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Friday, April 17, 2009

Morgan Spurlock: Super Size Success

 CAC Speakers Bureau brought Morgan Spurlock to OU Wednesday. He spoke to the crowd about his experiences in film and television, focusing particularly on fan favorite documentary, “Super Size Me.” However, there’s much more to learn from Spurlock than just facts about filmmaking and the fast-food industry.

Over the course of interviewing Spurlock, and then listening to him speak, I couldn’t help but notice a duality about Spurlock. It’s not to say he’s two-faced — upon meeting him I was struck by how down to earth and genuine he was — but he seems to hold this realization that there is often not a right or wrong way to do something. Often times, the most effective way of conveying a message is blending perspectives and their presentation.

Spurlock utilizes both entertainment and thought provoking aspects to his projects like “Super Size Me,” or the TV series “30 Days,” and he presents both sides to every story. He is creating awareness rather than saying what is right or wrong, and awareness is much more valuable than telling you what you should believe.

Upon asking Spurlock why he chooses to not present such cut-and-dry answers at the end of his projects, he claimed that it is because he personally doesn’t like to be told what to do. He feels that “exposure is invaluable. To watch at home and live vicariously through these people, it’s a great journey to go on.”

A journey on which you can leave with your beliefs justified or forced to reassess them. I can’t help believe that this realization of the value of awareness rather than correctness is the key to why his projects are so powerful and engaging.

The funniest thing is Spurlock had no plans of pursuing these types of projects when he began his career. He told me that while he had always wanted to do something in film, when he was young he wanted to do special effects for movies. That ambition transformed into the desire to become a comedian, and then to direct big-budget action films.

These goals led him to USC and eventually NYU where he attended film school. His first project was a game show called “I Bet You Will” that premiered first online and then on MTV. After its cancellation, he struggled to keep afloat. He amassed a personal debt of more than $250,000, but kept on trying. Spurlock is glad he did, because in retrospect he says, “If you don’t go away, at some point somebody is going to say ‘that guy won’t go away, give him a job.’”

His job came in the form of “Super Size Me,” an idea he formulated after Thanksgiving dinner and news about teens suing McDonald’s. Made possible from the connections he had made “by sticking around” and left over production money for “I Bet You Will,” “Super Size Me” became the most successful documentary of recent times.

When I asked why he chose to inform and entertain, rather than just purely entertain, he claimed, “it was a fluke.” But after the success of “Super Size Me,” Spurlock realized “there was a unique opportunity to make projects that are funny, entertaining, and engaging. To present real issues in a way that didn’t make them taste like medicine.”

If you have ever heard Spurlock speak or seen his films or “30 Days,” you know just how smooth it goes down, thanks to his charm and cleverness. The OU audience erupted into laughter regularly during his lecture, whether he was talking about Antarctic McDonald’s and penguin McNuggets, or telling stories about witnessing a kid peeing into a ball pit with another child still playing inside. He even compared Ronald McDonald to a drug dealer and the Hamburglar to a junkie, citing Eazy-E in the process (“Don’t get high off your own supply”).

Spurlock is all about informing you while entertaining you, but not sacrificing any intelligence along the way. He creates awareness to issues and introduces you to people you would have never met before. He’s determined but flexible. Smart, but funny. Spurlock is a true testament to the values of duality.

Spurlock cemented my insights perfectly with his answer to my last question. I asked him what he wanted to be remembered for, without any hesitation, he stated, “my porn-star mustache.” We shared a moment of laughter before he went on to say, “I don’t really know. Hopefully for something I haven’t done yet. I’d like to think I have a little more in me.”

I think he does too, and with everything he has taught us already, I’m excited to learn even more.

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