Does anyone drink POM Wonderful? Who actually consumes that stuff? Besides the snoods who shop at the high-market grocery stores, it seems impossible to meet someone that genuinely enjoys POM Wonderful… except for Morgan Spurlock who, of course, just loves POM Wonderful. Whether or not he actually likes them for their product is neither here nor there, but he should love them for financing a huge chunk of his latest film, POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Spurlock’s doc is a comedic exploration into the shady and vicious advertising world. Spurlock has become known for his signature humor, and Greatest Movie Ever Sold fits the filmmaker’s bill that we all know. But if you had told Morgan Spurlock 20 years ago he’d be in the documentary business that may have not appealed to him. Surprisingly, Spurlock originally aspired to make horror films, and he names Clive Barker and the head explosion scene from Scanners as early inspirations. In some ways Spurlock did wind up making horror films, but instead of monsters and gore he’s focusing on the far more subtle horrors inherent in modern society.
Here’s what director Morgan Spurlock, a film school reject himself that got turned down five times from USC, had to say about how he defines selling out as a director, commercialism, and that delicious pomegranate juice:
To start off, how sick of drinking POM are you?
Not at all. It’s the greatest antioxidant you’ll ever drink! I drink it everyday. It’s great!
So when you went to film school, did you always dream that one day POM would present one of your films?
[Laughs] Yeah, POM didn’t even exist then. When I was in film school, I was just dreaming of anyone helping me make a movie.
Did they ever talk about the idea of sponsorship and product placement in films?
No, none of this even existed then. There was product placement, but it was on such a different level back when I was in film school, which was around 1991. This thing has become infinitely more ramped in the last seven to ten years.
This a question the film poses, but what do you consider to be a sellout director?
What do I consider to be a sellout director? I think, for us, if I was to let a brand come in and have full creative control of the movie, I think that’d be a sellout move.
Which almost happened with the film. The contract scene introduces that conflict, but was there a big battle there?
When we first got the contract they were sending these 50 page contracts with all of their demands and everything they wanted. Everything was pushed back with, “No, you cant have that. No, you cant have that. This isn’t going to happen.” Ultimately, you settle on the few things they’re requesting, like interview locations and the placements in the film. Ultimately, we retained the final creative cut of the film.
Was there a reason you didn’t want to show that push and pull in the film?
Each contract took, like, four months to go through. The average time for each contract was between three to four months. You see the meetings we’re in about what the brands want and expect, and I thought that was enough. You see some of the things that they say with contract requirements, like me having to do an interview at a JetBlue terminal. To go through the whole process of the contracts would be like beating a dead horse.
How detailed were their contracts and requests?
They were ridiculously detailed, even down to the number of seconds they expected something to be on the screen and the number of times they expected something to appear. Some of them were ridiculously, ridiculously broken down. Like, the contract for Movietickets.com requested an exact number of screen time. Over the course of the film, the Movie Tickets logo and the time that they’re onscreen is, ultimately, about 37 seconds. It’s all a logo here or a piece there, instead of a full 37 second Movie Tickets commercial.
There’s a line in the film that applies to the sellout director bit, “Don’t sellout, sell up.” What does that mean?
The original concept was that you’re getting people to sell up into the idea of helping to promote the film. Like, you’re becoming a part of helping the promotional campaign. They’re selling up into this idea. I love what that guy said, “As long as I do better than [the brands] do, then I’m not selling out, I’m buying in.” I think the film buys into the idea of how Hollywood movies are made. You’re buying into the idea of having the brands come in to support it, to get the message out, to get the t-shirts, to get the promotional cups behind the counter, and to get the toys and the happy meals. To make this big movie, you have to buy into that idea.
On your past films, did you ever think about commercial appeal?
Ultimately, I think it comes down to: What do I have to do to be entertaining? I think the key to that is making something humorous. You have a much better chance of attracting an audience with something humorous, unless you’re making a giant action movie. You have a much better chance if you’re making something to be fun or funny. I believe if you can make someone laugh, you can make someone listen. In terms of commercial appeal, I’d rather be laughing and learning rather than just being yelled at for two hours with, “This is wrong! It’s terrible! If you do this the world is going to fall apart!” When I start hearing that, I shut down. I stop listening.
Do you think you vilify marketers in the film? Or do you think, at the end of the day, they’re just doing their job?
I think that the film does a great job at showing the dark side of marketing and advertising. I think the fact that advertising is making its way across the country in school districts is an unbelievable thing. Simply because school districts were losing money, they let advertisers come in to make up that gap, and that gap is so small. It’s an incredible dark side that no one wants to talk about. The fact that not one advertising agency out of all the ones we called would help with the film. No product placement company would help, either. Only two people in the product placement industry would go on camera to do an interview.
I think that speaks of all humans about not wanting to pull the curtain back. I think the film does a great job at getting you in rooms, showing you conversations, and letting you see how much impact brands, corporations, money and power have over the creative process.
Did you get to meet more than two people who work in product placement?
We met a bunch, but a lot them just wouldn’t go on camera. We’d go in meetings and they’d say we couldn’t shoot or that they didn’t want to help out. They were scared to death it was going to ruin the cash cow that they have been riding for however long. People were frightened.
Did any of them come off as people just trying to do a job?
I think advertising is a potentially creepy business, yeah. I think some of them come off creepy. I mean, creepy people are everywhere, but their whole job is to get someone to buy more of “X”, and I think that’s a hard sale.
Was premiering the film at Sundance a way to be even more meta? Obviously, that’s a place full of artists, but also a lot of advertisements.
Sundance is a great example. One question the film asks is, “Do we have to live in a world where everything is brought to you by some sponsor?” I mean, here’s this great festival that’s now brought to you by 30 sponsors. Is that a bad thing? That place literally changed my life. You go to FedEx field, the Staples center, and all these stadiums that are sponsored, but none of that is passed down to me as a fan. It doesn’t make the tickets any cheaper. It doesn’t make it easier for me to go to a game. Sure, it’s got a nice stadium, but I can’t take friends of mine to a game. It’s incredibly expensive. Where do you draw the line? When is enough enough? Is there no line?
Right now in New York City they’re talking about selling the naming rights of parks and playgrounds, and is that the world we’re going to live in? Is it that world the woman in the movie described as, “Am I going to have to take my little girl down to the Pepsi playground? Is she going to grow up and go to Red Bull High?”
I know I gotta wrap up, so my final question: Is there possibly anything about the film you haven’t been asked about yet?
I’ll tell you what, I was asked the best question the other day. As I was going through that psychotherapy scene, I talked about how I like weird things, so someone asked me, “What weird things do you like?” That’s a great question [Laughs]. I told him how I love horror movies. The whole reason I got into making movies was because I loved horror movies. I wanted to be like Rick Baker or Tom Savini and do makeup effects. The scene where Michael Ironside made that guy’s head explode in Scanners made me want to make movies. To this day, I love a good horror movie. God willing, I’ll one day actually get to make one. That’d be the greatest thing ever.
You kind of already make horror movies.
[Laughs] Much more reality based horror, yeah.
POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold is now in theaters.