I don't know it there's anything more punk rock out there these days than documentary filmmakers. These guys are the new version of the investigative reporters that I looked up to years ago. Now the old regime is mostly gone, except for Matt Taibi and his few likes, but renegade filmmakers are out there, and certainly along with Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock is leading the pack.
Like most of us, I first became acquainted with Spurlock in his groundbreaking monster film Supersize Me that not only told the tale and gave the facts... he did what people who do this work dream of--he opened eyes and created change. Because of Spurlock, millions have changed their eating habits at least in some way.... SuperSize Meals are gone, and fast food has started seeking out healthy alternatives to add to their menu. He guinea-pigged himself, created a film, instigated change, made a difference.
Just like Joe Strummer set out to do with the Clash. Get yourself thinking right. Get yourself heard. Create change by creating your art.
Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's lecture series with Morgan Spurlock. I knew Graduate School was going to rock, so this being made possible was the proverbial cherry on the top. It felt like such a gift, such a blessing, to be here on a Monday night experiencing this, hearing the almost two hours worth of stories and tales from social change agent, Academy Award nominated gonzo filmmaker Spurlock.
He's just like you'd imagine if you've seen any of this work--witty and hilarious, profound and thoughtful. Spurlock is a story machine. The bulk of his talk involved his latest film POM Wonderful presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and not only of its inception into the production office, but the mechanics of how it came to be.
If you haven't seen it or head Spurlock speak, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold well, do. It's out on DVD and On Demand.
Spurlock was devilish as he explained how once they had determined the concept--having a movie about product placement entirely funded by the advertisers--how long it took and how flexible, creative, and, well determined he had to be to complete the project. For some reason....hmmmmmm many many brands did not want to work with him. It took some pretty innovative companies to realize that by being the butt of his jokes, but by being IN on being the butt of his jokes, the companies looked smart and forward thinking. Fear of the McDonald's fallout seemed imminent and it took Spurlock nine months to sign on his first brand. From there, 14 others came aboard and the film was made--cheeky, smart, and eye opening. After the rough cut premiered at Sundance, other brands who once turned him down, clamored to be onboard. These are the stories Spurlock shared, along with anecdotes surrounding his son, faux son and a miniature horse, Ralph Nadar's own product placement, and the perfect cheeseburger.
The audience led the show, with half of the time spent to a Q and A. A nice young man in a suit jacket came to warn Spurlock that he needed to wrap up if there was to be time to sign DVDs after the talk. Spurlock motioned to the long line of audience members, mostly film students, waiting to ask him a question and declined to stop suggesting instead that despite his two airplane trips he'd taken that morning, he was going to stay until it was finished and he'd stay later to sign. Like Billie Joe Armstrong telling the bouncers to back off the kids at a Green Day show, Spurlock was still working and wanted to give the audience what they came for. Generosity.
Generosity of spirit. Spurlock gave and gave to his audience. He answered anything asked of him, and gave far more of an answer that anyone would expect. He actually thought about the questions and told stories surrounding his thoughtful answers. It's no surprise that someone who would be willing to spend one month eating nothing but McDonald's for the sake of his art would be giving enough to actually talk to the people who took the time to spend their Monday evenings with him.
Spurlock's almost stand-up tales explained how he'd survived on credit card while making Supersize Me and went way past the line of safety and financial reasonableness, further, he admitted, than his friends would have gone. He explained that only 2 percent of the brands he called agreed to be a part of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. That's 98 out of every 100 hung up or said no. Some went further--apparently Abercrombie and Fitch explained in a very personal way why they would not participate--Spurlock wasn't attractive enough to wear their clothing. Standing up to this kind of rejection took perseverance and dedication, and that was the bottom line message of the night. This is how I did it, he said. This is how I did it. It isn't glamorous. I am willing to be the joke of my story, so you will understand. Generosity.
The result of this generosity was hope. He showed, rather than told, just as his films show, that it's worth the effort. That your passions are worth following and the hardships you face can be overcome if you believe--in yourself, your work. If you follow your passion. Passion has to come first and the rest will follow. Amidst the wild stories, sarcastic comments about disparaging companies, peeling back the uglier side of filmmaking, hope shone through. If this guy can do it, I can do it. If this guy can believe, I can believe. Go forth and tell your stories, he blessed us with. Go forth.