Last year Morgan Spurlock set out to make The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a movie all about product placement, marketing and advertising that was completely paid for by product placement, marketing and advertising. His process of securing the production funding was therefore both his financing process and his footage.
Watching POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (as it’s now titled), one wonders what life would have been like for Spurlock had his stand-up comedy career taken flight. The film is as entertaining as it is informative and showcases the Oscar-nominated documentarian’s unique blend of insanity and genius, which is present in all of his work.
The film is an important one for moviemakers everywhere, and features interviews with J.J. Abrams and Brett Ratner, who chat about how product placement has entered their own creative worlds. That Spurlock has now utilized the source of funding to complete a feature is itself indicative of the power of marketing.
MM caught up with the 40-year-old West Virginia native at Sundance in January, and then again at Spurlock’s New York office a few weeks after the snow had settled.
Elliot Kotek (MM): It’s been a couple of weeks since the film’s premiere at Sundance. Have you been in a constant state of dialogue with the sponsors of the film?
Morgan Spurlock (MS): Every day I feel like I have 50,000 phone calls. Everything you see in the film has now to come to fruition. The movie’s coming out on April 22nd, so it’s all about getting the moving parts to work toward that one day in order to get the sort of awareness and buzz that you would with a typical blockbuster.

MM: It has to be strange as well, because you’re not only a spokesperson for the film, but in essence you’re a marketing agent for the film’s sponsors. Your film is part of their marketing efforts.
MS: Right, tell me about it. I’m the CEO, CMO, CFO (laughs). A whole lot of COs.

MM: What has your relationship with Sony Pictures Classics been like? They bought the film at Sundance; how have they approached marketing and distribution?
MS: It’s been great. I think Sony recognized that we came to the table with a lot in place that they could benefit from. There’s a tremendous amount of soft money advertising. That is, the brands in the movie are allowing this film to piggyback on their promotional activity, which is a huge asset for a small, independent movie. Normally, a studio would put out $1 to $2 million of typical ad buys—posters and billboards and things like that. We’re coming in with four to five times that figure with what we have from these brands, which is pretty remarkable.

MM: When you were pitching to companies to convince them to come on board, what surprised you about how they perceived your film?
MS: We came into this thinking it was going to be so easy, that there’d be so many people who’d want to sponsor this movie. But it took us months and months and months until we got the first brand to sign on. Honestly, one of the reasons we got them to sign on was not me, but because of one of my friends, Richard Kirshenbaum [CEO of Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners advertising agency]. One of our first brands came on through that ad agency after every other advertising agency refused to work with us. Ultimately, to have this one brand, Ban Deodorant, say “Yes” was the domino that got all the other dominos to start falling.

MM: Moviemakers are approached all the time to have products placed in their films. Should indie moviemakers be proactive in seeking out these opportunities?
MS: I think what this film shows is that there is an opportunity for independent filmmakers to get brands involved. Will indie filmmakers now say, “If I could have my character driving a Toyota pickup truck or a Ford pickup truck for $5,000, why not?”
I don’t know. But I think if you’re making a movie for a couple hundred grand, $5,000 goes a long way. Now, brands and marketers are competing for these niche impressions, so they want to make sure they hit their audience wherever they can. For a minimal investment on a film that could potentially pay off tenfold in the long run, why wouldn’t you want to take that chance as a company?
What I don’t want filmmakers to have to do is something like what they did on that show “Heroes,” where they give the daughter a car, and the camera dollies past the Nissan logo, and she literally says, “Oh my gosh, a Nissan Rogue? It’s a Nissan Rogue, I can’t believe it’s a Nissan Rogue!” I think that audiences and moviemakers are ultimately smarter than that and better than that.

MM: Do you think that we, as a society, care enough that we’re being bombarded with advertising all the time? Do you think we just latently accept it?
MS: I think there are a lot of people who just don’t realize how much placed advertising there is within programming. From what I’ve gathered from people I’ve spoken to coming out of the film, I think that this bit of awareness will challenge the people who do product placement to do it in a smarter, more natural way. If my friend gets a brand new car, I’m more likely to take his recommendation on it being a cool car than I am by seeing it on a TV show.

MM: For you, maybe, but it depends on your age and aptitude. For a 16-year-old girl who sees Kim Kardashian…
MS: …Right. Exactly. Think of how many people there are out there whose thought is, “I want to be like Kim Kardashian. I want to smell like Kim Kardashian. I want to wear the same clothes.” It’s amazing the influence some of these people have.

MM: I think I’m going to go out and grow a handlebar moustache.
MS: (laughs) That will be a very handsome moustache. I’d venture to say that could be the “Greatest Moustache.”

MM: How many hours of footage did you shoot for this film?
MS: I think it was between 300 and 350 hours. Super Size Me was about 250. Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? was a massive undertaking that involved traveling around the world; it was around 1,000 hours. I think this is right in the world where we should be living, around 300 hours.

MM: There were a few Spurlocks with credits on The Greatest Movie. Who are Craig, Kelsey and Laken?
MS: Craig is my brother, who has been working with Warrior Poets, doing research on two different projects. He lives in West Virginia. After he sold his business he said, “I want to start getting into something more creative.” I told him, ‘Why don’t you work with me? It’ll be a lot of fun.’ So he’s come on, which has been amazing. Kelsey is my niece, who came here and interned with us over the summer while we were shooting the film. And Laken is my little boy, who you actually get to see in the film. It’s becoming a family affair in every way. (laughs) I keep giving him the C-stand to carry. At some point he’s going to be able to lug that thing like crazy.

MM: Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope is your next project, right?
MS: Yeah, we’re in the process of editing it right now. I just watched a cut today. I love Comic-Con, I love what that place stands for and the energy and the passion that people have going there. What I’m trying to do is do justice to that with this movie. I love that it’s this place where people from all walks of life—parents and kids, plumbers and politicians—can all come and lay down any degree of pretense and just be fans. We followed artists, collectors, a costume designer, people who have been selling comic books for 30 years, everybody who’s coming in with their own hopes and ideas of what Comic-Con will mean for them. It’s pretty inspiring. I think Comic-Con is a magical place, and there is a level of dream fulfillment that can happen there.

MM: It’s being executive produced by Stan Lee and Joss Whedon. Is that like having sponsors on board?
MS: It is like having the greatest sponsors. It is like having the most empathic sponsors you could ever ask for. Also there’s Thomas Tull, who brought us The Dark Knight, Where the Wild Things Are, Inception and Sucker Punch. Thomas is a super fanboy; this is his world, this is what he loves. To have him come on as an executive producer, along with Harry Knowles [of Ain’t It Cool News], who as a fan-critic changed the way people write about movies and helped make Comic-Con what it is today, is exciting.

MM: Your production company is called Warrior Poets. What’s behind the name?
MS: Well, it came from the idea of warriors throughout history as people who would lay down their creative weapons to fight for what they believed in. I like to think that’s what we are. We’re people who want to fight for the things we believe in and have a really creative voice while doing it.

MM: It seems you’re willing to rally that force for others, too. You’ve got a half-dozen credits as a director, but three times as many as a producer.
MS: The one thing I really love about being part of this whole doc universe is that it’s friendly, it’s supportive and you’re not going to find people backstabbing one another to get films made. I think it’s because everyone in this world is struggling, and even when it’s great, you still have to go out and work hard to raise the money, go out and work hard to pitch. I’ve been really fortunate that it’s gotten a little easier over the last few years, so I feel like I owe it to people in whom I believe, or who have ideas that I like, to try to do everything I can to help them get their movies made.
There are people with stories that I believe should be told, and if I can help them get their stories out there and into the public dialogue, into theaters, or on television or DVD, then I have to. MM

Sony Pictures Classics will release POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold ( in theaters on April 22, 2011.