Morgan Spurlock Interview: The Director Talks His Comic-Con Documentary
A few weeks ago we spoke to Morgan Spurlock for his latest documentary, 'Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope', a film that captures the heart of Comic-Con culture and its diehard attendees. To get this film made, Spurlock was backed by four of today's biggest pop culture geeks: Stan Lee, Joss Whedon ('The Avengers'), Harry Knowles (of Ain't It Cool News), and Thomas Tull (executive producer of 'The Dark Knight Rises').
This really proved that Spurlock's not just a filmmaker, but also a fan determined to make an intriguing film for the people who love and understand geek-culture. You don't need to know a thing about Comic-Con to be captivated by this new documentary.
So do you feel like a robot yet?
I feel like a robot every time I do these things. I mean, I enjoy it - if you don’t find a way to enjoy it you’ll go crazy. The worst part is when you’re in an interview with someone and you start talking about something and you go “wait, did I already talk about this in this interview?” I’m sure there are interviews where I told the same story twice.
Do you try to change it up and mess with the journalists at all?
[Laughs] I talk in French accents…
Alright, let’s jump into this. So the first thing I noticed when watching the film, there’s lack of you physically in the film.
And you said “thank goodness! [Spurlock] finally read the blog posts!” [laughs]
Haha, so talk about why you wanted to stay out of this film.
Because I finally wanted to make a movie people would like. [Laughs] No, when we first got the idea for the film … what makes Comic-Con a success, what makes movies and video games a success, everything Comic-Con represents is successful because of the fans. I am a fan, I’m truly a fan, but I didn’t want to make a movie of movie coming into Comic-Con. I have no purpose except to make the movie. I wanted it to be people who are coming to Comic-Con with a real sense of purpose and a goal. Holly Conrad, “This is my last masquerade. I’m going on a suicide mission to launch my career." Skip Harvey and Eric Henson want to break into this business and this is their chance to show their portfolio. It might be the only shot they have. Chuck Rozanski’s story, you know, there’s real stakes. These are people who have real goals and I wanted to tell the story of Comic-Con from this diverse group of goals. I wanted it to be people who represent different worlds of Comic-Con but show the broadness of it, the different people that are there. I wanted to make sure the film humanized geek culture, an examination and celebration of what it meant to be a geek.
One of my favorite things about films is when they really pull out my emotions. When James Darling proposes to his girlfriend, I started crying.
Yeah, it’s beautiful. I’ve seen that scene probably a 150 times and I start welling up every time.
When I was watching it, I thought “I want to be in love now!”
“I want to be in love and I want to be at Comic-Con!” [Laughs]
I want to talk about the people in the film. I’m sure you looked at a lot.
About two thousand submissions.
So the people you did end up using for the film, what about them specifically stood out to where you knew they would make an interesting subject?
Yeah, it’s a gamble. You don’t always know. You call them on the phone. We interview them while I’m talking to them. This is after we get their initial videos. We put out a casting call through Ain't It Cool News, through different Comic-Con websites, through comic book stores, and we ended up with somewhere close to two thousand submissions. First we separate them into genre of characters - who are they and what do they represent - and then from those we start cutting them down. The very first person that we selected was Holly. So here’s people that are cosplayers and costume makers.
With that, we look through all of them and here’s Holly’s video as she’s in the garage, working with friends, making this costume, here’s why she’s doing it, here’s why it matters to her. And I was like, “Her story is amazing.” There’s a richness to the story she told, and I sent it to Stan, Joss, Thomas Tull and Harry and asked what they thought; they all watched [her video] and said “she’s perfect.” So we used her almost as a litmus test for us as to what everybody else would be for the film - how passionate they are, what does it really mean to them, do they really have anything at stake, what are their goals. We started using that to cut down. It was hard. We followed 10 people total and a few didn’t make it in the film. There was a husband and wife from Columbia who had created a comic book company. They mortgaged their house to launch this company and they were running out of money. Her Visa came and his Visa never showed up. She was able to fly to Comic Con, so we followed her but she’s not the one who’s passionate about it. He was the driving force of this company … the narrative arc just didn’t work. You have to put things in that have a create a real flow of a film and it’s tough making those hard choices.
Being the filmmaker, what’s your process if something completely derails and goes into a completely different direction than what you at least thought it was going to go?
If you’re in a situation where things go in completely different direction usually, the biggest thing to do is we are going to stay with our subject, no matter what that is. So if something went not the way we expected it to, some sort of interaction, some sort of achievement, as long as you stay on them, like you said, the film draws out emotion. It is an emotional medium. And if you can stay with someone where things didn’t work out the way you wanted, you can still get something to some sort of emotional climax, or at least some sort of emotional closure. Even if it didn’t work out the way you anticipated, it can still work. Sh*t goes off the rails all the time, that’s what happens with documentaries.
When I was shooting 'Super Size Me,' I spoke to a couple of filmmakers, one of them was Eugene Jarecki, asking for advice. They said, “Let me tell you something, if the movie you end up with is the exact same movie you envisioned from the beginning, then you didn’t listen to anyone along the way.” And that’s what happens - this is an organic process. You have to go with the flow of the tide, otherwise you’re going to make a movie that’s very narrow in its vision. Things blow up and don’t work you’re like, “Well, that didn’t work. Day Two.”
I feel like, as a documentary filmmaker, one of your biggest responsibilities is to gain trust from your subjects and especial with Comic-Con and geek culture. To some people it’s a very sensitive subject. You know, for the people in the film, that’s their life.
That’s right - it's their life, passion, and livelihood.
How do you, as a filmmaker, gain trust where they know you’re taking this very serious and not making fun?
I think with other films, if it’s films that I’m in, it takes me spending a lot of time with them, talking through the process. Usually if it’s a film I’m in, we spend a lot of time together before we even start shooting, just so there can be some sort of comfort level. With this film, we were lucky because I got to at least ride on on the coattails of respect, with Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, Thomas Tull and Harry Knowles. By having them involved, like I have said before it’s like a geek dream team - people who have already earned so much respect from people. I think if I would have went to Comic-Con alone, without them, I don’t think the movie would have happened. With them it brought a lot of old guard, new guard credibility to the movie.
'Comic-Con, Episode IV: A Fan's Hope' is in theaters and available on-demand now.