Morgan Spurlock just keeps getting better as a filmmaker. In The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, he raises awareness about branding, advertising and product placement. It’s now available on DVD.
Known for his personal odyssey through America’s junk food craze in Supersize Me (2004), Spurlock takes us along as he solicits sponsors for this thoughtful expose. Exploring the line between art and commercialism, he reveals movie marketing behind-the-scenes.
As inquiring reporter, Spurlock is a bit like Michael Moore, but without a political agenda. Funny, ironic and self-effacing, he delves into current affairs. He engages others with tart curiosity and genuine charm.
Finally he snags a big investor. Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice company, pledges $1 million to become the flagship sponsor. The official title of the film becomes Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Other investors sign on, including Hyatt Hotels, JetBlue Airways, Mini Cooper automobiles and Amy’s Kitchen foods.
The catch: as Spurlock gains sponsors, he must meet the contractual obligations of each one. Spurlock drinks only Pom Wonderful during filming. He eats only Amy’s frozen pizza. He wears Carrera sunglasses and Merrell shoes.
A branding bonanza begins. Greatest Movie Ever Sold collectors’ cups appear at Sheetz convenience stores. Spurlock appears in a video promoting JetBlue. In-store promotions for the movie begin. Spurlock’s grin and signature moustache appear on product tags and stickers. It’s sell, baby, sell.
Spurlock interviews experts on both sides of the branding issue, even while he promotes sponsors’ goods and services. He speaks with product-placement specialists, marketing consultants and film directors including J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. Even Donald Trump weighs in.
Spurlock visits M.I.T. professor Noam Chomsky and consumer advocate Ralph Nader to gain intellectual perspectives. Nader agrees that marketing is all pervasive, but can’t help admiring the filmmaker’s Merrell shoes.
Most disturbing is a segment where Spurlock receives an MRI brain scan to demonstrate the trendy neuromarketing technique. Subjects are shown commercials to determine which ads evoke more brain activity and release of the feel-good chemical dopamine.
The film loses focus when it considers advertising in public schools. The filmmaker questions high school students about Channel One, a company that gives televisions to classrooms. Morning broadcasts are filled with ads. Students say they are concerned about advertising in schools, but solutions are not identified.
Perhaps Sao Paolo, Brazil has the answer. Spurlock travels to the city where all outdoor advertising was banned under the Clean City Act in 2006 to combat “visual pollution.” Citizens tell him they love the city’s new look. Retailers say they must offer better value and lower prices to attract customers.
Signing non-disparagement clauses with sponsors, Spurlock maintains creative control over the movie’s final cut. Sponsors had sought to view the film prior to release.
Bemis Balkind, the entertainment identity and branding firm, creates a movie poster. A semi-nude likeness of Spurlock is tattooed with brand logos. “He’s not selling out,” the poster declares. “He’s buying in.”
Spurlock’s latest endeavor is an on-line documentary series called Failure Club, where group members with a dream encourage one another to persevere despite failure.
If you like The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, you might enjoy: How to Start Your Own Country; I Am; Happy; Thrive.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold 2011 / PG-13 / 1 hour, 38 min
Cast Overview: Morgan Spurlock, J.J. Abrams, Peter Bemis, Peter Berg, Big Boi – Outkast, Noam Chomsky, Sut Jhally, Britt Johnson, Beth Jones, Bob Garfield, Richard Kirshenbaum, Michael Levine, Martin Lindstrom, Susan Linn, Regina Monteiro, Ralph Nader
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Genre: Documentary, Comedy, Business