The Super Size Me creator talks to Jeremy Kay about his new film on product placement, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which is screening in Sundance.
In POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock wanted to make a film about product placement in Hollywood, so he set about pitching major (and minor) brands to be in his film to cover the $1.5m production costs.
Through a hilarious sequence of pitches, shameless plugs and rapid-fire editing, the ever-charismatic creator of Super Size Me has returned to Sundance with a triumphant and sly expose of brand integration.
Where did the idea come from?
We thought this was an amazingly fantastically subversive way to make this movie. It came from a conversation we had about two years ago about all the product placement we had seen. There was an episode of Heroes where Hayden Panettiere’s character comes out of school and her parents tell her she’s a great student and as the father reaches into his pocket the camera pans across a billboard showing the Nissan Rogue and he pulls out the keys to a new Nissan Rogue. We started talking about how product placement was getting into everything and the direction of marketing in general, where everywhere you went there was an ad telling you what to buy or think or smell or look. That was the germ of the film.
Who did you approach and how did you assuage their fears about being in this film?
We tried to go after fast food restaurants because every blockbuster has to have a fast food tie-in. None of them took us up on it and about 90% of them didn’t call us back. Even Wienerschnitzel didn’t want to be a part of it! Every contract [we eventually signed with advertisers] had a disparagement clause where we said we wouldn’t disparage the product.
So do you think you sold out?
Those conversations come up all the time. There was an interview with one guy in the movie who said that as long as you were doing better than [the product] it wouldn’t be selling out; it would be buying in. It was encapsulated by the fact that we got final cut. [The advertisers] wanted to see the movie before theatrical release and we said that’s fine so they could comment and know how to market the movie, but what we didn’t want was for them to look at it in a vacuum. So we invited them up for the world premiere here at Sundance so they could see it with a real audience. They loved it. Mane ‘n Tail [a horse and human shampoo brand] asked us what they cold do to help us promote the movie.
Why did you choose Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions as your North American distributor and what kind of efforts will your partners make to promote the film?
Sony Pictures Classics will release this in April. The feeling is if we want to make a ‘docbuster’, who better to put out this movie than the studio that released Spider-Man? The cups will go out in stores and there will be advertising on Jet Blue and POM will carry us on their brand all over the country.
You seem like such a laid-back person. Does product placement make you angry?
When you see product placement in films it drives you crazy. But what this film will do is it will change the way people look at TV. They will become so hyper-aware of how they are being marketed to.
How did you keep the humour of the piece as elements changed and new parties came on board to sponsor you?
This movie as so organic. There was so much happening as we were still shooting that we were still doing rewrites two weeks before the festival. My writer-producer Jeremy Chilnick – we share one brain. Our editor Tom is a tremendous asset He cut about 60 episodes of South Park and did Team America: World Police and came to New York to cut commercials and was going crazy so he got together with us and so much of that funny, rapid-fire style is down to him and his ideas.
We’re editing Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope. It’s with Joss Whedon, Stan Lee and [Legendary Pictures head and avid fanboy] Thomas Tull on board, so we’re in good company!