Morgan Spurlock Interview
Morgan Spurlock Interview
Morgan Spurlock came to fame as a documentary filmmaker who was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths with his film about the negative effects of eating fast food everyday, back in 2004. Having gone onto produce numerous other documentaries lloking at the ways in which 21st century society is changing across the world, he now takes a closer look at the sneaky world of subliminal advertising at the cinema, with product placement in films.

Talking to View’s Matthew Turner he spoke about the disturbing prevalence of advertising that has become normal, the ways in which he likes to use Mane & Tail horse shampoo, and why Sao Paulo has got in just right.
How did the project come about, first of all?

Morgan Spurlock

The film was kind of a convergence of a couple of ideas, one being the ubiquitousness of advertising and marketing, that you can't leave your house without someone trying to sell you something – everywhere you go, there's somebody trying to get you to buy a shoe, a car, a hat, a whatever. And then combine that with the takeover of entertainment by brands, this kind of co-opting of entertainment through product placement and advertising.

I loved season one of Heroes. Season two of Heroes suddenly started to have all this product placement in it and in one episode, the cheerleader was all unhappy, they moved to another town, she was very upset, her birthday was coming up, she thought things were going to be different and her dad says, 'Aww, honey, your mom and I, we're really proud of you and we were going to save this till your birthday but here you go,' and he reaches into his pocket and as he does so, the camera cuts to the front of a car and dollies past the Nissan logo, cuts back to him holding the keys in front of her face and then it racks focus to her face and she goes, '[Gasp] The Rogue? The Nissan Rogue? Oh my God, dad, the Rogue!' and as I watched this girl gush over a mini-van, I said, 'That's the jumping off point, right there, that's where we start.'
Everywhere you go, there's somebody trying to get you to buy a shoe, a car, a hat, a whatever...
When you approached people, did you tell them that it was a narrative feature or were you straight up about what you were doing?

Morgan Spurlock

No, we were straight up saying we're making a documentary, I said, 'We're making a documentary film where the goal is to pull the curtain back on advertising and product placement, show how it works, warts and all,' and we were as transparent as we wanted the film to be, which was important for me. And it took a long time. First of all when we got the idea, I said, 'Well, we have to get advertising agencies, that's who we need to help us, because they have the keys to the kingdom with regard to these brands.’ And no advertising company in the United States would touch this, it felt like – we called over a hundred companies and only one – Kirsch and Baum and Bond, who you see in the film, agreed to help us at all.

So then I said, 'Okay, fine, we'll call the product placement companies,' so we called every product placement company in New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, same thing, none of them would help us with the film, scared to death of the movie and only two of them – Britt Johnson and Norm Marshall, who you see in the film – would even do an interview with us.

So then we started cold-calling companies and we called over 650 companies to sponsor the film and ultimately we ended up getting 15 to actually say yes. And that was a long process – from the time I called the first company to the first company saying yes was nine months, so it was from January 2009 to September, September is when Ban deodorant came on board.
Did you record all the responses?

Morgan Spurlock

We recorded everything. Or as much as we could – we were cold-calling companies so we're burning footage and you're burning money at the same time, because at this point we're paying for everything and so I said, 'You know, we can't just keep shooting everything because phone calls are boring, so there's nothing happening.’ The minute the DP or you decide not to shoot, the day after that, you have an amazing phone call. And so then the next day you call the cameraman back and you go through days of nothing happening but you do what you do.
Did you have a sort of check-list for things that you knew you needed?

Morgan Spurlock

Well, there's ten kind of categories that you know you're going to cover when you're dealing with product placement. You're going to get a car, a shoe, a beverage, a hotel, an airline, a clothing company, some sort of a bank, a credit card. And you just go through that check-list of those things. A fast food company - no fast food company would talk to us – big surprise. We couldn't get any of them to agree. So you use that as your jumping off point and then you know, 'Here's your top of the list brands', so of course POM was not the first beverage we called of course, the first brand was Coke. So you call Coke, you call Pepsi, they say no, we call Gatorade, they say no, you call all the way down the line, until you get to beverage number 30-something, which was probably POM at that point.
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Content updated: 24/02/2020 14:35

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