Making the Grades
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock was rejected from the University of Southern California’s film school five times. But that didn’t stop him from making movies. And in 2004, he won the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival for Super Size Me, his documentary about a steady diet of fast food. He followed his success with 30 Days in 2005 and Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden in 2008.
Now the documentarian turns his camera on product placements (a term that has been rebranded as co-promotion). But regardless of what you call it, the essence remains the same—a proliferation of products being hawked to audiences that are sometimes unaware of the subtle tactics. To prove the prevalence of corporate marketing in entertainment, Spurlock decided to make a movie funded entirely by money from product placements.
Pitching his idea meets with some resistance, and understandably so. After his negative doc about the fast food giant McDonalds, it shouldn’t be surprising that some companies would be leery of being featured and possibly defamed in one of Spurlock’s projects. Yet once again his persistence pays off.
The plot is really no more than a story of his quest for collecting cash from corporations. But Spurlock tells the tale with interjections of humor and thought-provoking questions. Offering a more balanced perspective than was evident in Super Size Me, Spurlock shows the impact of commercial promotions outside of theaters as well. He visits Sao Paulo, Brazil where the city banned all outdoor advertising in 2007. The lack of visual stimulation feels almost eerie in an era when billboards are everywhere. He also addresses some of the reasons schools are driven to sell advertising space to big businesses in order to fund their activities. However with electronic devices giving viewers more ways to skip commercials, it seems inevitable that companies will look for new ways to sell their wares by making them an integral part of the plot and even the dialogue of movies and television programming.
Unfortunately, the unnecessary inclusion of two strong sexual expletives, some brief, rapid depictions of sexually suggestive material and a crude, animated joke will lessen this film’s appeal for some viewers. Yet for other media savvy families, this movie gives parents and teens plenty of topics to talk about when it comes to the invasive world of advertising—especially the debate over buying in or selling out.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
According to this film, visibility equals credibility. Are there other ways to establish credibility? Without visibility, how does one make the public aware of their integrity?
Advertisers seem to tell us that products bring us happiness and help us avoid embarrassment, fear and other undesirable consequences. What products can you think of that promise positive results? What items have you bought that looked/tasted/worked better in the ads than they did in real life?
After Spurlock’s harsh treatment of McDonalds in his Super Size Me documentary, is it understandable that some companies would be hesitant to offer financial support to his new endeavor? Should a director have complete control over the creative aspects of his or her film, or should companies have some say in how their products are portrayed? What role does artistic integrity play in filmmaking?
What products have you seen being promoted in your favorite films? How does your list compare with that of brandchannel?
Home Video Viewing Alternatives
Here are some ideas for home video titles that are related to The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Morgan Spurlock also directed the documentaries Super Size Me, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden and a segment in Feakonomics. A good example of integral product placement/promotion is the Austin Minis starring role in the movie The Italian Job. The documentary’s title spoofs the classic biblical movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told.