Since bursting onto the scene (and out of his jeans) with the self-torturing “Super Size Me,” for which he ate nothing but McDonalds for an entire month, documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has shown a knack for selecting zeitgeist-friendly subjects for his nonfiction explorations. In his latest movie, “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope,” he turns his attention to the annual San Diego-set celebration of comic book culture that has grown into a full-fledged pit-stop/forced blind date for Hollywood studios and the eager genre film fans they wish to court. ShockYa had a chance to speak to Spurlock one-on-one recently, about comic books, the direction of Comic-Con, his next project, and the diminishing sentimental value of physical objects. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: You’re a central figure in a lot of your movies, and so was there ever the thought of infusing the film with a bit more of your own experiences with comic books and genre movies as a fan? And exactly what is that history, I guess?
Morgan Spurlock: For me, ever from the moment my partner Jeremy (Chilnick) and I first had the idea for the film and were talking about how to best tell the story, my goal was to not have me in it. My goal was to tell the story of Comic-Con from the point-of-view of people who were really going there with goals and missions and things they wanted to accomplish around their passions. I really wanted the story to be true to the roots of what Comic-Con is, so we [chose these seven subjects], and follow their stories. Anthony is going to get his action figure, Chuck is there to keep his business afloat, Skip and Eric are there trying to break into the business, Holly is there trying to win the contest, James is there to get a wife — these are bigger stories that represent the essence of Comic-Con much more than just me as a fan making a movie.
ShockYa: Comic-Con is full of characters, as you well know, so how exactly did you winnow down and select those subjects that you followed?
MS: It was a long, arduous process. We put out casting notices a variety of places and ended up getting 2,000 people submitting (videos) to be in the film. For those seven that we chose we actually followed 10 people and a couple didn’t make it into the final cut, just because it was difficult to tell that many stories over the hour-and-a-half. And then there were people’s tapes that we got … and said, “We really like this person but don’t know if their story is big enough to follow as a through-line, so we should interview that person as a fan.” And so some of those people we pushed over to the fan side, (because) going into Comic-Con we already knew there were people we were going to be interviewing on site. We were really fortunate with the casting. Holly Conrad, who is making the characters in the garage with her friends, was the first person we cast. She was just a gem — (it was great) to find this person who was so dedicated and passionate about costumes, and Comic-Con was her lifeblood. She was kind of the quintessential character that we looked to find after that.
ShockYa: What was your first contact, if you will, with comics and some of the genre films it spawned? Were you one of those people who saw “Star Wars” 27 times?
MS: I was staying with some friends of ours over the course of that summer, and the only thing I wanted them to do was take me to see “Star Wars” every day. I must have seen that movie, over that summer, maybe 15 times? It was the only thing I wanted to do — over and over and over. And I really grew up in this world, reading comic books. And not only did my parents let me see “Star Wars,” they took me to movies you would never take a kid to, like so many fucked-up films! I went to see “Jaws” when I was six or seven years old, I went to see “The Exorcist” when I was a child. They were like, “Oh, it’s fine! It’s just a movie, don’t worry about it.” So much twisted stuff! So then, when I was 11 or 12 years old, I saw the (David) Cronenberg film “Scanners,” when that guy’s head explodes, and it changed my life forever. I said,” Whatever this is, I want to do this! This is how I want to spend my life!” It was amazing. I had this incredible love of genre movies and everything in this geek subculture — videogames, which I grew up playing for as long as I remember having a videogame system. These things all spoke to me in a lot of ways.
ShockYa: I think it’s Eli Roth in your movie who posits that this generation is the first —
MS: (interrupting) Where we kept all our “Star Wars” toys! We got them and kept them throughout our adult life and thought this is it, but no, it just keeps on going. There’s more. I love his interview! It’s so great, because I think he hits on so many things that I think are important, (one of which) is that now that we’re adults we’re realizing that what we had was special, but it’s still special, it doesn’t have to be just for our childhood days. I think that’s a great message to have — that you can be an adult, but still love these things, and love them as an adult.
ShockYa: The point is also made that Comic-Con has grown exponentially, and there’s that tension between the Comic-Con that maybe Chuck (Rozanski, a comic book store owner) knew, really centered around the graphic novel, and what it is now. Was there ever any inclination to explore that a bit more fully? That feeling seems to predominate conversations I’ve had with a lot of folks who go annually.
MS: Well, it’s a confrontation that we touch on in the film. People always talk about Hollywood taking over, [but] the only thing Hollywood truly takes over at Comic-Con is the media. Like, if someone’s doing a report it may be about Angelina Jolie being at Comic-Con with her new film because Angelina is there and that’s news. But if you go to Comic-Con — Hall H is 6,000 people, but there’s 144,000 other people who aren’t in Hall H that are at Comic-Con. So, for me, I think the movies and the launch get the press the because that’s where the stars are, but there are so many other things that are a part of Comic-Con and are just as important and continue to be the lifeblood, like what we made it a point to talk about. The folks that put Comic-Con on could have said, “Well, we want to make as much money as possible,” and gotten rid of artist’s alley and all these other things years ago. But they know what the heart and soul of Comic-Con is, which is still people who create comic books. While somebody like a Chuck Rozanski may talk about how these people are ruining their business, what’s actually ruining the business is that nobody is buying books anymore. I buy more comics now as an adult than I ever did as a child, but I download them straight to my iPad. I go to Comixology, and download them to my iPad. I can’t tell you the last time I bought a physical paper comic book. So the industry is still thriving, it’s just not thriving as a paper industry.
ShockYa: You kind of answered my next question, actually, about whether you collect, but is that personal habit of yours part of larger trend, do you think? I hate to put too fine a point on it, but is the comic industry growing up, and trending older than it did?
MS: I think in terms of collecting paper comics, yeah. I don’t know how many young kids are out collecting comic books now. I’d be really curious to know that, that would be an interesting thing to find out. I collected comics as a kid and still have a lot of comics at my mom’s house. I cleaned a lot of them out years ago, and kept the ones that were most valuable to me, as a person — you know, not even ones that were worth a lot of money, but just ones that I cared about, like my Plastic Man comics, which aren’t worth much. And so kids today, how many of them are making a point to go buy and collect those? I don’t know. Part of me feels like that it’s coming from a different place.
ShockYa: In a digital age, I wonder how much of that sentimental value will be attached to physical objects anymore.
MS: Yeah. And I’ll tell you what I did, in having this physical object conversation — I just got rid of so many DVDs in my house, and I was a huge collector. In my apartment, I just had these shelves in the living room filled with shelf after shelf after shelf of DVDs that I had, but never watched. So I asked myself why I still had them, because every single one of those movies I had I could get online and watch them digitally now. There’s a place where I can watch those movies if I want. So I put them all in a box and took some to my office and the rest I took to Goodwill, because they were just eating up space in my life. I feel like there is a trend of that that’s coming, via things that are accessible via the Cloud, or wherever it may be — why do I need to have it in my personal life when I can get it somewhere else?
ShockYa: Speaking of digital streaming and presentation, you’ve done a lot of unique things with the distribution of your films. Is theatrical distribution still the goal, or big target at which you’re aiming?
MS: The holy grail, right. As a filmmaker, everybody loves to see their film played in a theater. There’s nothing like having the theatrical experience with an audience, of feeling the ebb and flow of emotion with an audience. With “Comic-Con,” there’s nothing better than watching this movie with an audience filled with just those same types of passionate geeks that you see in the film. But after the lessons we learned with “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” where I got more press than I knew what to do with with that film, but when the movie opened it opened on 18 screens across the country, so the majority of people across the United States couldn’t even see the film. And in all the years of me making movies, in my own hometown of Beckley, West Virginia, I have yet to have a movie play on a screen there, because it’s just not seen as being that profitable. So with “Comic-Con” we’re going to open in select markets on April 6, then spread to more select markets on April 13, but also do a massive day-and-date digital release, so that as the press wall starts to hit and everybody’s talking about the movie, you can go home on a Friday night and watch it on iTunes, on demand, download it on your Xbox, and watch it in just about every digital streaming platform you have access to. For me that was important, because you don’t want to have somebody saying, “Well, I can’t see this movie, so be it.” It’s a crummy proposition for a filmmaker, where we live in a world where the cultural decay rate of ideas is about two weeks, to have to [keep fighting to reclaim people’s attention].
ShockYa: What are you working on next?
MS: Well, we’re finishing my next film right now, and it’s slated to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21. It’s a movie all about the magical world of male grooming and manscaping, that we did with (executive producers) Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, and it’s called “Mansome.”
ShockYa: Does it feature the Goatee-Saver, which I personally believe to be one of the signs of the apocalypse?
MS: Oh, that little plastic thing you put over your beard, or your chin? Well, we have a guy who actually has one that covers his whole beard. (laughs)
Written by: Brent Simon