‘Docbuster’ an advertising dream: Ian Soutar talks pomegranate juice and product placement with documentary-maker Morgan Spurlock and reviews the latest films...

Morgan Spurlock' Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Morgan Spurlock' Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

This is a bonus from calling his latest film, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which will be the opening night film at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest next month.

It is a characteristically funny exposure of the world of product placement, marketing and advertising through making a film entirely financed by precisely those means.

Among various brands who backed the film, POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice pledged $1m to the film which earned them “above the title” billing.

Spurlock’s cheerful acceptance of crates of freebies points up the director’s ambivalent attitude to the commercialism of movie-making which he is exposing.

“It’s how things have to be,” he says. “I’m a realist. If I am going to make a movie that takes place in a contemporary time there are going to be people driving Mustangs, wearing Nike sneakers and Levi jeans. How irrational it would be to deny their presence. It doesn’t mean the guy in the Mustang drives up and says what a great car it is. There is a much more subtle way of dealing with all these things.”

And that, he says, is transparency. “The idea was to do the same type of advertising, giveaways and cross-promotion for a documentary that big summer blockbusters do, to create a ‘docbuster,’ and to try to retain total creative control along the away.”

As seen with his previous documentary hit, Super-Size Me, Spurlock’s humour and irreverent style is to the fore in unmasking the marketing process as the camera follows him behind closed doors into pitch meetings and marketing presentations.

The majority of his original list of 600 potential products showed him the door but he ended up with 15 main backers who chipped in $1m up front to make the film in exchange for promising to show himself drinking POM juice, wearing Merrell shoes, staying only in Hyatt hotels and flying with JetBlue, and so on.

Were the companies aware they were being sent up? “I think it makes them look savvy for taking the chance to be part of the film,” he says. “It makes them look smart and ahead of the curve and in on the joke,” suggests Spurlock. “Will they benefit from that? It remains to be seen.”

The director mentions that during the time they were filming Pom were sued by the Federal Trade Commission for making false health claims. The film-makers found themselves in something of a dilemma but it turned out to be a complicated issue unrelated to the point of their movie. “We decided if we put all that in the film it would be confusing and it was better to knock it out but talk about it afterwards.”

So who has he upset most, the advertising or the movie business? “The film so far has done well doing a bit of both,” he laughs. “The reaction has been fantastic both critically and with audiences. It’s expanding out to cinemas in the US and will be released in the UK in August and September.”

Before then he returns to Sheffield Doc/Fest where he previously showed Super-Size Me. In addition to the opening night European premiere on June 8, the American will give a masterclass offering an in-depth discussion of his work.

Spurlock is currently in post-production on his next feature film, Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope, a documentary about the iconic San Diego convention, a very different kind of film. “I’m not in one frame of the movie,” he says. “It’s a real labour of love.”

Meanwhile he must continue talking about The Greatest Movie Ever Sold “I tell people if you really want to make a movie you need to like it because you will be married to it for years. You need to love what you are talking about. It’s like having a child.”

lFor the first time Sheffield Doc/Fest will be holding an outdoor screenings event, taking place on Devonshire Green on the afternoon and evening of Saturday, June 11.

It will open with a screening of Werner Herzog’s 2007 exploration of the Antarctic, Encounters at the End of the World, and then legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles will be in Sheffield to introduce his cult film, Grey Gardens, at 3pm. A short film collection will be shown from 5pm, and the event will end with the latest release from Werner Herzog, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, starting at 7pm.

Hussain Currimbhoy, Sheffield Doc/Fest film programmer, says: “For Doc/Fest’s first summer outdoor screenings we put on some classics of documentary that everyone will enjoy. The environment in Sheffield’s city centre is always alive and buzzing. What better way to get into that than with some great classic docs!”