Morgan Spurlock's new film takes swipe at advertising

Mon Jan 24, 2011 1:00pm EST

* "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" premieres at Sundance

* Documentary film examines advertising glut in culture

* Product placement in TV, movies, everywhere we turn

By Christine Kearney

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Director Morgan Spurlock readily admits the idea for his new documentary was a stroke of genius.

The "Super Size Me" director convinced 15 companies to pay $1.5 million to fund his latest non-fiction film that examines corporate marketing, product placement and brand integration.

The 40-year-old director's latest swipe at business shows Spurlock hilariously pitching companies to fund his film that exposes sponsorship and advertising in movies, TV shows and just about everywhere people turn -- knowingly and unknowingly.

With surprising results, some marketers eventually join him in return for some often comic product placement in the film that gives companies mostly good exposure while Spurlock also makes his point. He even changed the title to add a product, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," in a nod to juice maker, POM.

"I am incredibly convincing," Spurlock said, laughing about his idea. "But it took a lot of wooing to get them on board, there was a lot of contractual negotiations."

The idea for the film first struck Spurlock when he and producer Jeremy Chilnick watched the TV show "Heroes" and one character became very excited about a certain brand of car.

"I was like 'Wow,' that's really where we are right now with television, such a blatant in-your-face commercial in the show," he said. "So we said, 'Let's make a film that looks at product placement, completely paid for by product placement.'"

They called hundreds of companies to participate, starting with ad agencies then marketing strategists, who all refused. Then, they started contacting the brand companies directly.

"Every brand that came on in the film, we agreed not to disparage them in any way, that was consistent, but ultimately we would be able to help dictate the placement," he said.

"ARTISTIC INTEGRITY, WHATEVER"

The audience sees Spurlock pitching companies in a comic fashion, promising to show himself drinking only POM juice, stay only in Hyatt hotels, fly only JetBlue, and so on.

He examines the world of film, TV and music, interviewing major Hollywood directors such as Peter Berg and Brett Ratner, asking them age-old questions of art versus commerce, to which Ratner replies, "artistic integrity, whatever."

"The people who make big blockbuster Hollywood movies have to play that game, because to make a movie that costs $200 million dollars you have to do everything you can," he said. "You really want to create, much like we talk about in the film with 'Iron Man,' this ubiquity of advertising."

Yet, like his hit "Super Size Me," that bashed McDonald's restaurants, "Greatest Movie Ever Sold" has a serious side.

Spurlock goes into U.S. schools that are struggling for funding and looking at using companies to market to kids.

"What will really take people back is the way advertising is starting to infiltrate the education system," Spurlock said. "To make ends meet they are starting to sell advertising in schools...they are marketing to your kids in a classroom."

The director makes a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil where five years ago they banned outdoor advertising, and he marvels at a the ban and being able to see architecture.

"Maybe eliminating advertising in every city in the world isn't the answer, but it is an incredible way to look at things differently," he said. "What if we pulled it back a little?"

Ultimately, Spurlock is honest about his own brand of documentaries, using light and entertaining comedy to get across his own serious message. "I want to give you spinach, but I want that spinach to taste like cotton candy," he said. (Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)