Blurring the line between art and commerce

0 Submitted by on Fri, 22 April 2011, 08:26
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock used sponsors to finance his latest documentary, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

By Sandra Kraisirideja

Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary, “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” may be the first project to be completely funded by corporate sponsors—and that’s not a bad thing.

With a budget goal of $1.5 million, which is probably what most big studio productions spend on soda, Spurlock set out to find corporations who would be willing to “partner” with him on his new film. In exchange for their funding Spurlock promises to serve as a spokesperson for their products and feature them heavily in the film.

Since Spurlock’s first documentary, “Super Size Me,” was such an unflattering portrait of McDonalds, one of the biggest corporations on Earth, he doesn’t get any support from companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or any of the fast food chains.

Most companies who hear Spurlock pitch the documentary, which is basically a movie about getting advertisers to pay for the making of the movie, pass on his request. Of course not everyone says no and Spurlock is able to get Jet Blue, Hyatt, Amy’s, Old Navy, MINI, and POM Wonderful among others.

Half of the documentary shows Spurlock pitching companies on the idea for his movie and the other half examines advertising in movies—specifically product placement in movies and what effect it has on the artistic integrity of filmmakers.

Any discussion about advertising invariably leads to a discussion about branding because companies are no longer companies, but brands. The advent of social networking has led to the importance of a personal brand. It’s not enough to be a unique person now you have to have a unique brand.

Spurlock discovers he has a mindful, playful brand and he is able to match that with other companies that feel having him as a spokesperson would be good for their brand. In fact, the best parts of the documentary are when Spurlock goes into spokesperson mode to promote his sponsors.

Spurlock blends the advertising seamlessly with the narrative of the documentary. Even the three obvious commercials that are inserted strategically throughout the movie are not disruptive to the flow of the story. The movie is also a hilarious examination of advertising and product placement.

Try as we might to rebel against marketing and advertising, we are sometimes powerless to it. I’ve seen POM Wonderful in the store, recognize the packaging and know the ads. Yet it wasn’t until I saw Spurlock drinking it in nearly every scene that I suddenly had to have one.

I was literally going to drive to a store after the movie to buy my first bottle. Luckily the PR folks who arranged the screening were handing out sample bottles along with coupons to purchase more. After cursing Spurlock under my breath I eagerly cracked open my first bottle and took a swig.

“POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” opens at Landmark Hillcrest on April 22.

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