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Sponsors of Spurlock film pay to expose product placement

  • COURTESY SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
    Morgan Spurlock, left, pitches his ideas to POM Wonderful executives in his newest documentary, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," showing at HIFF.
  • COURTESY SONY PICTURES CLASSICS
    Politician, author, consumer advocate and four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader, right, speaks to Morgan Spurlock for Spurlock's new documentary.
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Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock was ready to make his greatest sales pitch ever.

He was in Las Vegas on Wednesday for the inaugural CinemaCon, the National Association of Theatre Owners convention, to present his new film "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," before his largest audience to date, approximately 3,000 business people who may have remembered Spurlock from his breakout 2004 movie "Super Size Me."

You know, the one where he subjects himself to a strict diet of McDonald’s fast food for one month, providing a not-so-flattering portrayal of his failing health and the corporation.

In any event, he was hoping to wow his Vegas audience into booking a great many theatrical screenings for his "Greatest Movie." It’s already done the festival circuit, and it’ll make one more stop here tomorrow night as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival 2011 Spring Showcase.

A frequent visitor to the islands, Spurlock said by phone that he’d much rather be here than there, but duty called. Even though his documentary about product placement should break even once the corporate sponsors of his film pay him off in full, it’s the play in theaters across the country that should put him into the black.

HAWAII INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2011 SPRING SHOWCASE: "POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD"

Where: Dole Cannery Stadium 18

When: 6:30 p.m. tomorrow

Cost: $12 general; $10 seniors, military and students; $8 HIFF members

Info: 447-0577 or www.hiff.org

 

The film is no joke. Spurlock tries to brand himself and his movie by pitching to ad agencies and companies the idea of sponsoring his movie through the type of blatant product placement that has become the norm on TV and in the movies. At the end of the day, Spurlock was able to enlist 15 sponsors whose products he wholeheartedly endorsed, including the titular pomegranate juice maker.

But it wasn’t an easy sell. While the film is an earnest (and entertaining) entreaty for greater transparency, trying to recoup his production costs is still an ongoing proc ess.

Spurlock admits that his inner salesman came into full blossom before, during and after making "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

"Meeting with all of these ad and company people, I had to develop the tools to go out to sell by speaking their language," he said. "Mediaplacement CEO Britt Johnson and futurist David Wales, who are in the documentary, helped me sell my ideas. I’ve sold harder on this film than any other I’ve done.

"To be honest, the ad agencies didn’t make it easy for me. I had better luck dealing directly with the companies."

Spurlock found out that many agencies didn’t even take his pitches to their clients, and hundreds of companies turned him down. He even approached McDonald’s, "but I really wanted In-N-Out Burger as a fast-food partner. I even went to BP! I tried to tell them how positive I would make them look."

Well, maybe that was a bit disingenuous of Spurlock to attempt. Even though the prevalence of brand integration into content is here to stay, in Spurlock’s film the brands portrayed did not have approval over the way his documentary was made.

"It’s all about moving forward," he said. "There needs to be more trust, real transparency, for brands to be willing to relinquish control of content. They have to work with the artist directly and cut out the middleman, which are the ad agencies. If there’s one question I want to leave the audience with after seeing this film, it’s, Do we really need a film about product placement to be brought to you by a sponsor?"

 

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