The Massie Twins recently had the opportunity to sit down with director Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me” fame to discuss his newest project “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” in theaters April 22nd, 2011. The documentary humorously examines the world of branding, advertising, and product placement in the movies, while being entirely funded by branding, advertising, and product placement.
The Massie Twins: How’s Arizona treating you?
Morgan Spurlock: This is the best time to be in Arizona. Some guy at the screening the other night said that seven months out of the year it is perfect here. The other five is like living in hell. (laughs)
MT: We noticed that this interview is taking place in a Hyatt Hotel.
MS: It’s the greatest hotel you’ll ever experience!
MT: We’re guessing this ties into the Hyatt sponsorship from the movie. So why do we not have POMs in our hands?
MS: We have POM right here! Would you like one?
MT: Absolutely! Did you fly here via JetBlue?
MS: Actually, due to timing, I couldn’t take a JetBlue flight. So I flew a flight that wasn’t the greatest – nothing compared to JetBlue.
MT: Where did the idea come from for this film?
MS: The idea came from conversations and things we saw in the media. It started with a conversation about the pervasiveness of advertising and marketing. It’s everywhere. That conversation started from this bar I went to where they had installed video monitors in front of the urinals. There wasn’t just pictures of advertisements, now they’re showing you commercials. This was supposed to be “me time” here in the bathroom.
I also saw an episode of Heroes. The first season was great, but the second season collapsed, largely because of product placements in the show. There was an episode where the cheerleader Hayden Panettiere was given a car by her dad, and she pulls out the keys, the camera cuts to the front of the car where a Nissan logo goes through the frame and it rack focuses back to her face where she says, “Oh my god! The Nissan Rogue! I can’t believe you’re giving me the Nissan Rogue!” And she hugs him. I was so dumbfounded that there was a commercial that just happened right in the middle of the show. The next day I was talking to my producing partner who was just as distraught over that episode, and I said we should make a movie about advertising, and actually have brands pay for it.
MT: How did you come up with the figure of one million dollars for “Brand X” and did you have a backup in case no one wanted to spend that much?
MS: Someone else asked me, “what was Plan B?” and I said there is no Plan B. There’s only Plan A and stick to it! People say, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and I say, “no, put all your eggs in one basket and just watch that basket!” That’s what this film was. We didn’t put any calculation into the one million dollar figure. We said it should be a million dollars because it sounds like a big, real number. After the film premiered at Sundance, Lynda Resnick didn’t come, but all her people did, and so I called her the week after and said that everyone wanted to see her and that she was the person they wanted to meet. “Where’s the POM queen?” She said, “Oh Morgan, we’re all very happy over here. But don’t you wish you had ESP? If you had ESP, you’d have known how well the movie was going to do and you’d have asked us for more money.”
MT: How does the budget of this film compare to your previous films?
MS: “Super Size Me” I had to pay for out of my own pocket. To get us into Sundance it cost me $65,000. But no one got paid to make that film. If we had to pay to produce that film, it would have cost around $800,000. “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden,” where we had to travel to 15 countries around the world, cost three million dollars. This one was right in the middle. The commercials were paid for with a separate amount of money that they put in, so the full on budget was about $1.8 million. All raised and paid for by brands.
MT: If the movie grosses X millions of dollars, how much does POM Wonderful get? What’s their cut?
MS: Nothing. Brands get zero. None of the sponsors get a dime from the movie. And all of them wanted something. First they pushed for ownership of a piece of the movie. And we said, “absolutely not.” Then they said they should be able to recoup their investment. And I said, “It’s not an investment in a movie. You’re looking at it the wrong way. It’s an investment in your brand, with advertising. You’re paying to market and advertise.” And they all agreed.
MT: What was the ratio for acceptances and denials with brand funding?
MS: Well, first off we called every advertising agency in the book – NY, LA, San Francisco, Colorado, Chicago… and only one would help us. Nobody wanted anything to do with this movie. So then we call every product placement company that exists in the United States and none of them would help us. Only two of them were even willing to go on camera for an interview. So we had to take our destiny into our own hands and start calling people. Cold calling brands. Over the course of the movie, we called over 600 companies, of which 15 said yes at Sundance. Since Sundance we signed on 7 more, so the ratio ends up being about 2.5%.
MT: Did any of them say, “Oh we know who Morgan Spurlock is!”
MS: …and “click.” (hanging up the phone sound) (laughs)
MS: No, that got us in the door. It would get us a call back most of the time. But it was also a detriment. They saw what we did to other companies and they didn’t trust us. They didn’t know how it would turn out. And we always wanted to have creative control. We wanted to dictate the final cut and direction of the story. They wanted to control their own placement in the film, and we said, “we’ll talk about it, but no you don’t get final approval.” It is what it is.
MT: In the film, you show many of the companies demanding final cut of the film in their enormous contracts.
MS: We never agreed to that. They wanted it, but we didn’t agree to it. All the contracts came in and they’d be like 50 pages long. Then we started negotiating and we’d get it down to like 25 pages of what they expected and what we expected. From the time the first contract would show up to the time it was done was anywhere between 3-4 months. It was a long negotiation process.
MT: How did you get some of the companies to allow you to film the meetings?
MS: We just showed up with cameras. And they said, “Oh, you’re filming this?” And we said, “Yeah, we’re making a movie. This is what happens.” There were a few times when people said we couldn’t bring a camera, so we decided to stop telling them in advance. Just show up with a camera.
MT: In the POM Wonderful interview, did you have any idea how it was going to go? Did you know you’d win them over?
MS: I knew they were interested in being the beverage. Ultimately, when you start making a movie, POM isn’t the first company you’re going to call. We put together a list of the “greatest beverages.” Who are you going to call first? Coke. Coke said no, so we called Pepsi. Pepsi said no. RC Cola said no. RC Cola is “so” busy they can’t do this movie. (laughs). We’re on beverage #30 or so, by the time we got to POM.
MT: How deep in the list were you to get to Mini Cooper?
MS: Deep. (laughs). Very deep. Mini Cooper is owned by BMW, which we called first. They were in the Smart Car range, where things are a bit skewed. But again, we called Ford, Chevy, Honda, Toyota, GM. We called all the major manufacturers. Mini Cooper was on the fence, as was JetBlue, until I got my brand personality done, went back and said now that I’m “mindful playful” there’s an alignment there and they’d love to talk to me again.
MT: How did it work with Mini Cooper? Did you get to keep the cars?
MS: We got seven cars, one for each day of the week. And they took six of them back. They gave us the one that’s all covered in the logos, which we got to keep. There was no money involved, just the use of the cars. And that one is the promotional car, which is driving around New York City right now.
MT: How about the Merrell’s shoes?
MS: I’ve got a whole closet full of them!
MT: Why don’t we get Merrell’s?
MS: I know! Hit up the publicist.
MT: Did you have any scenes that were so outrageously mocking products that you had to tone it down or edit it out?
MS: No. We really wanted to walk the line where it could possibly be disparagement, but it wasn’t. Or where it could be problematic, but it wasn’t. There were some great scenes that didn’t make sense so we cut them out and they’ll be on the DVD. We had a lot of great extra stuff – the Blu-ray will be spectacular!
MT: Will your next film be funded by any of these companies again?
MS: (laughs) No, I’ve already started working on my next film, which will be about San Diego Comic-Con.
MT: Cool! We go to that every year!
MS: Yeah, we shot it last year and I think we actually have a picture of you guys. We’re also doing a book about Comic-Con as well as the film, and I think there’s a picture of you guys asking questions to Olivia Wilde, and she talks about you at her panel. She said, “there’s these twins who came and asked questions and they’d literally finish each others’ sentences!” So you guys are in the book. We’re making a consumer version and then a collector’s version. I know you’re in the consumer version, which hits newsstands the month before this year’s Comic-Con. The collector’s version has another 50 pages with great pictures and stuff. I think you’re in both of them.
MT: Well, you’re making us feel like celebrities!