Morgan Spurlock’s ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ Might Be The Most Meta Movie Ever Made [Sundance Review]
Posted on Monday, January 24th, 2011 by Peter Sciretta
Like him, or hate him, Morgan Spurlock has quickly become a staple of the documentary world. It all started with the premiere of Super Size Me at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. His personal adventures have taken us inside of the world of fast food, into the battlefields of the Middle East, and now into the world of product placement. Well… it’s not that simple. Spurlock set out to make a film about product placement and instead may have created the most meta movie ever produced.
The idea was to direct a documentary titled The Greatest Movie Ever Sold that would explore the growing world of product placement in television shows and movies. The twist being that the doc would be completely financed by product placement. Sounds simple enough, right? Actually, it’s a bit more complicated. The movie follows Spurlock as he tries to pitch the concept to various brands (Spurlock claims that almost 500 brands were contacted). As you might expect, finding twelve companies to cover the reported $1.5 million budget wasn’t easy — especially considering the controversial nature of the filmmaker.
So while the movie features cutaway segments helping to explain the process of how branded sponsorships end up in television and films, the majority of the documentary is Morgan’s quest — to find funding and creatively insert the product placements within his journey. For example, he drives everywhere in a Mini and drinks Pom during his interviews and meetings.
But it doesn’t stop there. Morgan also explores the experience of co-promotion — in this portion of the documentary we see how the film, the movie you’re currently watching, will be sold to consumers through cross promotional co-branded advertising. We even see Spurlock out promoting the documentary on late night talkshows (taped segments which will later run the week of theatrical release). So essentially, we’re watching a movie about the making of the movie we’re watching, from funding to week of release promotion. I doubt it will ever get more meta than that.
The more interesting segments involved a trip to Sao Paulo, where outdoor advertising has been banned by law, a trip to a company which Hollywood employs to test movie trailers, analyzing viewer brainwaves using MRI machines to find out which commercials created more of an emotional response, and a trip to a school which is selling advertisements inside of their school buses. But on a whole, I learned almost nothing new about the world of product placement. Those three examples have more to do with advertising as a whole than advertising inside of film.
At one point Spurlock talks to filmmakers like JJ Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Berg and Brett Ratner to find out their experiences with product placement. It would have been nice to hear honest stories about how a filmmaker’s vision was compromised for a product placement deal (giving us real insight into how hurtful these deals might be to art), however we are instead left with Ratner explaining that the “movie business” contains the word “business” (thanks Brett… we didn’t notice that) and Tarantino explaining that he has been unable to get product placement in his films (he tried to shoot scenes for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction at Dennys, but they didn’t want any part of the films).
At the end of the day, Spurlock was contractually given final cut and claims that his vision was not compromised (although in one sequence, we see the main sponsor completely reject all of Spurlock’s ideas in a commercial pitch meeting, and instead tell him how THEY want it done). The film needs to earn $10 million at the box office in order to make the $1.5 million in product placement cash. The question is if the masses will be willing to spend money on a film packed to the brim with commercials. Also, I wonder if the co-branded sponsorships will do enough to help raise awareness for the release.
While I’m bothered at the lack of information and insight into the topic at hand, it is hard to not reccomend this movie to anyone and everyone who consumes pop culture. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is highly entertaining, and at times, laugh out loud funny.
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