Morgan Spurlock - Super Size Me
The concept is simple: eat three meals a day for one month at McDonalds - if they don't serve it over the counter at McDonalds, you can't eat it, and if you're ever asked to 'Super Size' a meal, you have to say yes. The result is Super Size Me a fascinating look at our relationship with fast food, and exactly what kind of an effect it has on us. Super Size Me is one of those amazing films with the power to change the way you see things around you. It may not completely stop you from your planned trip to the local fast food outlet, but it'll definitely make you stop and think about what you eat and what it can do to your body.
I had the opportunity to sit down with filmmaker Morgan Spurlock to talk about Super Size Me, how the idea got started, and exactly how he lost all that weight after the cameras stopped rolling.
Completely mind blowing. We made this movie for sixty thousand dollars. The film that got us into Sundance we made for just sixty five grand. What eventually made it into theaters was a little bit more because of blowing it up and music rights and all that, but now it's the fourth highest grossing documentary of all time. To date it's made about $10.5 million.
What was the real starting point for Super Size Me?
The thing that launched it for me - I had been wanting to make a feature film for a while. I've worked in the industry for about ten to twelve years. Right before this we had a series on MTV called I Bet You Will. We created it as a web show, and it was the first show to make it from the web on to television. We did 53 episodes for the network, and when they canceled it in October of 2002, we had a little pile of money left over. We didn't have a big pile of money because MTV doesn't pay you big piles of money, they pay you little piles of money. So we had a little money and I said, 'Let's make a movie.' Two years earlier I had written a play that won the Fringe Festival in New York City, it was like the Edinburough Fringe Festival. I had just finished the adaptation of that play into a movie, and I so I wanted to make it. I figured we could make it for about fifty grand. But the more I started watching plays that had been made into movies, they all kind of felt like plays that had been made in to movies. None of them really transcended the page the way I really wanted my first film to. So, I decided to start thinking of something else.
Cut to: a month later over Thanksgiving, I'm sitting on my mother's couch, when the story comes on the news about the law suits, about these two girls who were suing McDonalds. When I had first heard about the law suits months earlier I thought, 'That's just where we are in America - we're so litigious that we're going to sue a food company, that sells us food, that we buy, that we eat, and then blame them for it.' The more I started hearing about the lawsuits, the way I kept hearing about the way McDonalds targets kids from such a young age, the way they manufacture their food, how many ingredients go into something a simple as a French fry and McNugget, their less than forwardness about the nutritional information of their food, I said, 'I might not agree with a lawsuit, because I'm not a litigious person, but there's a basis here for an argument.' So I'm sitting on the couch, Thanksgiving 2002, and a spokesperson from McDonalds comes on TV and starts talking about the lawsuits. And he says, 'Listen, you can't link our food to these girls being sick, you can't link our food to these girls being obese. Our food is healthy, it's nutritious, it's good for you!' That's when the light went on for me, and I said 'Well, if it's that good for me, realistically I should be able to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for thirty days straight with no side effects. I should be able to live the All American way of life of over eating and under exercising and be fine.' So that's what I did.
Did you know it was a film right then and there?
It was a eureka. As soon I got the idea, I turned to my vegan girlfriend who was sitting on the couch with me and I said, 'I've got a great idea for a movie!' , and I told her and she said, 'You are not going to do that!' By that point I had already started running through the house, I had picked up the phone and called my friend Scotty Ambrosie who was the Director of Photography on the film - he was at his mom and dad's house in the same tryptophane haze that I was in West Virginia - and I told him the idea. When he stopped laughing he said 'Wow, that's a really great bad idea.' So that was our running mantra through out the whole movie: This Film is A Really Great Bad Idea.
How do you follow a movie like that up? You're now very known for it. The whole thing, you personally the filmmaker are as much up front and center as the movie. What do you do next, the Atkins film?
Ah Atkins, yes, don't even get me started. We're working on figuring out what's next right now. We've got some great ideas for documentaries. Since I really wanted to do a scripted film from the beginning, I really want to do a scripted film next, I'd love to do a narrative, some type of comedy. For me, as much as Super Size Me is a documentary, it's also a comedy, a black comedy. Very dark in what we're making fun of, but it's also very serious. I made a decision very early on to make a film that I thought would be entertaining. The song from Mary Poppins, 'a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down', is what we were going for. By making people laugh, their barriers would come down and they would be receptive to this information. Because it's really harrowing, it's a really horrifying topic, and the stuff we talk about it really incredible. For me I'd like to do a scripted comedy next. Right now we're doing a TV show for FX, which is kind of an extension - the step child of Super Size Me.
What kinds of extras are you planning to have on the Super Size Me DVD?
When we first test-screened Super Size Me before we even knew we had gotten into Sundance we showed an assembly edit of the film which was three and a half hours long. We needed people to help us figure out what they felt was important in the movie. People sat through the whole thing. It was amazing, people were entranced at what we had. So on the DVD there will be a lot of deleted scenes, and a lot of great stuff. All these interviews we had with people, like Surgeon General Satcher, all these interviews lasted an hour, and we used a minute or so from each. So there will be a lot of great stuff from those interviews.
This film has had an incredible impact. Have you been able to get a real sense of that impact?
The one thing I had hoped that would happen with this movie, was it would make people start to think about how they eat, how they live. Nobody walks out of this movie and calls their lawyer to sue McDonalds. People walked out saying, 'I need to pay more attention to what I eat. I need to pay better attention to how I live. I need to exercise more.' Parents are walking out saying, 'I need to be a better role model to my kids. I need to cook more at home. I'm going down to my kids school Monday morning and see what the hell they're feeding my kids, because I have no idea.' So for me, for people to become empowered, accept that kind of responsibility is gratifying. Because it is a two way street, it is corporate responsibility and personal responsibility, and the film really does address the personal responsibility side. Also it's great to see McDonalds take a step towards change.
The McDonalds Adult Happy Meal with pedometer?
Yeah, the Adult Happy Meal with salad, water and pedometer so you can count your steps from the car to the counter.
McDonalds is great about merchandising for movies and I couldn't believe they did the 'tie in' Super Size Me pedometer!
You've got to think, for all the product placement I gave them in this film, it's the least they could do. There was more McDonalds product placement in this movie than any movie in history.
So the detox diet... I'm sure many of the people who saw Super Size Me are extremely interested in how you lost all that weight. "OK we've been Super Sized... Now What?"
God bless my girlfriend! Alex is writing a book right now about that very topic. Because the whole universe of diets is insanity, everything from Sugarbusters to Low Carb, No Carb, Fatkins, they're terrible. Crash diets are part of the big problem when it comes to this issue, because we're never taught how to lead a healthy lifestyle. We're taught binging and crash dieting - they're different sides of the same coin.
Looking forward to that book. But in the meantime, were there any key things that helped you get from Super Sized back down to your normal size?
For me, probably one of the biggest things is just really paying attention to what I eat. I read labels like crazy now. Alex gets very excited, 'Look at you reading a label!' I look at how much fat, how much sugar is in foods, I really count my calories and look at what I'm taking in. Also I exercise like crazy.
- Geoffrey Kleinman
We tried to get 'The Detox Diet' from Morgan's girlfriend/Vegan Chef Alexandra Jamieson (who can also be heard on the Super Size Me commentary track), but it's under lock and key until spring 2005 when it'll appear as part of a much bigger book from Rodale Publishing. We were able to get 2 great healthy vegan recipes from Chef Alex for you to enjoy in the mean time. You can find more recipes as well as a good reading list to help you get 'de-Super Sized' on Chef Alexe's website.
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