Sundance: Morgan Spurlock Discusses The Advantages Of Selling Out
Greatest Movie shows how advertising works its way into our entertainment. Spurlock was able to get companies like Pom Wonderful juice, Ban deodorant and PA fast food gas station chain Sheetz to contribute to his budget. In return they get prominent display in the movie. The movie details the contracts, for example Pom doesn’t actually pay $1 million until the movie has already made $10 million. The selling continues as Spurlock’s tux is adorned with corporate logos, and everything is the greatest.
Q: How do you decide which interview gets to be the greatest?
MS: I think we’ll have to wait, or maybe this could be it. Maybe this could be the greatest interview.
Q: Okay, now for a serious question. Really, has there not been one greater movie ever sold? Not one?
MS: I thought this one was the greatest. There was a great story told, but this could be the greatest movie ever sold. Or at least to sponsors.
Q: You raised $1.5 million, wouldn’t a studio movie sell tens of millions in fast food alone?
MS: Oh, I can’t even imagine. Could you imagine how much they get? The thing is with the fast food tie-ins, I’d say some of them pay, I think a lot of them don’t. The movie companies know that it’s great cross-promotion. For the bigger movies, I think a lot of them pay real money.
Q: I’m a little confused, you don’t get the full million from Pom until you make $10 million at the box office? How does that work?
MS: No, we got a half a million up front. They gave us another $100,000 to make the commercial but the last $400[K] to get the rest of it, there’s all these benchmarks that we have to hit. What’s in the film is kind of the pinnacle of all those benchmarks. So if we get $10 million worldwide box office, 250 screens worldwide, 600 million media impressions then we will have hit the fill million.
Q: Which is not an unreasonable goal considering your track record.
MS: No, I mean I think they were very fair in what they were asking for.
Q: How is this even an effective strategy? I love Dr. Pepper. I’m never going to drink a Coke no matter how many times Will Smith holds it up in a movie.
MS: Mm hmm, yeah. I think a lot of it, for a lot of these brands, is just awareness and making sure that you always see them, that there is a ubiquity to their brand presence. Coca-Cola’s a great example. Budweiser is as well. Every sporting event and venue, you see Coke signs and Budweiser signs. There’s just an association that they want to have with certain events and things. Does it pay off for them? Does it make you want to get a Coke? Probably not, but it does make you completely see their name all the time so they’re associated with all of these things consistently. For a lot of those brands, that’s more important.
Q: But then why is it specifically important for a character on “Chuck” to say “Let me share this foot long chicken teriyaki sub with you.”
MS: For me, those are unbelievable things to have written into dialogue and stories which was one of the biggest reasons we decided to make this film was watching shows like that. We’ve gotten to this point where they’re writing literally a commercial into the show which for me literally shuts me down automatically.
Q: Where’s the line? As a writer, it’s in the details, so you wouldn’t want to have a character say “Let’s get a soda.” It’s more effective if they mention Dr. Pepper.
MS: Well, I think there’s ways to have it be a throwaway. You could throw away a line where it’s like, “I’m going to go get something to drink. Do you want a Coke or something?” Literally that’s a throwaway line. But it’s like “I’m going to get something to drink. Would you like a Coca-Cola or some other type of beverage?” Or just “Would you like a Coca-Cola” somebody just calls it out. I mean, there’s ways to put things in shows and in life, but I think in life people do drink Coke and people do wear Nikes. But I don’t go, “Hey, have you seen these Merrell’s lately.” Which happens more and more on those shows.
Q: Did you contact the writers of “90210” and “Chuck” to find out if it was just their idea?
MS: No, those were all pushed in by the networks. Those were all things that were paid for and put in by them and the writers were pushed into putting them on.
Q: That’s confirmed by?
MS: It was confirmed by somebody we spoke to. I can’t remember who it was now. The network says, “This is a sponsor. We have to talk about them in the show.” Same thing with “Chuck.” Subway’s in multiple “Chuck” episodes, which is crazy. We spoke to a couple people but I thought John Wells was a better kind of representative being this kind of godfather of dramatic television, just talk about the presence of product placement.
Q: I noticed a Park City poster in your office. Does that guarantee you a return to Sundance?
MS: Exactly, the placement, that I had Sundance product placement in my movie. Maybe, I’ve got to ask. I’ve got to make sure. Maybe that’s why they let me back in.
Q: Outside of Pennsylvania, will this help Sheetz?
MS: Well, that’s the thing. Sheetz has 400 stores now that aren’t just in Pennsylvania. Most of the stores are there but they also have stores in West Virginia, in my home state, in New Jersey, in Ohio, down into Kentucky, now into North Carolina and they’re continuing to expand.
Q: But not everywhere this movie will play.
MS: Absolutely not, but part of what I like is there’s this great regional presence. So what that also does is it opens up the ability for us, when the movie’s coming out, to find other regional partners that can also just co-promote the film regionally. So there could be some people that, while they may not be in the film, can become a regional promotional partner.
Q: How many copies of this sponsorship suits do you have?
MS: I’ve got three of these suits. Of which I only brought one to Sundance.
Q: In this weather, does it keep you warm?
MS: Oh, it’s good. I’ve got this fantastic Merrell coat also.
Q: Are those Merrell boots?
MS: These are. These are Merrell boots. These are super fantastic Sundance edition Merrell boots.
Q: Why did you or your wife decide that she would not be in this film?
MS: Well, because a couple years ago she said, “That’s it. I’m done.” And that’s kind of been it, but the little man was in it. It was great.