The documentary filmmaker predicts that some brands will begin to question the need for agencies
Six years after Morgan Spurlock entertained and educational educated Sundance audiences with "Super Size Me," the filmmaker returns to the festival with "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," a thought-provoking documentary that examines the prevalence of product placement in entertainment.
Spurlock sat down with TheWrap at the Bing Bar on Main St. to discuss the reception of the film and its acquisition by Sony Pictures Classics, which will release "The Greatest Movie" in April.
How did the sponsors react after seeing the film? Were any of them upset? Were you asked to cut anything?
No. Surprisingly enough, they were amazing. 11 of them were at the premiere. Mini Cooper wasn't, but everybody else was, and they loved it. They were all really excited and they loved how they came off.
There were some tense moments in the film, like when Ban [deodorant] couldn't describe their brand, or when the "Made In China" bit with Merrell [shoes] comes onscreen. But at the same time, I said to all of these brands at the beginning that we're going to be very transparent. What happens, happens. What we see, we see. The conversations we have in terms of how we integrate products into the movie, the stuff we talk about — we want this to feel really natural and organic. We want the audience to see that, and they were all on board. The fact that they were, post-screening, still incredibly excited [says a lot].
After the screening, they started talking about how they could do more promotion for the movie. Based on the positive response of the audience, I think what the brands saw was that this was an incredible opportunity for them to be in on the joke. What it really does for these brands is it makes them look really smart.
The thing that I found most fascinating was the neuromarketing stuff.
Yes, it was very interesting. Do you feel like that's the future of marketing, and if so, does that worry you?
You have to think that if you can get to the point where you know that a mass of people, if you do X, Y and Z in a trailer, will want to go see that movie, or in a commercial, will make them want to go buy that thing or make them crave it in some way … it's a crazy thing to think about. It's a pretty insane, "Brave New World"-ish, futuristic way to look [at things]. I'm basically going to be able to know what you want. It's like pre-cog advertising.
What do you think will be the next evolution in product placement? Where is it going?
I think the evolution is going to be a de-evolution. I think what will happen is, you'll see things get flipped back to almost how it was in the glory days, the early days of radio and TV. I think you're going to see brands who are going to be giving money to artists and creative people, saying 'I love what you do. Here's money. Go do what you do and just let us be associated with it.'
I think you'll still have 'hold on a second, let me get out my AT&T Blackberry.' I think stuff like that will still happen, but I think it's going to start to diminish because I think that the brands that empower artists and empower creative people are going to be the ones that really look great.
In the film, you bring up "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" as an example of product placement in movies. Having done "Super Size Me," do you think we're going to eventually see a McDonald's movie where Ronald McDonald and Grimace and the others go on a big screen adventure?
Well, did you ever see "Mac and Me?" Years ago, there was this film paid for by McDonald's, about an alien that loved to eat there. It was one of the worst things you'll ever see.
Again, what these companies need to do is they need to let the creative people be creative. The thing that's interesting to me is, it also makes you wonder … as you see artists like OK Go who make all these amazing music videos that are brought to you by brands — you saw the stuff that we created in this film just by working with those companies — I think there will be some companies that question the need for agencies.
Going down the road, when you start to understand what your brand personality is, as they say in the movie … once you understand what your brand identity is and what you want to do to market that, couldn't we go right to artists without having an agency do that?
With product placement so prevalent in our society, do you feel like the audience is ever going to revolt, or have we just been conditioned to accept it?
Oh, we've been completely conditioned. I think it's just there. I think it's one of those things where people don't realize how they're being marketed to, and I think that this film will completely change the way people see film and TV.
Sony Pictures Classics strikes me as the perfect distributor for this film, so how and when did they get involved?
They're great. We showed it to big Sony first in Los Angeles, about 4-6 weeks ago, before we were even done with the movie. At that time, we'd only made about an hour of the film. The last 25-30 minutes were cut from Thanksgiving to right before we came here.
Yeah, there was one thing I saw that seemed really recent.
Especially the wild-post scene, where you see the "Last Supper" painting. That painting was finished at the beginning of December, and we wild-posted that stuff in January. The Jimmy Kimmel thing we shot right before he went on hiatus before Christmas, which he's holding until April.
Ah, okay, because I was wondering about that!
He's holding that. What you saw is going to air the week the movie comes out. So we showed it to them [SPC] and they just loved it from the beginning. It was great. The fact that a studio wanted to play ball and be on board is very, very cool.
Do you feel like this is maybe the most meta movie ever made? A film about the making of a film, which itself is about how films get made?
Yeah, exactly. There's a lot of layers to this movie.