, because it really is about the people who go there, and their back stories. The movie wouldn’t happen without Stan, Joss and Thomas, and Harry Knowles. That they came on board and supported this film was huge, and yes, we’re cognizant of making things safe for them because they don’t want to damage their relationships with their fan base… well, not if we ever want to work with Legendary Pictures again.
Movies.com: The film shows a clean San Paolo, Brazil, a city that has foregone billboards. Do you think that you could have a city in the U.S. in which there wasn’t this obvious constant marketing to us?
Spurlock: I think it’s possible, I think you just have to have somebody willing to put it through. They were very against it in San Paulo, there were people (usually the advertisers, and the guys who owned the billboard companies) saying you’re going to ruin everything, how could you do this? And of course it didn’t ruin everything, and it all worked out. And it’s beautiful now.
Movies.com: Going back in time to films like Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, the future was shown to be one where every time people pass some sensor, they’re scanned and bombarded by advertising—
Spurlock: And that’s happening now. If you have GPS hooked up on your phone, you’ll be getting updates of places that have deals within a range of where you are. And it won’t be long before you walk in a store and there’ll be a voice that says, Morgan, you need a Guinness right now. They know what you like, they know what you want.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is the one about neuro-marketing, and how they’re using it to understand the desire centers of your brain. It’s literally like a pre-cog – I’m going to predict what you’re going to buy even before you buy it. I’m going to so grease the well to make it so desirable to you, that you’ll want it.
Movies.com: When did you first relate to product placement on screen as conscious advertising?
Spurlock: It became news when I was a kid, when the whole E.T. and Reese’s Pieces story hit the papers. I think that was when I became really aware that people paid for putting things in film, that that actually happens.
What making The Greatest did for me was that it made me hyper aware, and not just to marketing in film and television, but to marketing in your everyday life – it surrounds you constantly. And I think that people, when they see this movie, will also become aware – it will change the way they look at film and TV.
Movies.com: Well, the way you’re bringing this out is original for an indie film, marketing it like a blockbuster.
Spurlock: A doc-buster.
Movies.com: Have you trademarked that?
Spurlock: I better get on that.
Movies.com: Could this approach change the way people release an independent movie, treating it like a blockbuster with heavy marketing at Old Navy, Sheetz convenience stores, etc?
Spurlock: If this film comes out and does as well as we hope, then I think it could change things, especially for independent filmmakers who want to do things differently in terms of raising money, and also hopefully change the way companies look at getting involved with independent films.
What’s been interesting is the amount of people who want to talk about this. Normally, you make a film and you get word that Entertainment Weekly wants to talk to you. But with this film, it’s Fast Company, Crain’s Business Week and Mediaweek, people who are not just writing stories about movies, but who are really looking at this from a business point of view. I’ve never had a film like that.
Movies.com: What was the last film you bought a ticket to, and saw at the theater?
Spurlock: TRON: Legacy 3D.
Movies.com: So when are we all going to Aruba [the official holiday destination of The Greatest]?
Spurlock: The original idea was to get JetBlue to fly all the journalists to Aruba, we’d erect an inflatable screen coming out of the water, and do the press junket in Aruba. But Sony and someone else said that would be like bribing journalists. I told them, We’d just be offering them the chance of seeing the movie… but in Aruba. We can still figure it out.
MDC at SXSW 2011:
2011 SXSW Film Festival - Photo Gallery
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Rainn Wilson and James Gunn
Dialogue: SXSW - Morgan Spurlock Delivers The Greatest Movie
Dialogue: SXSW - Paul Giamatti Grapples with Win Win
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with Apart Star Joey Lauren Adams
Dialogue: SXSW Interview with A Year in Mooring's Josh Lucas
Day Five - Film Ends, >Conan Heads to the Big Screen and Anchor Bay Makes the Biggest Buy in Conference History
Day Four - Tuneful Documentaries and Concert Films
Day Three - Simon Pegg in Paul, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, and Interactive in Everything
Day Two - Josh Lucas' A Year in Mooring, Apart and the Not-So-Super
Day One - Source Code, Insidious, Shiner Bock and Smartphones