A documentary filmmaker known for producing wry social satires on corporate greed is releasing a “super-huge, 3D, boy band explosion extravaganza movie,” leaving fans with one very important question: Really?
Author Chris Wright Illustration ILoveDust
If you were being paid to come up with an unlikely show business pairing, you’d have earned your money if you chose Morgan Spurlock and One Direction.
Spurlock is the documentary filmmaker who sucker-punched the fast food industry by gorging on McDonald’s (Super Size Me), who sent up the idea of product placement in a film funded by product placement (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) and who traipsed around the Middle East asking awkward questions (Where In the World Is Osama Bin Laden?).
This month sees the release of Spurlock’s latest effort, This Is Us, a concert film featuring One Direction, the platinum-selling boy band that rose to fame on “The X Factor” and sent an entire generation of girls into paroxysms of appreciation.
The film (co-produced by “X Factor” creator Simon Cowell) does not cast a jaundiced eye over the cult of celebrity. Instead, it is an intimate look at a bunch of “very, very charming kids” who became very, very famous. In a Twitter Q&A before its release, Spurlock promised fans “More shirtless moments than you can imagine.”
Hemispheres: OK, so I basically have one question for you.
Morgan Spurlock: Yes?
Hemispheres: The question is: Huh?
Spurlock: Ha. Right.
Hemispheres: That’s pretty much going to be the tone of the entire interview.
Spurlock: That’s totally fine. [Loud static.] Is that your phone? Or is that my phone? [Static.] Hold on; hold on a second. [Pause.] Sorry, there we go.
Hemispheres: I know what that was: Simon Cowell has put a tap on the phone.
Spurlock: That’s exactly right, he’s listening to the whole conversation. I see you’ve worked with Simon before.
Hemispheres: When I heard you were making this film I thought, No, no, no, this has got to be some sort of spoof. But it’s true: you’re making a pop-umentary about One Direction.
Spurlock: It is true. We are making a super-huge, 3D, boy band explosion extravaganza movie.
Hemispheres: If somebody had asked me who’d be the last person on Earth to do this, I’d have said you, then maybe Roman Polanski, followed by Quentin Tarantino. So why?
Spurlock: When we got the call to make this film, I jumped at the chance. To be a documentary filmmaker and get the opportunity to make a film of this scope, of this scale, of this budget—these things don’t happen often. Just to get to explore this world, which is so, so beyond anything I’ve ever been around. I was very, you know, kind of inspired by it.
Hemispheres: It’s definitely a departure. I tend to think there’s a Morgan Spurlock template: The arch-ironist who uses humor to get at something not quite so funny about society. You’re a satirist.
Hemispheres: As you said, you’re shooting some of the film in 3D. I can’t wait to see [lead singer] Harry Styles’ eyelashes popping out at me from the screen. I’m very excited about that.
Spurlock: They are even more dreamy in 3D.
Hemispheres: Even now I’m wondering if this is going to be some kind of stealth satire. You’re going to get in there and do something weird.
Spurlock: There are going to be some things that you wouldn’t typically see in a film like this. We talk to medical professionals and neuroscientists, who basically tell us what happens inside of a girl’s brain and in her body when she listens to One Direction. The goal for us is to take you to a place you wouldn’t expect.
Hemispheres: But did you have to put some of your other impulses aside? In what way is this a Morgan Spurlock film?
Spurlock: Well, I’m making it, so that’s the biggest one. But it’s not like I just want to tear apart all the sacred cows in the world. Part of what I want to do as a filmmaker is put myself in a position where I can do unique and original projects. So to capture this amazing moment with these guys, while the rocket ship is still streaming through the sky, is fascinating.
Hemispheres: A lot of people, by which I mean a lot of One Direction fans, are anticipating this being a straightforward behind-the-scenes thing, the camera dwelling lovingly on their hair….
Spurlock: Listen, there will be lots of lovely hair-ial shots. There will be these beautiful slow-motion moments. There will be plenty of things like that to please the fans. But there will also be things that will separate this from the sort of films they may have seen in the past.
Hemispheres: Your Bin Laden film took you to some perilous territory. Here, though, you’re dealing with real fanatics. Imagine the wrath if you failed to meet the fans’ expectations. You’d be tarred and feathered.
Spurlock: Yeah, exactly. I’ve seen the lads literally get chased down the street, like their bus is going down the street and girls are sprinting after the bus and just, like, screaming and yelling, tears falling down their faces. It’s remarkable.
Hemispheres: Don’t boy bands have the shelf life of unpasteurized milk?
Spurlock: If you look at this from a historical context, there are pop idols who have been around forever—from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles to, you know, the Backstreet Boys and ’NSYNC. There are some who have the ability to transcend that. And that’s what makes this moment so interesting: The elevator is still very much going up, so what’s going to happen now?
Hemispheres: If you offered me a million dollars to hum a single bar of their music I couldn’t do it.
Spurlock: I would win $25 million.
Hemispheres: What sort of relationship did you have with the band? I mean, you’re a middle-aged guy—did they look at you funny?
Spurlock: It wasn’t like I was just parachuting in—I was with them for the whole kick-off of the tour. But you have to gain trust, and we talk about that in the movie. Because once you reach this level of fame, everybody wants a piece.
Hemispheres: Did you get close to them? Did you sort of, you know, start liking them?
Spurlock: Yeah, they’re very likeable; they’re incredibly charismatic guys.
Hemispheres: They’re twenty-something multi-millionaires, what’s not to like?
Spurlock: Yeah, exactly.
Hemispheres: But that can go either way, can’t it? I don’t know if you watch “Game of Thrones,” but there’s a teenage emperor who becomes a tyrant.
Spurlock: Oh my gosh, yes, Joffrey. They have not Joffrey-ed out, so that’s good.
Hemispheres: If one of their roadies drops a speaker, they won’t order his death.
Spurlock: That’s right. I haven’t witnessed that yet. Doesn’t mean it might not happen behind closed doors.
Hemispheres: If somebody had said to you seven or eight years ago that you’d be in this position, working on this film, you’d have called them nuts, wouldn’t you?
Spurlock: I would have said, absolutely, you’re drinking some Kool-Aid that I want some of.
Hemispheres: If you were the kind of person to put your movie posters in frames and hang them around your house in the order of how proud you were, where would This Is Us fit in?
Spurlock: I’m pretty proud of this film. I think the storytelling is pretty great. You know, some people might not like all the stuff we make, but I’m proud of the work we’ve done.
Hemispheres: You’re going out on a limb. People are going to accuse you of selling out.
Spurlock: Oh, come on. You saw The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. I’m not selling out, I’m buying in.
Hemispheres: But this particular film does promise to be your most commercially successful, right?
Spurlock: Well, that’s what people say. People ask, “Why would you make this film?” Well, I’m getting to have a budget that is beyond anything a documentary could ever have, getting to work with this huge band, one of the biggest bands in the world right now. But beyond all that, as a filmmaker I’m going to put a movie out that, on the day it opens, will show on more screens and in more countries than all of my movies ever have in total, combined, literally, in one day. So it’s like, why would you not want to have an opportunity to do something like that?
Hemispheres: Fair point.
Spurlock: And, for me, I think it’s exciting to get to challenge yourself and put yourself in a different place that works different muscles as a filmmaker. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as the guy who just makes subversive things. I still get to make subversive films, but the beauty of this is I’ve gotten to dance on both sides of that line, which is a rare thing.
Hemispheres: I deliberately saved the selling-out question until the end, in case you hung up on me. Now I’m going to ask you possibly the most difficult question you’re ever going to be asked: Do you like their music?
Spurlock: I have seen 25 concerts on this tour. I have been to 25 One Direction shows, so it’s hard to go to 25 shows and not like the music.
Hemispheres: Very good. Well done.
Spurlock: And then I hang up.
If he had to choose, executive editor CHRIS WRIGHT would name Harry Styles as his favorite member of One Direction.
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Morgan Spurlock by the Numbers
Number of likes on Morgan Spurlock’s official Facebook page
Number of likes on One Direction’s official Facebook page
Number of times Spurlock was rejected by University of Southern California’s film school
Weight Spurlock gained over 30 days on an all-McDonald’s diet for Super Size Me
Time Spurlock took to lose the weight he gained during the filming of Super Size Me