Morgan Spurlock, on Becoming a “Con” Man (Plus: Win Passes to His L.A. Premiere!)
by Luke Y. Thompson on March 29, 2012
After nearly killing himself by overloading on fast food and looking for Osama in the Middle East, mustachioed movie-maker Morgan Spurlock finally got to go someplace fun to make a documentary: the San Diego Comic-Con. With the help of folks like Stan Lee and Joss Whedon, his Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope tells the tales of several attendees for whom the con represents hopes and dreams, and the extent to which they leave fulfilled. In that spirit, we plan to also fulfill some dreams by giving away passes to the L.A. premiere on April 4th. Meanwhile, we’ll let Spurlock speak about the experience.
Nerdist: This new movie is going to surprise a lot of people who might expect, like in your other movies, that it’s going to be about you, the regular guy, going to Comic-Con and figuring out what it’s all about. Was there ever an intent to do it that way? At what point did you decide it was going to be a very different style?
Morgan Spurlock: From the very beginning, when we got the idea to make the film, I wanted the film to be about the fans. I wanted to follow fans in who were going there with real goals, to tell the story of what Comic-Con represented. When we started meeting with investors to fund the film, different financiers would come in and say, “Great! We’d love to make this film. We’ll finance it…but you gotta be in the movie.” And I was like, “Well then, we’ll find the movie somewhere else, because that’s not the movie I want to make.” It took us a while. We probably met with five or six investors, until finally we met with Thomas Tull, the CEO of Legendary Pictures. He said, “You know what? I love this. I’ll help you put together the financing.” So it was incredible; here was a guy who got it from day one. I said, “I’m not gonna be in the film!” He goes, “No, I get that. Done. I’m in. This is great.”
MS: Well, it was definitely a relief on a film like this, because there was so much going on. We had a crew of 150 people; at any given time we were shooting 25 different cameras all over the con, all over San Diego. It was a massive undertaking and it was good to just be able to manage as much of that as possible. If I had to have been on-camera, it would have been impossible.
N: At what stage of the pitch was the book a part of it – was that something you had in mind from the very beginning?
MS: No, the book came after we started putting the process together. I started talking to Thomas Tull and I met his wife, who’s an incredible photographer. We started saying, “What if we made a book?” If Taschen made a geekier book, what would it look like? So we said we should do that. So it just became an extension of the film, automatically.
N: At what point did Sideshow Collectibles become involved?
MS: Right as we were finishing the book, we spoke to Sideshow and asked what they thought about making a limited-edition version. We make 5,000 of them; I think we put in another 60 pages, an embossed cover, and Sideshow was like, “We love it.”
N: How long had you been coming to Comic-Con before you decided to do the movie?
MS: I’ve been to different cons, but I had never been to San Diego; like, the very first time I ever went to San Diego Comic-Con was the year before we filmed, in 2009, when I was making The Simpsons 20th anniversary special for Fox. So the minute Fox called and said they wanted me to do the special, I said, “We’re going to Comic-Con!” because every year up to then I had never been able to go. I had always been working on something, or had some other obligation. So now I had an excuse! I had a reason to go to Comic-Con, and it was going to be paid for by somebody else, which made it even better. So I jumped at the chance, and now I have gone every year since.
N: Was that when you decided you had to make a documentary?
MS: Yeah, when we were there in 2009 we were casting for The Simpsons‘ special and I was like, this is a movie. This place is absolutely a film. Then later on that night I met Stan Lee, and Stan said, “We should make a documentary together. We should make a documentary about Comic-Con!” and I was like, “Yes we should, Mr. Lee! That’d be the greatest thing ever.” So Stan Lee signs onboard, Joss Whedon signs on, Thomas Tull, Harry Knowles… and a year later, we were shooting there. It was remarkable.
N: So how did Joss and Harry get signed on?
MS: The Friday night of Comic-Con 2009 was when Stan suggested that to me, and then I literally ran with it. Later that evening I met an agent from CAA who hooked me up with Joss Whedon, so the next morning I was having breakfast with Joss Whedon, who came on on Saturday. And then on Sunday I met with my friend who’s on the board of directors of Comic-Con and told him about Stan, about Joss, about the idea for the movie, and two weeks later I was on the phone with the board of directors pitching the movie. They said yes.
N: How did you pick the people to follow? Did you decide you needed one each of a certain type, or was it just a big cattle-call where you picked your favorites?
MS: We had a cattle-call, but we did ask for specific archetypes. We did want to find somebody who was a comic-book vendor, who was seeing the shifting tide of the comic-book business in terms of people buying physical, paper comics. I wanted to find somebody who was entering into the Masquerade, making a costume for that. We wanted to find couples that had fallen in love because of Comic-Con. And we wanted to find cosplayers, artists… we cast a wide net. So we got about 2,000 submissions, and then from that 2,000 we whittled it down to the ones you see in the movie.
N: We’re biased here, but have to ask: Did you ever consider following one of the journalists who covers the event around-the-clock?
MS: You know, we talked about do we want to cover the press side of it, and we decided that the press side already drives so much of what happens with Comic-Con that I said let’s focus on the fans.
N: What was the experience of covering it like for you? Was it exhausting? Did you go to all the parties, get three or four hours of sleep, then do it all again the next day?
MS: I think I had an average of about three or four hours of sleep a night. And that was three or four hours starting on [the previous] Sunday, because we rolled into town the weekend before. They start loading in to Comic-Con on Monday, and we were there when they started loading in. We had a time-lapse camera on the roof that was there on a scissor-lift that we had to put in, so we were there trying to get as much of that in as we possibly could early, and it was a massive undertaking.
N: Was there any difficulty getting all the permission you needed?
MS: Once Comic-Con signed on, and we got Faye Desmond and David Glanzer, who are the “captains of the ship” at Comic-Con… once we got their blessing, the people at the convention center were always there to lend a hand.
MS: Whenever we get an idea for a movie, no matter what it is, my writing partner Jeremy [Chilnick] and I sit down and say, “In a perfect world, if everyone had rainbows and unicorns, what would the movie be?” So we sit down and we write that movie, of the most perfect scenario of the most perfect movie of the most perfect thing that could ever happen. And then you take that script and start shooting, and day one of shooting that gets thrown out the window, because everything that’s in there never happens. But some of the ideas might actually come to fruition, like, looking at Comic-Con Episode IV, we started talking about who some of the characters are that we’ll follow.
[Possible SPOILERS] One of them, we said, we want to follow someone who’s entering the Masquerade and, lo and behold, the person wins the Masquerade. We got Holly Conrad, who actually did win the Masquerade, which was remarkable. We said we want to find a comic-book artist, who, out of Comic-Con, gets somebody who gets them a comic-book deal. And we got Eric Henson, who, out of the film, has now done a couple covers for Arch-Enemy Comics. So by just coming up with some ideas of what you want to envision happening – and it’s not like it’s The Secret, where we’re willing things to happen – once you get an idea of what you think the film can be, you have a better chance of finding some of those people. For me, talking through those moments helps you understand the film you’re ultimately going to make.
N: How hard is it, when you’re making a movie in a place like that, where people must be coming up to you asking for autographs and pictures, to fend that off while making the movie and not seeming like a jerk for ignoring fans?
MS: It’s difficult, so that’s why I bounced around throughout the whole shooting process, trying to get the key moments of each character we were shooting with. And that’s why I hired really great field producers to be shooting with those people all the time, so that even when I wasn’t there, I knew we were getting what we ultimately wanted. The DPs and the field directors knew what story points we were looking for. They were filmmakers in their own right: Mark Landsman, who directed Thunder Soul, was following one of the crews. Ross Kauffman, who won the Oscar for Born Into Brothels; Kief Davidson, who made the films Kassim the Dream and The Devil’s Miner. We had amazing field-producer/directors who were there when I couldn’t be, and that was the key thing to make everything stay on track.
But most people leave me alone. I mean, I’m still just a documentary filmmaker, so it’s fine. I’m not Stan Lee walking through that place. Stan is mobbed from the minute he gets out of the car, but I’ve been very fortunate. And I love Comic-Con. That place is so fantastic – I took my little boy there last year for the first time and he loved it, so I’m excited now to go back every year.
N: What age would you suggest new parents start taking their kids to Comic-Con?
MS: When I brought my son, he wasn’t even five yet. He wanted to wear a Batman costume, and he wanted me to wear a Batman costume, so he and I were both there in our Batman costumes walking around, and we had a great time. It was fantastic. When they’re that small, what you have to realize as a parent is that you’re probably gonna end up carrying that kid. A lot. So, like, I put my kid on my shoulders and he rode around on my shoulders for most of the day. You’ll end up being very, very tired. So if you want your kid to actually walk, you’d better wait till they’re a little bit older. There’s no strollers there, so if you have a little baby, you’re going to be carrying that baby.
N: What’s up next for you after this?
MS: We’re in the process of finishing my next film, which will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21st. We did the film with Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, and it’s about the natural world of manscaping. It’s called Mansome. The world’s first doc about male grooming.
MS: I don’t eat a ton of fast food, but when I’m in California, I will go to an In ‘N Out Burger, like, a double-double is pretty spectacular. And for the two years I was in Southern California, I do still love going to the original Tommy Burgers at Beverly and Rampart, so if I’m in town and it’s late at night, around midnight, I might end up there with a chili cheese burger and a chili cheese fries.
N: When you made Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden, how close were you to finding out that he was in Abbottabad?
MS: I’ll tell you what, when we found out, a lot of people started calling me and emailing me. When we were in Islamabad, we were shooting in northern Islamabad before we went on to Peshawar, and we were probably about 25 miles from where he was. Maybe a little more, but it was kind of remarkable how close we were. How close were we to figuring out he was there? Probably not very.
Comic-Con Epsiode IV: A Fan’s Hope opens in limited release April 5th and VOD April 6th. Screenings may also be requested via Tugg.com.