SPURLOCK, MORGAN – WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?
SPURLOCK – SPURRED ON TO SEARCH THE WORLD
Spurred on by the success of Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock set off on a Middle
East adventure in search of Osama bin Laden – and found more than he expected,
he tells Andrew L. Urban.
Morgan was standing in the kitchen of his Brooklyn home in his underpants when
he called the film sales agency, Wild Bunch, in Paris, with a hot new idea he
had just had while watching television. “I just said I’ve got this idea for a
doc [that’s what Morgan calls docos] about me trying to find Osama bin Laden ...
and they just said OK, let’s do it.”
That’s when the feelings of elation and panic intersected, as he recalls on his
visit to Australia to promote the film, which has been bouncing around festivals
like a ricocheting bullet – from Sundance to Brisbane to Melbourne …. We meet up
in Brisbane, where the film was chosen to open the 2008 film festival. The $3
million doco benefits from Morgan’s sincerity and his Mr Everyman journey around
the Middle East is far less tricksy or contrived than you may have expected,
after a menu of Michael Moore. And there is much for Americans, especially, to
digest, including the fact that not all Muslims hate them.
“I was surprised by much of what we encountered,” he says. Morgan found
resistance (almost everywhere) and open hostility (in Tel Aviv), he found
ignorance (everywhere) and intolerance (almost everywhere), but he also found a
universal desire for peace and calm, for children to grow up educated and
Morgan not only spoke to people in the street, but, symbolically enough, went
inside to eat with them and listen. The result is entertaining and a little
scary – but for reasons other than the obvious. The real problem Morgan uncovers
is the unpalatable truth that misconceptions about each other across the globe
tend to become accepted wisdom – with devastating consequences.
"no agenda when he set out, except to ask questions"
But Morgan, to his credit, had no agenda when he set out, except to ask
questions. “My wife Alex had just got pregnant and as a soon to be father, I
wanted to talk to other fathers and also to find out what sort of world my child
is coming to …” It was a joint decision that he should indeed traipse around the
world while Alex was pregnant, and we get to see her a couple of times in the
film, reassuringly as it happens.
Morgan and his three brothers were keen dancers as kids, which would not seem
worthy of note if it were not for the fact the Spurlock family lived in
Parkersburg, a small West Virginian mining community, where boys and dancing
were mutually exclusive terms. By age 12, Morgan had moved on to low budget
filmmaking – or at least doing make up and effects, usually bloody and usually
on his own body, much to his mother’s constant shock. Luckily for Morgan, both
his parents and all his aunts were teachers, who happily put up with his
And it was 22 years later, in 2004, that his first feature documentary,
Supersize Me, cashed in his chips with a global gross of $26 million and an
Oscar nomination. “If it hadn’t been for the success of Suspersize Me,” he says
“I could not have called Wild Bunch and got the green light – whether in my
underpants or fully clothed.” Wild Bunch had worked with Morgan selling the film
around the world.
Morgan is an easy going yet thoroughly professional filmmaker who is generous
with his information; at the Conversation/ Q&A after the Brisbane film festival
opening night at which I acted as interviewer, he spent over an hour telling us
all about his work and his life. He even told us how he walked into a bar one
night and saw Alex, fell madly in love and came back after her shift ended at
4am to spend a few hours talking and getting to know each other.
Spurlock is also the executive producer and star of the reality television
series 30 Days, a reality television show, in which Spurlock, or some other
person or group of people, spend 30 days immersing themselves in a particular
lifestyle with which they are unfamiliar (e.g. working for minimum wage, being
in prison, a Christian living as a Muslim etc.), while discussing related social
issues. Season 3 of 30 Days premiered on June 3, 2008. In Australia, the program
is broadcast on Network Ten and Lifestyle Channel.
Morgan Spurlock graduated with a BFA in film from New York University's Tisch
School of the Arts in 1993. Before making Super Size Me, he was a playwright,
winning awards for his play The Phoenix at both the New York International
Fringe Festival in 1999 and the Route 66 American Playwriting Competition in
He also created I Bet You Will which began as a popular webcast of five-minute
episodes featuring ordinary people doing disgusting, unusual, or embarrassing
stunts in exchange for money. Examples include eating a full jar of mayonnaise
($235), eating a "worm burrito" ($265), and taking shots of corn oil,
Pepto-Bismol, lemon juice, hot sauce, cold chicken broth, and cod liver oil
($450 for all nine shots). The webcast was a success, with over a million hits
in the first five days. The show was bought and aired by MTV.
"a new slant on everything to do with economics"
Next, he’s joining four pals to film a segment for the doco Freakonomics from
Stephen Leavitt’s best-seller which puts a new slant on everything to do with
economics. Spurlock’s assignment: to make the segment that shows how an
individual’s name impacts on their life. Spurlock, by the way, is of Scottish
origin and means curly hair.
Published August 14, 2008
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