The CNN series Inside Man showcases Morgan Spurlock doing what he loves best: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In spades.
Spurlock doesn’t dabble; he immerses. He sticks with one passion, honing it and evolving it into a beautiful thing. No sidesteps or missteps or dilettante-like forays into acting. His aim is true. He’s a documentary filmmaker and you can take that to the bank. In fact, he has.
His 2004 Supersize Me achieved the impossible: a documentary film that was a huge box-office hit. It was a self-chronicle of 30 days in the life of a man (namely Spurlock) who ate only McDonald’s food.
Mood swings, cholesterol surges and obesity? You got that right. A set of balls on him? Definitely for sure: McDonald’s dropped the heinous term from its menu. We’re loving it, buddy!
These days, Inside Man keeps Spurlock locked in his continued quest to define the human condition. Eight intense hours define season two, where he takes it up a notch, George-Plimpton-style.
Here, he gives us the lowdown on the highs of doing docs.
Congrats on the second season of the show!
Thanks. It’s always great when you get to do it once, but it’s even better when it’s the second time around. It’s awesome.
Are you under constant pressure to top yourself?
The most important thing is to deliver quality. We just have to make sure that we are making the smartest show that we can. And also entertain folks.
Does making quality television come easily to you?
When you’re fortunate enough to have real quality co-producers working with you, it makes it a lot easier.
We’re lucky that we have really smart co-producers on the show, and great editors who make me look good. They make me look much smarter than I actually am.
Are your wheels always turning?
That’s pretty accurate. I don’t sleep much, so it works out well.
Would you say that you’re in competition with yourself?
Every day. Every single day.
You grew up in West Virginia. I assume that the kind of work that you do is not a common vocation there.
I was a kid growing up in the middle of West Virginia and all I ever wanted to do was work in the entertainment industry. And that was like a million miles away. Luckily, I had incredible parents who were supportive of me chasing my dreams.
What was your filmmaking education like?
When I was in high school, I took any film class that I could: summer classes and universities. I also took any writing course that I could.
When it came time to go to college, I tried to get into the University of Southern California’s film program, but I got accepted into the journalism program there [instead]. I got rejected from the film program five times. I applied every semester.
Then I applied to NYU, came to New York and have been here ever since. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, because I feel that New York is a much more independent-minded city. It’s a much more motivating city, because you have to go out and find your way and make your place in whatever industry you’re in.
It made me grow up a lot and it really made me find my place in the film business.
That sounds like a documentary right there.
I wasn’t screwed up enough, after being in West Virginia and LA, so New York was the icing on the cake.
You came to national prominence with the movie SuperSize Me. Honestly, on the rare occasion when I must have a McDonald’s meal, I still think of you.
There are people who tell me that they still occasionally eat [McDonald’s] but all they can think about is me throwing up out of the car, or they can imagine me standing to the side, judging them.
There are also people who tell me that after they saw my film, they changed their diet and started exercising. It’s incredible.
It’s something for me that went far beyond just a documentary. I’m so thankful that I got to make it and it was received the way it was.
You have an ability to be an Everyman. People can identity with you. Yet do you have a larger universal theme that weaves through all of your work?
I feel like every project is different, with a different goal and a different idea of how the end is going to be.
If you can make someone laugh or make somebody listen to something that is entertaining and thought provoking, we’ll get a lot more reaction from people and a lot more people who will pay attention.
Hopefully, it will stay with people longer than if you were lecturing them or telling them what to think.
One of our biggest goals is to entertain. If we can entertain you, then we can keep your attention long enough to educate you.
You’re an idea generator. Have there ever been any ideas that couldn’t work no matter how hard you tried?
We’ve been really fortunate in that we’ve never had to start a project and abandon it, whether it be a movie or a TV project. We’ve always been nimble enough to react when things didn’t always go as perfectly as planned.
A filmmaker friend of mine gave me some advice when I was doing Supersize Me: if the movie you end up with is the exact same movie you envisioned from the beginning, then you’ve never listened to anyone along the way.
I find documentary film in general to be a reactive process. If you make a historical movie, you know how it’s going to end. Docs in general are going to evolve as you make them.
You have to react to things, whether someone gives you a different direction or something you thought was the key component to a story suddenly shifts and becomes something completely different.
I find that to be something really gratifying and exciting about the process. That’s something that we’ve done really well, to be able to act and move in those situations.
What are the challenges of being a filmmaker in the digital age?
The key is that you want to be able to hook people quickly and early. Get people in at the very beginning of the story. We find with Inside Man that we want to make sure that we bring you in within the first five minutes. You’ve got about five minutes to really get somebody’s attention.
We’re “platform-agnostic” at my production company. We make TV, movies, and we make shows for digital audiences, but the most important thing is quality.
What can we expect in season two of Inside Man?
The premiere episode is about celebrity, and why we are so obsessed with celebrity. Why do these people dominate our headlines? So I become part of the paparazzi. Why do they make so much money and yet are so reviled?
We also look at the idea of futurism – can you live forever? [Also on tap for season two:] Pets in America, income equality.
One of my favorite episodes is about student athletes. I go to Ole Miss [The University of Mississippi], where they let me become a member of the football team, where I got my ass kicked for a week straight.
Sounds intriguing yet agonizing, which is pretty much the way you roll, right?
I feel lucky every day to get to do what I do.