Documentaries are typically a medium where the story garners more attention than the storytellers but Morgan Spurlock‘s style and career have been anything buy typical. Bursting into the public consciousness with Super Size Me, his well timed exploration of fast food restaurants and the American diet, Spurlock then went on to television, producing 30 Days, a show that took people out of their comfort zone and put them into the “shoes” of others. Since then, Spurlock has examined product placement in movies and the war on terror. Now the filmmaker has set his sights on Comic-Con with Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fans Hope, a documentary co-produced by Joss Whedon and Stan Lee about life at the con from the perspective of fans, retailers, entertainers, and everyone else who is trying to get something out of the momentous experience.
With this years con upon us and with A Fans Hope newly out on DVD and VOD, we jumped at the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with Mr. Spurlock. During the call the director touched on his love of horror movies, “casting” the film, why documentaries don’t perform at the box office, and what the difference is between reality entertainment and documentary filmmaking.
Screen Invasion: Do you think it’s odd that documentaries are not more commercially viable or that they’re not blockbusters what with the consuming popularity of reality television? Also, how do you as someone who has sort of toed the line between them differentiate between reality entertainment and documentary film making like Comic Con a Fans Hope?
Morgan Spurlock: Yeah, I think it’s difficult. I think documentaries — if you look at all the docs that come out even one of the most successful docs that came out last year, Lee Hirsch‘s Bully which made 3 million dollars — most of these movies just don’t have the marketing push around them that other big movies do. You know, they don’t have the marketing budget that these giant Hollywood films do and I think if there was more money coming in to market them, you’d get more audience, get more turnout. I also think most documentaries are harder films, I think they’re more serious films.
The films that we make, and that I make, do toe the line of being kinda documentary and important but they’re fun, they’re popcorn films. I think they’re films you would enjoy watching in a movie theater, but again we were saddled with the same type of problem, we just didn’t have any marketing budget around the film. So I think that you are relying on whatever press you get to hopefully drive awareness, but you know I think that will only get you so far when you are fighting against the massive marketing machines.
SI: And the difference between the documteries that you do and reality television?
MS: If you look at a lot of the reality TV today, most of those are scripted, the stories are shaped. I think that you have people who are getting people to say certain things or creating story lines to deliver a very specific end result. Whether it be the Kardashians of the world or whatever.
I think what we do when we start shooting, we have no idea how it is going to turn out, like I had no idea how The Greatest Film Ever Sold was going to end, we had no idea how this was going to end when our characters went in there. What would happen with Holly? What would happen with Skip and Eric? Would Chuck Chuck Rozanski be able to keep his store, keep it running, or would he have to sell his Red Raven. I think by letting their own stakes dictate what’s going to happen in the story it makes it much more entertaining, and makes me much more engaged as a viewer and as a fan. I think that is the difference of the two.
SI: Do you consider yourself more of a filmaker or more of a journalist?
MS: I think what we do is a little bit of both. I think I do infrom people through what we do, which I think definitely is journalism, but I think more then anything else I am a filmmaker. I think I make movies much more than I want to convey a lot of information.
Spurlock also took questions from some of the other reporters on the call. Here he talks about some of the stories he was able to tell in the film:
MS: There’s something that I love about all the characters. As somebody who collects a lot of things I love the scene where Anthony is sprinting through the con to go get his 18” Galactus. I love that.
I love this idea of just putting yourself out there as a creative person. I love what Holly, Skip and Eric all do. They’re trying to find their way and break into this business. I think that I can really relate to that and as somebody who believes in and loves “Geek Love” I love James Darling and Se Young. I love that they fell in love because of their shared passion for all of these geeky and nerdy things and at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want? We just want to be loved for …loving the crazy shit we love.
On picking the stories that would be presented in the film:
MS: We had about 2,000 people submit to be in the film so it was kind of a long, arduous process of kind of just whittling them down. The very first person we cast in the movie was Holly Conrad and when we got her tape and I watched and I saw what she was making in her garage, it’s remarkable. I think she just kind of epitomized what I wanted the film to be about. I wanted it to be about people who are incredibly driven, who had a tremendous amount of passion, who weren’t just going to Comic-Con to hang out and have a good time. I wanted people who were going there for real specific reasons and I think once we cast Holly she kind set the bar for everybody else that we wanted to cast around her.
On Mile High Comics owner Chuck Rozanski:
MS: Here’s a guy who’s been in the comic book business for years. It’s his heart, his soul. It’s everything he believes in and loves and will he be able to keep his business running? Will he be able to keep this brick and mortar business functioning? That’s a great story.
Spurlock on comic books:
MS: I think that the heart and soul of Comic-Con is still comic books. You know, people like to say that Comic Con is dying, that it’s not about comic books any more. Well you know what? The world isn’t about books any more, period. People aren’t buying books, people aren’t buying physical books. I buy more comics now digitally than I ever bought as a kid. It’s even easier for me to go on Comixology and download them straight to my iPad and it’s awesome. I read them with my son. Some of them are even a little bit interactive, you know? It’s great what comics are becoming but at the heart of that are still writers and artists who are creating these pieces of art. And they are art and they are beautiful and they’re great stories.
I think what Grant Morrison says in the film which is also great; ‘They are the best of us’, that’s what comics are. They tap into what makes humanity good and great and that’s what we all hope and strive for — that will never go away.
On his appreciation of the horror genre:
MS: Horror films was ultimately what made me want to make movies, when Michael Ironside made that guys head explode in Scanners it changed my life forever. That was a moment that made me want to make movies, when I was a kid I wanted to make special effects. I wanted to be Tom Savini. I wanted to be Rick Baker. I have a tremendous passion for horror movies — one day, whether or not we’re able to do a doc about that… I’d much rather make a horror film than make a doc about horror films.
Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is available now on DVD and on VOD.
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