Morgan Spurlock on His New Movie ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Uncategorized
April 22, 2011

Morgan Spurlock on His New Movie ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ In Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, he exposes the wonderful world of product placement by financing the movie solely through product placement. After endless rejections from suspicious companies, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker ultimately scored loot from major brands like JetBlue, Ban, and POM Wonderful, who’ve made this film their own. “When I was twelve years old, I remember going to see E.T.,” Spurlock says. “E.T. was eating Reese’s Pieces that were thrown on the ground. I remember coming out of the theater and getting my mom to buy me Reese’s Pieces because I had never eaten them. So it obviously works!”

Why the subject of product placement for a documentary?
The film was actually inspired by seeing so much terrible in-your-face product placement in TV shows and movies.  My producing partner and co-writer Jeremy Chilnick, started talking about all of the movies that do this.  The more we talked about it, we said it would be interesting to make a movie that rips open product placement, to show what goes on behind the scenes and actually get companies to pay for it. We didn’t know if we would actually get people to pay for it, or if anybody would even want to come onboard, but that was kind of a jumping off point. 

Have you ever used product placement in your previous documentaries?
Well, some people would argue that Super Size Me was a movie filled with product placement. Maybe not paid placement. No, I had never done anything where anybody had paid to have their product in a movie. People don’t really view documentary films as being the most lucrative or visible place where you want to pay to put a product anyway.

You’re an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker, so you can get a company’s attention.  On the flipside, you exposed McDonalds, one of the biggest brands in the world.  Were companies hesitant about getting involved with your latest doc because they didn’t how they would be portrayed?
We had companies that said that they want to do this, but they wanted to have final cut of the movie.  We said, Absolutely not. You get zero control over the content. We can talk to you and we will tell you how we are thinking of integrating you into the film and how it’s going to work out, but you’re not going to tell us how to make the movie.  A lot of people were very very scared of that.  A lot of companies balked and said they want nothing to do with this film because they had no control over what we were going to say about them. All of the contracts that we made had non disparagement clauses in them. We weren’t going to disparage them because they were ultimately our co-promotional partners with the movie. At the same time, we wanted to maintain artistic integrity and tell the story we wanted to tell. 

Tell me about the pitch process with companies.
First off, we started calling ad agencies. Every ad agency, no matter who they were, wanted absolutely nothing to do with this movie. They were scared what this would do to their cash cow business. Then we started going to product placement companies and they didn’t want anything to do with the film. We actually had two product placement guys do an interview in the film, but nobody to help us find product.  My friend Richard Kirshenbaum literally had the only agency that would come onboard and think about helping us. I went to see Richard and Jon Bond, and they were the guys who got us in the room with our very first company, which was Ban. At that point, we had already started contacting companies on our own – literally cold calling CMO’s. We probably cold called between 500 and 600 companies to try to get them onboard for the movie. With the exception of Ban, every other brand that came onboard was because we called them directly. We didn’t deal with their agencies and that was literally the only reason that it happened.

Until you got Ban onboard, it sounds like you were sweating it out.
Who knew Ban deodorant was going to be the lynchpin for this movie?

In an interview, director David Lynch said that product placement in movies is “bullshit.” Do you think that many film directors are opposed to it, or is it a necessary evil if you want to survive in the movie business in 2011?
If you are making huge $200 million films, to get your action figures in a Happy Meal is important. To get that co-promotional cup in a 7-Eleven matters. You want to help create that zeitgeist moment. So I think that with big movies, it becomes more important because you have to do things that are not going to eat into what’s already become an incredibly expensive movie, and now is going to be an incredibly expensive marketing campaign. 

These days, do you think movie studios consider product placement before they green-light a movie? 
Absolutely.  There is a great interview with Norm Marshall, where he says that before scripts ever get made, his company is breaking down scripts going after clients trying to get products in movies, letting studios know where they can kind of make up the budget. It’s fascinating! Is that helping movies get green-lit? You ultimately hope that it’s not why they are green-lighting movies. You hope they are green-lighting movies because it’s a great movie and not because some shoe company is going to give $5 million to have the characters where them in the film. I ultimately think that it does help influence decisions in some way, but I hope it’s not the end-all.

Product placement has always been a hush-hush subject.  Do you think you broke one of the taboos with this documentary?
I think we broke a lot of taboos. We’ll see what happens. 

Was it harder for you to get product placement than you thought? 
We thought it was going to be easy, anticipating that by four or five months we would have all of the sponsors onboard. It took us nine months to get Ban onboard. It took us almost a full year to probably get six or eight sponsors in. It was a much longer and arduous process than I anticipated. But for me, that’s what made the film that much more rewarding, because we ultimately really had to work for it. 

You probably have one of the coolest jobs on the planet. If you weren’t doing this for a living what else would you like to do? 
I’m such a terrible painter, but I love art so much that I would love to paint. I’d just sit around and be a bad painter. Or, sit around and be a bad banjo player. I have a banjo that I’m also really terrible on. I think one of those two things would be great to do. 

At this point are you going to do a Super Size Me-type of documentary about POM Wonderful? You could try to live on POM Wonderful for 30 days?
Well, they have done studies that have shown that it’s 40% as effective as Viagra. So I don’t know if you could, but I might be really happy while I’m trying. 

What do you hope will happen as a result of this film being made?
When the movie comes out, what’s incredible is that there are about twenty promotional partners that we now have. We had about five more come on post-Sundance that won’t be in the film, but will be helping with co-promotion and marketing. I applaud the companies for coming onboard and giving up control. By giving up control, they put themselves in a position that was very risky and could’ve been problematic. But by letting someone else have some influence over their brand, I think they benefited. Hopefully, what will happen after this is that more companies will say that if we give up control and if we work directly with artists, great things can happen.

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