Selling Out to Prove a Point: Morgan Spurlock on His New Film, 'POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold'
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who ate McDonald’s exclusively for a month to document its effects in the movie Super Size Me, has now taken on product placement and marketing in entertainment. For POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock approached companies asking them to sponsor a blockbuster documentary, or a “doc-buster,” with the promise that he would integrate their products. In the film, the audience sees the pitch meetings and behind the scenes negotiations with companies such as POM Wonderful (the main sponsor, clearly), JetBlue, Old Navy, and Mini Cooper, while consumer advocate Ralph Nader and linguist and activist Noam Chomsky comment on the effects of marketing on our daily lives.
In San Francisco, wearing a jacket emblazoned with his sponsors’ logos, Spurlock sat down with AlterNet to talk about the origin and making of this film – and how he ended up using the system to subvert the system.
Emily Wilson: Was this the movie you expected to make?
Morgan Spurlock: The film lived up to and exceeded my expectations. The fact that we actually got brands to come on board and pay for this movie was amazing. The fact that we maintained creative control and were able to rip open this world on our own and get them to pay for it is also pretty phenomenal. I was blown away every time we got into a room and would shoot something and get interviews or comments from people you would ordinarily never get to see or be privy to. It was pretty awesome.
Every conversation in a boardroom, every conversation in negotiations, all the pitches – these are things I’ve never seen in a movie. I think this really shows you how the entertainment business works and product placement and branding. You get a real sense of what the driving forces behind marketing and advertising are.
EW: How did you get to maintain creative control?
MS: One of the best scenes in the film is when you see we pitch them ideas for a spot that’s going to run in the film, and they say, “You know, we’d like you to make this commercial spot.” So they literally pitch you a piece that is so self-serving and manipulating in its message that if you saw it by itself you wouldn’t know any better. But by seeing it in the context of film where you saw the conversations that led to this commercial, it’s eye-opening. Was it eye-opening for you, too?
People say, “Well, everyone knows product placement is out there,” but after you watch The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, you will never watch film and television the same way again. It will change the way you watch entertainment. It will change what you see in entertainment. All the marketing you’ll see on your computer when you turn it on, when you go into a bathroom and all the pictures on the walls in front of the stalls will suddenly have even more impact. You’ll go, “Wow, I’m being advertised to here and here.” You will become so hyper-aware after you see this movie it will really alter your perception.
EW: Was that your goal when you made it?
MS: I never go into a film saying, “We’re going to prove this,” because I think that’s a really terrible way to make films. I think you can’t go in trying to prove a point. You’re putting yourself on a path for failure by saying that’s what you’re going to accomplish. Ultimately what we do is we create an experiment, we create an environment where we say we’re going to explore a topic not knowing where it’s going to lead.