By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 15, 2011 at 7:48AM
There's no question that Morgan Spurlock's The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a high-concept brand-friendly crowd-pleaser. But the brand that comes out ahead on this breezily entertaining doc is Spurlock himself. At 40, he's that magic combo of canny producer-writer, visual director, and eager-to-please, comedic performer who somehow remains likably authentic and serious about engaging and educating his audience. This is hard to do! "If you make someone laugh, you make someone listen," he says.
See the film's trailer and my video interview with Spurlock below, in which he insists that he shot the TV commercial turned down by charismatic Pom Queen Lynda Resnick--which promises that Pom increases male potency-- and will put it onto the DVD.
In other words, while Spurlock comes across as a light-hearted everyman in his cable series 30 Days and films from docbuster Super Size Me (worldwide gross $30 million; Spurlock hasn't been to a MacDonald's since March 2, 2003) to b.o. dud Where in the World is Obama Bin Laden? ( $385,000 stateside), he's sweating under the hood to make his latest shiny vehicle run smooth and fast. Spurlock self-financed the $65,000 movie that got into Sundance by hiring his crew on deferments. He estimates that the full-freight version would have cost about $700,000. The movie sold to Sony had 22 promo partners on board (repping $1.5 million, if he meets benchmarks on box office and media impressions) and will be released stateside on April 22 by Sony Pictures Classics.
During an in-depth Ashland Film Festival career interview by Oregonian critic Shawn Levy (below), Spurlock said, "It's incredible how hard it is to get people to say 'yes' to projects, really difficult, especially now." Docs are doing investigative journalism today, he says. "There's nothing on network TV, which have crushed margins and fleeing advertisers. HBO has the freedom of a cable network with no advertising base--it's a subscription base with $300 million a month in gross profits. Through that success they can take chances and not be risk averse."
The concept behind The Greatest Movie Ever Sold--which technically has Pom Wonderful Presents at the front of it--was to film the process of raising sponsors and product tie-ins to finance the movie. While 600 of the brands Spurlock approached turned him down, he landed a step deal with Pom--100% pomegranate juice--that could be as valuable as $1 million, nabbed five Mini Coopers, a role as pitchman for JetBlue Airways, stayed at Hyatt hotels, pumped gas at Sheetz, wore Merrell walking shoes and Carrera sunglasses, ate pizza at Amy’s Kitchen, consumed Thayer's Natural Remedies, and used Ban® Deodorant. While Spurlock confronts the issue of selling out in the movie--which presented a Rubik's Cube puzzle of how to integrate all the brands into a compelling narrative--his deals all demanded that he control the final content.
One fascinating aspect of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is that its promo partners are helping to sell the movie. Will this heightened awareness result in bigger ticket sales? In a reversal, Spurlock has bought naming rights to the town of Altoona, Pennsylvania:
ALTOONA, PENNSYLVANIA SELLS TOWN NAMING RIGHTS TO FILMMAKER MORGAN SPURLOCK: City To Be Re-Named: POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Pennsylvania
ALTOONA, PA, April 14, 2011- Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock and his production company Warrior Poets have finalized a deal to purchase the naming rights for the city of Altoona, Pennsylvania, it was announced today. The city's new name, POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, will be effective on April 27, 2011 for 60 days and will be commemorated during a proclamation ceremony to be held at City Hall (130112th Street) at 1PM that afternoon. The ceremony will be followed by a special screening of Spurlock’s new “doc-buster” film “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” at the Jaffa Shrine on Broad Avenue in the city formerly known as Altoona.
After an exhaustive search, the city of Altoona was selected by Spurlock because it is “a shining example of struggling cities all across America.” The money received by the city for the naming rights will be designated to the City of Altoona Police Department.
Spurlock's new film "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is a boundary-pushing exploration of the worlds of product placement, marketing and advertising. The film was fully financed by sponsorship deals documented and arranged by Spurlock throughout the course of the shoot. The film, distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, opens in limited release on April 22, 2011 and will expand across the country in the following weeks.
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the shifting tide of business in America than by purchasing the naming rights to Altoona. For the next 60 days, POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Pennsylvania will be the most clever example of how an American city is marketing itself today,” Spurlock said.
“Altoona has a rich history and a great story to tell. Morgan is giving us a platform to show the world the hidden treasure found in the Altoona community,” says Altoona Mayor Bill Schirf. “Clearly, the people of Altoona have a sense of humor…and an asking price.”
Spurlock is in post-production on his next feature film, Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope, a documentary about the burgeoning San Diego convention, which is executive produced by Stan Lee and filmmaker Joss Whedon with producers Thomas Tull and Jeremy Chilnick. Spurlock shot a segment for the film adaptation of bestseller Freakonomics, which was released last fall. And Spurlock the writer was nominated for a primetime Emmy and a Writers Guild Award for contributing to The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D! On Ice!.
Morgan Spurlock Part One:
Shawn Levy interviews Morgan Spurlock at Ashland Independent Film Festival Part One: