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Morgan Spurlock: ”I want to get rid of the suits”

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Since the beginning of 2004 Morgan Spurlock has pissed off a lot of big brands. Now he’s going after their money to make a movie – about them. After 650 cold calls 15 brands were willing to support him in making a documentary about product placement.

Skrivet av Berghs School of Communication
September 8, 2011

We meet with Morgan Spurlock to discuss his new movie The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, storyboards thrown out the window and the future of product placement.

How did you manage to plan and make a storyboard for a movie you couldn’t control or predict?

Well, we always start by making an outline of the movie, basically how it would be in a perfect world. We write down a perfect scenario about who we want to meet and how it should play out. Then we start shooting and we immediately have to throw the storyboard out the window.

In the beginning I actually wanted the movie to end with me having the perfect life, just like a commercial. I get in my car, the girls skipping ropes, the fountain in the front yard is springing. But as we made the movie we realised that it didn’t make any sense.

Since you didn’t know what the result of the movie would be, how did the sponsors react to the final cut? 

When the movie premiered at The Sundance Film Festival 11 out of 15 brands were there. After the movie I brought all those brands down in front of the audience and they got a standing ovation. I think it gave them more confidence and self assurance.

In the movie you’re very open about your goals (600 million media impressions, $10 million at box office), how is it proceeding?

We predicted $10 million at the box office world wide, but we’ll probably hit more like three or four millions. Since we got into Sundance Film Festival we reached the 600 million media impressions before the movie was even in the theatres. Just out of the festival we got 900 millions impressions since everybody wrote about it.

You’re saying the movie is 100% transparent but how transparent are you, yourself, in the movie?

All I can do is be myself and just be open and honest. Then you always end up cutting out some things to get the story together, but I don’t think anything is deceiving.

When I make a movie I try not to tell you what to think. I present the film and the idea so you can come out of the theatre with your own opinion. I want people to generate a discussion regarding the storyline of the movie.

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How has your perception of product placement changed during the making of the movie?

Both for me and anyone who sees this movie there is an awakening. It’ll change the way you watch movies and television, you’ll start to notice every product. How it’s placed, how it’s presented and you’ll ask yourself; did the brand pay for that?

What’s your opinion on unethical product placement, does it exist? 

I believe there are companies you shouldn’t accept money from. I called about 650 companies, and I actually tried to get money from gun manufacturers, cigarette- and oil companies just to get some real questionable sponsors so people would awake and start discussing this. 

In what direction do you think product placement will develop?

I think it’s going to get worse, that you’ll see more product placement in both television and movies. It’s going to get more personal and specific. Based on our habits companies will know how to target you; when, where and with which product. The real value will be the information about the consumers, not just making a commercial that get peoples attention.

For example, in the US they are already green screening products in tv-shows. They can place whatever phone, drink or brand the specific viewer is interested in, all based on our habits. I think this is gonna get really big in the future when tv and the internet convert into one pipe. 

I hope this movie will create a push back within the industry that reclaims some of the power to the creative people. Simply get the writers and directors more influence than the brands. I basically want to get rid of the suits.

Morgan Spurlock was interview by Björn Hermansson and Peter Orre, students of the diploma program Project & Account Management at Berghs

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold premieres in Swedish theatres on September 9th, 2011