Morgan Spurlock discusses Pom Wonderful presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
George: What do you mean "into the patient"?
Jerry: Into the patient, literally!
George: Into the hole?
Jerry: Yes, the hole!
George: Didn't they notice it?
George: How could they not notice it?!?
Jerry: Because it's a little mint. It's a Junior Mint.
George: What did they do?
Jerry: They sealed him up with the mint inside.
George: They left the Junior Mint in him?
George: I guess it can't hurt him... People eat pounds of those things.
Jerry: They eat them, they don't put them next to vital organs in their abdominal cavity!
What Seinfeld fan doesn't love this "Mulva" episode, but I have always wondered, did Junior Mints like the Seinfeld writers using their product in this way? or did they actually pay the TV show/network to have their product featured so memorably? This we may never know, but if you're interested in the inner workings of brand integration in entertainment, than you've gotta see Pom Wonderful presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Writer/Director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) has delivered a witty, insightful, pioneering and entertaining documentary which delves into the prevalent and ubiquitous world of product placement, cross promotion, media impressions and asks the question, is there truth in advertising?
His idea for the film actually came from an episode of the show Heroes, in which Hayden Panettiere's character receives a Nissan Rogue SUV for her birthday - the keys, the car, the name is displayed as if it were up for bid on The Price is Right. The displacement of being force fed a commercial in the middle of a favorite show, gave Spurlock one of those light bulb moments. And so, technically the Nissan Rogue can take credit for The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, even though it's not one of the 22 sponsors of the film.
Now, if I say Nissan Rogue a few more times and link to the product, can I have one?
What I like most about this documentary is Spurlock himself. One scene in the film has him going through a rigorous Q & A session with a brand specialist to come up with his own brand in order to sell himself to the brands he wants to sell the movie to. (make sense?) Anyway, what they come up with is that Spurlock's own brand is Mindful and Playful, and this is a very good assessment. He does care about this subject matter, it's affect on society, the right and wrong of it, the question of selling out or buying in? But he's able to explore the matter with great humor. And not acerbic, sarcastic humor, rather with mirth and cleverness, he's able to brings a sense of fun to the topic. And he's an excellent pitch man, he approaches each brand meeting as if he's been working on Madison Ave for years; while remaining open enough to let the film take him on a journey, and still maintain a firm hold on the reins.
And those reins include keeping creative control away from the brands and corporations. None of the sponsors got final approval of the movie, of course they did try, can't blame a company for trying, but Spurlock and his team pushed back and won. To the brands credit, they all became a real partner in the film by allowing the doc to show the inner workings of how these deals are made, including dollars and cents.
Although Pom Wonderful (pomegranate juice) gets top billing as the film's million dollar sponsor, the shampoo Mane 'n Tail got the best deal. They have a policy of not paying for product placement and did not pay to be in the film. Yet, they allowed Spurlock to have some fun with their product and the results are hilarious, giving Mane 'n Tail really excellent exposure in a "mindful/playful" manner.
PFS was invited to a round table interview with Morgan Spurlock at, where else? The Hyatt at the Bellevue. And I love it when they send me, as blog contributor extraordinaire, to cover these interviews
Below are excerpts from our discussion:
Q: There's a lot of great pitches and funny bits in the film, was there anything you pitched to a brand that they adamantly refused, that didn't get into the movie?
A: We shot 375 hours of footage, so we have a lot of great stuff to put on the DVD, but most of the pitches got into the film. Except we did pitched Hyatt a musical number with big dance sequences through the hotel; but soon realized we couldn't pull this off for $100,000 and had to kill it.
Q: You were really comfortable doing the pitch segments, do you have a background in marketing?
A: For three years I was the face of Sony electronics for their promotional tours. I was on the road with them when they launched Sony Audio Sound, Sony Playstation, Sony computers, every year they had a new product coming out. I did tradeshows, college shows, sporting events. Because Sony was sponsoring sporting events like the Bud Light Pro-Beach Volleyball and the X-Games, I started announcing the games and doing on camera stuff for ESPN and Fox Sports, I announced beach volleyball at the Olympics in '96, the Goodwill Games in '98.
A cont: Sony said they wanted to make a video about the tour and I said I went to film school, so I could do that, then the projects just kept getting larger and larger. I went back to NY in '98 and started my production company, which was basically a web based production company. The idea was to capitalize on what was happening with the internet, to create programs online and springboard them off to sell to film and television. So we sold the show I Bet You Will to MTV, which was the first show ever to go from web to TV. Then when that show got canceled, we had about 50 grand left and took that money to make Super Size Me.
Q: What was the asking price to get Altoona PA to agree to rename their town?
A: $25,000, so on April 27th we will have a ceremony in Altoona where I will present the Mayor with a check and he will change the town's name for the next 60 days to Pom Wonderful presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Q: Did any brands come back to you later and want to be apart of the movie?
A: Old Navy originally said no. Their CMO, Amy Curtis McEntire was at Sundance, well she had been the CMO of Hyatt, she got Hyatt on board, left Hyatt and went to Old Navy. At Sundance she got some of the suits to see the film and then they said, "we want in". So we replaced Google Chrome, who were stalling, with Old Navy.
Q: Were their any directors who criticized you and gave you grief about doing this film?
A: No. There were directors I wanted to talk to like Michael Bay (Transformers) and Jon Faveau (Iron Man), who I couldn't get because of schedules and timing. I really wanted to talk to an A-list actor, someone who in the middle of a scene has had to hold that beverage, and do something so completely blatantly obvious. But we couldn't get anyone to talk to us or even to comment on it, which is kinda mind blowing.
Q: Isn't there a place for co-promotion and product placement in some big budget movies?
A: Well, yeah, that's the whole Peter Berg (director) conversation, he's now doing a movie called Battleship, the board game being turned into a 200 million dollar space/war movie. So this is a 200 million dollar gamble the studio is making; they want to make movies, but they don't give a f*&# about art, they want money coming back. The marketing budget for a movie of this size is at least 75 million, but they will do everything they can do to create a marketing campaign around it that they don't have to pay for to lessen that burden. Mainly, McDonald's Happy Meals, this is the feather in your cap of co-promotion. 1 in 6 meals sold at McDonald's is a Happy Meal, and McDonald's already knows what the Happy Meals co-promotion will be two years in advance.
Q: Wouldn't if have been ironic if you used McDonald's in this film?
A: We went to McDonald's, they didn't call us back. Well if you're going to make a "DocBuster" you have to have a fast food partner, so we called all the fast food chains and none of them wanted anything to do with it, so then we said, well, we need a Slurpee, a collector's cup, so we called Wawa, 7-Eleven, Circle K, none of them wanted in, so somebody said, "what about Sheetz"? Sure enough Sheetz said yes!
A cont: But one of the things that I really wanted to have happen in this film was to have companies come in that people might have real ethical dilemmas about their inclusion. McDonald's would have been much more a dilemma for me than for you. But we called BP, said "Hey, you guys need some positive press", but they didn't want to do it. We called gun manufacturers. Hyatt's contract included a clause that said I couldn't have illegal firearms in the hotel, so I thought if we have a gun manufacturer, we could have me in my hotel room cleaning a legal firearm, but we couldn't get one. One of the things we tried to do was push our boundaries of what the contracts would say as close as we could. To walk that line of being on their side and being on our side and I think the film does a good job of that.
On a side note: It took 2 years off and on to complete the film, with the last 20-25 minutes being shot within weeks of opening at Sundance. 11 of the 22 brands saw the movie for the first time with the Sundance audience and the brands were given a standing ovation. There are 4 incarnations of Spurlock's promotional suit. And yes, each member of the press at the round table received a bottle of Pom Wonderful, I took two!