An Evening with Morgan Spurlock

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If you’re looking for a filmmaker that cuts through to the heart of an issue, who will do whatever it takes to go after an idea and won’t take no for an answer, Morgan Spurlock is your man. He has publicly tortured himself by eating McDonalds three times a day, lived on minimum wage, worked in a coal mine and locked himself up in jail each for 30 days at a time. Morgan Spurlock is an incredibly interesting and compelling person. I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite documentary filmmakers and I learned so much from him during the interview, and then later during his lecture at Duke University. Spurlock makes it his mission to educate our generation. Just by watching his numerous documentaries and TV series one will be impacted in some way from the productions. It was even more special listening and talking to him in person.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Spurlock, maybe “Supersize Me” will ring a bell? Spurlock always had a creative mind, but wasn’t always that successful. After graduating from film school at the prestigious New York University Tisch School of the Arts in 1993, Spurlock struggled to find his niche in the industry. He worked on movie sets and toured the country as a spokesman for ESPN and SONY, but knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. He started his own company, employed 6 fulltime workers and lived off his good credit for years. Eventually, debt caught up with Spurlock, who would have had to file for bankruptcy if he didn’t strike gold when MTV signed his pilot “I Bet You Will” to their company. After that show ended, Spurlock invested the profit from the show into his documentary film “Supersize Me.” In the film, Spurlock uses his own body as a testament to the evils of fast food and our food culture and the obesity we face today.

After “Supersize Me” went on to reach the highest box office success for a documentary up to that time, Spurlock had an easier time pitching and finding the funding for his next projects. Following the success of the reality-documentary “Supersize Me,” Spurlock filmed three seasons of the show “30 Days” and continued making compelling documentaries. This year, he has been on the road promoting his newest box office documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” The film takes a look at product placement by completely breaking down the barrier of subtle advertising in order to provide transparency for the audience. In the film, Spurlock overtly flashes products in an effort to completely finance his film thanks to these products.

Spurlock is a risk taker. He’s also an entrepreneur in the film industry. He will be the first one to try out an idea and be the first to fail at it (which he continues to avoid doing). Spurlock has such a wonderful personality and demeanor so people are willing to trust him to take the risks that some people only think about taking. A regular man on the street will more likely be enamored by Spurlock and go along with him then any average Joe (which may be the reason why his first show “I Bet You Will” took off).

The great thing about Spurlock is he is willing to share information he has gained from his experiences with the world. As a group of eager Duke students, many of us wanted to hear about his successes and failures he encountered thus far in his career. Spurlock shared a large amount of advice with his audience. My favorite anecdote he shared centered around the theme of “negotiating for success.” As part of the legal agreement Spurlock had with his sponsors, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” had to hit 600 million media impressions. Media impressions are a technique used as a PR measurement to calculate how many times some product appears in a form of media (website, news, talk show, paper, etc.). Before settling, Spurlock and his team debated whether they should add an additional measure of 1/10 of a penny after the 600 million media impression mark. However, Spurlock thought he set the bar high for his film and told his top endorsement (POM Wonderful) that they would settle on that number. Little did he know, only a week after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, his movie had not only surpassed the 600 million mark, but would eventually hit 5 billion media impressions. Spurlock estimated he would have made 5.4 million dollars had he aimed higher. “Always negotiate for success” is the motto Spurlock now lives by after losing this potential for a substantial profit. Going forward, he realizes that one should never sell themselves short. There’s a lot to learn from people like Morgan Spurlock and I hope you watch the interview and learn something yourself.

FOX’s “New Girl” Markets, But Doesn’t Sell

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There are a lot of new and exciting shows premiering this fall. September premieres range from Pan Am (September 25 on ABC), The Playboy Club (September 19 on NBC), Unforgettable (September 20 on CBS) and The Ringer (September 13 on CW). Simon Cowell’s The X Factor (September 21) will make its American debut on September 21 on FOX. Also sure to score in ratings is the return of season 13 of Dancing with the Stars (ABC September 19), the third season of Glee (September 20 on FOX) and the highly anticipated Two and a Half Men premiere with Ashton Kutcher taking over as lead character Walden Schmidt (September 19 on CBS). If these shows aren’t enough reason to forever veg-out on your comfy couch with an extra large tub of buttered popcorn, returning fan favorite sitcoms, reality shows and competition shows will make their full force debut in September as well (and yes, Survivor will be returning for its twenty-third season in case you had any doubt).

Television networks competing for ratings and for the next hit show isn’t anything new. However, something that is different is FOX’s marketing approach to their new sitcom “New Girl.” Since September 6 and up till the pilot’s premiere on September 20th, the first episode of “New Girl” is available for free on iTunes, Hulu and Fox.com. Though the network realizes pilot ratings may be low because of the free online preview, they hope word of mouth and online buzz will help the show overall. I used this opportunity to get a jump-start on the series. While I do reward the network for taking this risk, “New Girl” failed to make the right first impression it needed to succeed.

The strength of a successful show lies in the character development. The lead actress of “New Girl,” Zoey Deschanel, has a strong fan following thanks to her roles in the films 500 Days of Summer, Our Idiot Brother and Elf. However, in her starring television role, her quirky character seems to be all over the place in the pilot episode. Deschanel plays the role of Jess, a young female who moves in with three random males after being cheated on by her boyfriend. One moment she’s the wacky girl burning her hair off, wearing overalls and bursting out in song and the next she’s giving advice on how to woo the ladies to her roommates. Even with the tagline “simply adorkable,” character inconsistency is one of the weak points of the show. Stronger character identity must be improved as this is one of the most important aspects to keep an audience tuned in.

The other main issue I have with the pilot episode is the lack of a stable plot line. Liz Meriwether, writer of the screenplay for “No Strings Attached,” put her writing chops back to work for “New Girl.” The show bounced from one issue to the next. There’s no denying fast paced sitcoms are entertaining and popular and FOX is known for its quick timed shows. However, they are only popular when the material is coherent. The bouncy plot may arise from the various personalities of the three male roommates who don’t seem to mesh well together just yet. However, I only saw the first episode and character development and plot line may just take some time to flourish.

New Girl” has a lot going for it already. It will air in the prime post-Glee spot at 9 PM and both shows cater to similar audiences. “New Girl” has a lot of buzz already and it will be interesting to see if this show can gain some momentum after it’s unique and risky marketing campaign. Though the show has flaws, I still am rooting for this new comedy. I think Zoey and the cast will be able to pull through.

Till then,

Danielle Genet

Resources:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/44412068/ns/today-entertainment/t/zooey-deschanels-new-girl-arrives-early-online/#.Tm-YsxzZLEc

http://www.tvguide.com/special/fall-preview/calendar.aspx