Capone With Morgan Spurlock About WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? And More!!
Published at: April 18, 2008, 10:02 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
The last time I spoke to filmmaker Morgan Spurlock back in November (read it HERE), he was being extremely tight-lipped about his follow-up feature to SUPER SIZE ME.
All the world knew about the film at the time was that it involved a hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Spurlock's goal was to premiere the then-untitled movie at Sundance 2008 (which it did) and to keep as tight a lid on what happened during his journey through the Middle East. He certainly reaped the benefits of the rumor mill that he had, in fact, come face to face with the world top terrorist, an event that would have sent shockwaves of embarrassment throughout the current administration. And while I don't want to be the one to give away any of the secrets of the film (although many before me have), let's just say reports of shockwaves were premature.
That being said, the film is a worthy look at the current situation in the region, and Spurlock's interactions with everyday people in many of these countries reveals much about extremism, America, and the misperceptions Muslins have about Americans and vice versa.
In addition to WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?, Spurlock's long-delayed (by FX, wanting to fill any scheduling gaps created by the writers' strike) third season of his marvelous television show "30 Days" will finally premiere on June 3. I love talking to Morgan. He's one of the most conversational guys I've ever interviewed, and it in no way surprised me that we could talk twice in a five-month period and cover completely different ground in both discussions.
Enjoy Morgan Spurlock...
Capone: Hey Morgan, good to talk with you again.
Morgan Spurlock: Good to talk to you, man. How have you been?
Capone: Good, thanks. So the last time we spoke, you were being particularly cagey about this movie.
MS: Yeah [laughs].
Capone: I was curious, was there ever a concern while you were traveling and then editing this film that someone might actually find Osama Bin Laden and screw up your movie?
MS: Oh, of course. Somebody just asked me that, "What if they had found him?" I would have said, "Great! Now, what am I going to do?" I'm glad they got him, but now we've got to figure this out.
Believe me, that was something we talked about a lot. We didn't really have an answer for that. I was pretty much figuring that wouldn't happen. We hadn't found him in all those years, I didn't think it was just magically going to happen. You always have to keep hope alive.
Capone: I guess you're lucky that you weren't making this film a couple years earlier and that the title wasn't WHERE IN THE WORLD IS SADDAM HUSSEIN?
MS: [laughs] Well, we did find Hussein in a spider hole in a country half the size of California, so anything is possible with Osama.
Capone: I actually want to ask you something about the very end of your film, probably something no one else is going to ask you. Did you and your wife have a home birth?
MS: We did, yes, we did. She wanted to have the baby at home, and she had a midwife. She did it all natural, no drugs. The woman is a champion, like a Viking.
Capone: The only reason I bring this up is because I just saw a documentary not to long ago called THE BUSINESS OF BIRTH that Ricki Lake produced, and it's about the lack of midwives in America, or more specifically how they have been demonized in this country, whereas they are very common in other countries. And when I saw the set up for birth in your film, it looked identical to what I'd seen in this other movie.
MS: I haven't seen it; is it good?
Capone: It's very good. And it really opened my eyes to how hospitals have convinced women that there is no other place to give birth.
MS: And how many places won't let midwives practice.
Capone: That's in there too.
MS: I definitely want to check that out. I have to tell you, I'm like everybody else: "What if something goes wrong?" We live two blocks away from a hospital, so we were right there in case things went wrong. But having the baby at home, and then after having the baby, going up an lying in our own bed with our baby meant everything.
It was the greatest thing not to be in a hospital and not be in a hospital room and actually be in our house. There was such an incredible…I mean, you're home. There's no place like home. Judy Garland was right.
Capone: Did you feel like a total heel for leaving for this sometimes-dangerous trip while your wife was going through the pregnancy without you?
MS: Of course. And that's the thing, there are so many phones calls between Alex and I over the course of this film, and there's one where she's really upset, which we left in there for a while, and was thinking, Man, I look terrible. People already think I'm the worse husband around for leaving her. We can't leave that conversation in there.
Capone: It doesn't matter how many of those phone call scenes you put in there, it still looks pretty bad.
MS: It still looks bad, exactly. But there's difference between us having a conversation and her crying during a conversation.
Capone: When the project was originally conceived, was it meant to be an actual hunt? Or did you go there to take the temperature of the Middle East, and the search framework seemed like the best idea?
MS: I was conceived as a hunt and this idea of finding this guy we haven't caught yet. Those were the ideas that we came up with. I'll go look for him and we're going to get the real root of why we haven't found this guy. And we were about two months into preproduction, we'd gotten some money, just to begin putting together how would we even go about putting this together when we found out Alex was pregnant.
And that was the real turning point for me. At that point, it was just "Where is Osama Bin Laden?" and "What kind of world creates Osama?" And it became, "What kind of world am I going to bring a kid into?" There was a little shift, especially inside me about how I looked at this film, and what was trip was going to be.
Capone: So it really did stem from the pregnancy, as the film shows us?
MS: The idea came in 2005, but I think the real movie that you see in the theater didn't click until she got pregnant. That was when the real rocket went off inside of me about what the movie was, and it became much more personal for me. I think this movie is much more personal than SUPER SIZE ME, and it's a real personal journey that I go on. I think that made the film better because of it.
Capone: You say this is more personal for you, but I also think this film features much more journalistic objectivity than SUPER SIZE ME. You didn't know the exact outcome of your experiment in SUPER SIZE ME, but you knew it would be bad.
MS: But even the doctors didn't think it was going to be THAT bad. They said, "Oh, you're going to gain some weight and your cholesterol will go up a little. The things that happened, none of us anticipated, especially me.
Capone: But with the new film, you didn't seem to go in with any expectations. You let it happen to you. You didn't guide it or force anything to happen.
MS: It was a real organic process. We had an idea of the countries we wanted to visit and what we wanted to do in each one, but when we started talking to people…We had an idea of who we wanted to talk to, but when you hit the ground, some of them are around, some of them aren't, some of them will talk to you now, and some of them have changed their minds.
It does become real; it does take on a life of its own. What I like about the film and I hope what people see in the film is that as I learn things, you learn things. As I meet people and feel things, hopefully that carries through to you as well. There are so many beautiful moments in the film that nobody could anticipate. It's great.
Capone: The one thing you avoid doing is any sort of administration bashing.
MS: It's almost so easy at this point. Everybody's doing it. And for me, we have to be a little more forward thinking. This guy is out of office; he's gone in six months. What do we do now? I think the film is a little more looking ahead, a little more optimistic.
You see things we talk about in the film dealing with U.S. foreign policy, and you hear what people think about the United States. That's the biggest thing that we need to look at. How do we start to change that image of America in the world? The U.S. used to be seen as this beacon of democracy and hope, and that's gone now.
Capone: Was that a hard fact to realize?
MS: Not only hard to realize, but hard to hear, hard to sit though conversation after conversation where people are saying, "I hate what your country is doing." Yeah, it's awful. And you hear people say, "I used to love America, I used to want to go there. It meant everything to me. But now I would never go there; I would tell me kids they shouldn't go." That's a tough thing to hear.
Capone: You're almost relieved when you hear someone in the film say, "I don't hate Americans; we hate your government."
MS: Yeah, it's great to hear someone make that distinction. I think that's a great thing that people should take from this movie.
Capone: Did you and your team ever speculate--jokingly or seriously--how you would handle the unlikely even of either finding Bin Laden or being approached to meet him or interview him?
MS: Me and the D.P. [Daniel Marracino] talked about it a couple of times. You don't know how it would come about or what would happen.
Obviously it would take multiple days to get to him; you'd probably have to go through safe houses, and they'd probably take everything away from you; you'd get stripped down and searched and held. Then you'd get taken to another place and stripped down and searched and held. I've talked to people who've interviewed the Taliban, and these are the same types of things that happen to them just to get an interview with someone in the Taliban.
We had an idea of what we wanted to know, and for me, what I would have liked to have asked him was, "How does this all end?" "How do we get to the point where there's no more killing, no more targeting of innocent people?" "How can this all come to a close?" And maybe we would have gotten a real answer, maybe there would have been something there that would have made a little bit of sense. Or maybe there would have been a whole lot of crazy.
Capone: Did you consider yourself a kind of goodwill ambassador while you were in the Middle East?
MS: I just tried to be respectful of people. That's the one thing my mother constantly reminded me of growing up: it's just as easy to show respect for someone as it is to disrespect someone. You might as well take the time to be nice.
Capone: I've seen a couple of really terrific posters for the film, but the Indiana Jones-like one is the one I'm seeing the most. That's by far my favorite, especially when I see them in the same theaters as real Indiana Jones posters.
MS: I think Mr. Lucas wasn't happy about that. The poster was awesome, and thank goodness I still read Mad magazine at 37 years old. Because that was the idea I had for a poster over a year ago while we were editing, and I was looking at Mad magazine and I saw this one artist's drawing named Mark Fredrickson, and I called him up immediately and asked him if he'd be interested in doing the poster. He did both of them; he did the new one as well, which is kind of a the new LAWRENCE OF ARABIA poster, with me on a camel. But he's such a great artist; the guy's incredible.
Capone: I can't tell you how many double-takes I've seen other people give that Indiana Jones poster.
MS: Apparently the folks at Lucasfilm weren't happy with it, and they said "We're concerned about brand confusion." And I basically called someone myself and said, "Really?! You're being serious about this? You think someone is going to confuse this little documentary filmmaker with the biggest action hero of all time?" And they said, "Yes, we do." I couldn't believe that.
Capone: Of all of the places you visit and people you come into contact with, I couldn't believe that it was a group of Orthodox Jews that would be the ones you'd come to blows with. What happened there?
MS: I think they just really weren't happy with us there asking questions. They are a very protective society, really kind of shield themselves. And I'm in there with a great big HD camera asking potentially sensitive questions about what's happening in the country. What I love about that scene, though, is not the fact that those few people lash out against us.
I love that there's the one guy who makes it a point to say, "What you see here, the majority of us don't think like them." He was really worried about the perception, and how they were going to be perceived. That's a fantastic part of that scene, especially when you start to look at the way other people are talking in the rest of the movie. There is this perception that we always have to think about.
Capone: There are varying schools of thought when it comes to documentaries. Some filmmakers make it a point to stay out of their films entirely.
When you decided that you wanted to pursue documentary filmmaking, did you always see yourself as part of the story?
MS: The whole reason I was in SUPER SIZE ME, when we first got the idea for the movie, I thought, "Oh, I'll find somebody to do this, and I'll direct the film." I wanted to find somebody else to go on this diet.
But the more we started talking about that, the more I realized that I couldn't trust whoever that other person was, when they went home at night, that they wouldn't sneak some carrots or broccoli on the side. And so ultimately we realized that the only way we could make that film and know that somebody stuck to the diet was if I did it. And that was the whole big impetus for putting me in front of the camera.
Capone: And that became you on camera for several of the "30 Days" episodes…
MS: Right. After SUPER SIZE ME, there was this whole idea of chronicling an experience, something I was going through. When we took the idea of "30 Days" to the network, that was another step beyond SUPER SIZE ME. Then while we were in "30 Days" and I was going through me living on minimum wage or me going to jail, what I think is interesting and exciting is where I'm taking you on this journey, and you're going on this journey vicariously through me. Most people aren't going to go to prison in their lifetime.
A lot of people live on minimum wage, but a lot of people don't. So it's taking you to a place, I mean 99 percent of us aren't ever going to travel to the countries that I go to in this movie: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan. So the biggest thing, I think, is that as long as I can be honest with myself while I'm going through this and explain what I'm feeling and what I'm experiencing, then I can be honest with you and relay that to who's watching.
And hopefully as I feel things, you feel things. As I learn things, you learn things. I think there's something really interesting about that to me.
Capone: Prior to the film premiering at Sundance, you were certainly riding that wave of speculation that you found Bin Laden.
You can blame the interest if you want for pushing that rumor to crazy heights, but you certainly didn't do anything to dissuade people from thinking that.
MS: I don't know too many directors who are going to give away the end of their movie before it opens or before it premieres. Here's what happened. There was this article that Daniel Marracino was interviewed for, maybe a cinematography magazine.
And the guy asked how the stuff looked, and Daniel said, "The pictures we took were amazing. The stuff looked fantastic. We definitely got the Holy Grail." And somebody took that line, put it in another article. The next thing I know, I'd found Osama Bin Laden, and it just steamrolled from there. It was incredible.
But I'm not going to come forward and say it's untrue. I said, "See the movie." That's what I said, "You should see the film." If I was Lucas, would I come forward and say, "Yeah, by the way, Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father. You shouldn't see the film."
Capone: Your film played at SXSW this year, and I missed it there; but there was another film that played that was inspired by SUPER SIZE ME…
MS: You mean Doug Benson's movie?
Capone: Yes. Have you seen that?
MS: I haven't seen it yet. Is it funny?
Capone: Oh my goodness, yes. The guy's funny whether he's stoned or straight, but the movie is a really great idea.
MS: Yeah, Benson's very funny. I met him at Jimmy Kimmels' show a couple of years ago. I don't know if he was writing for Kimmel, or if he was just there. And he told me he had this idea for a film [of staying stoned for every waking moment for 30 days straight].
And he said, "What do you think?" And I said, "I think it sounds pretty funny." And then when I found out that he actually finished it, and that it played at SXSW, somebody asked me what I thought of it.
And I said, "Are you kidding? A stoner actually came up with an idea and finished it. It's fantastic!" But I need to check it out soon.
Capone: So finally "30 Days" has a premiere date in June.
MS: Yeah, after sitting in the FX archives for seven months. [laughs]
Capone: I remember one episode from a prior season where the devout Christian guy movies in with a Muslim family. And while I was watching your new movie, I thought about that episode and what it would be like if you brought a Muslim man to America to live with a Christian family.
MS: Yeah, I like that show. And that's a good idea. When I was embedded with the troops in Afghanistan…and actually the best guy that I met was when we were going to Tora Bora, there was guy who fought for years, and he was shot like 30-40 times.
The guy is a legend in Afghanistan, especially in the province where we were. And he was saying, "You should bring me to America. I've never been there." And I was thinking how fantastic this would be to see this guy traveling around America for the first time, taking him to do all of these American things. There's a great idea there. I'll give you the credit. [laughs]
Capone: In looking over what this season's six episodes are about, you seem to have divided them as you always have into two camps--one is someone going through something they probably never would have otherwise, those are often experiences you reserve for yourself; and then you have this other episodes where you put someone in a culture that is diametrically opposed to what they believe. Do you have a favorite?
MS: Even when we shot the pilot we tested, FX thought, "We'll have you do something." And I said, having me do something isn't kind of the point of what the show is. For me the better example of what the show is, is when you take somebody and put them in this other environment. They get to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, and see the world through someone else's eyes.
The pilot was actually the Muslim episode you were talking about. That's what got the show greenlit. So for me, those are my favorite episodes. I love the ones that other people do. And this season, my favorite one is the animal rights show where the hunter from North Carolina moves in with a PETA family in Los Angeles. That's one of the greatest hours of television you're ever going to see.
Capone: I never would have guessed that was the one. I don't mean this is a bad way, but "30 Days" is a show makes me anxious when I watch it, as in "filled with anxiety." Maybe I'm just afraid of conflict.
MS: [laughs] What's great about the show is that you have these people who are both set in their beliefs and so they have to defend their beliefs. It's not for a week; it's for a month, and a month's a long time.
Capone: And you personally do two this year: one where you work in a coal mine and one where you live on an Indian Reservation. Tell me about working in a coal mine.
MS: That's some of the hardest work you will ever do in your life. It's backbreaking work, and these guys are unbelievable for what they do. They go down there every day and do this job that is so difficult and so hard so that we can turn on our computer or turn on a light switch every day. Half of our electricity in America still comes from coal, so their work is unbelievable.
Capone: Not to mention incredibly dangerous.
MS: Well, while we were shooting that episode is when the collapse happened in Utah. That was happening simultaneously. People in the coal mine, the day after that happened, they are riding the mantrip, that little cart that takes you into the mine. The day before, the people are joking and laughing. That day: silence, nobody is saying anything. It's intense.
Capone: Compared to SUPER SIZE ME, the amount of footage you must have had for OSAMA must have been overwhelming.
MS: It was almost four times as much. We shot about 250 hours for SUPER SIZE ME, and for this film it was 900 hours.
Capone: Plus the animation.
MS: Plus the archival footage. With what we had in archival footage it gave us 1,000 hours of footage to cut down to 90 minutes. It was a tremendous undertaking.
Capone: Will we see any of that material at some point?
MS: Yeah, there's so much good stuff. We're trying to pack as much as we can onto the DVD. We're trying to push for a two-disc DVD because there are so many great interviews that I want to put on there. We'll see what Weinstein wants to do.
Capone: At what point do you start thinking what you want to do next? You've wrapped up three big projects, including producing WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY?, so when do you decide what's next?
MS: I usually about a project ahead, so even while we were in post on this movie, we were already thinking about what film we wanted to make next. We haven't committed to anything but we've got a bunch of ideas. And I got approached to direct a segment for FREAKONOMICS, which I'm hoping I can do because I would love to do that.
Capone: What is that?
MS: "Freakonomics" is this great book that deals with society and statistics, and it's a really smart book that looks at the world from a numbers point of view. So they're doing an adaptation of that book into a movie, and there are five or six different directors who are going to work on it, like Jehane Noujaim [STARTUP.COM; CONTROL ROOM]; Eugene Jarecki [WHY WE FIGHT]; Alex Gibney [ENRON; TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE]; Laura Poitras, who did MY COUNTRY MY COUNTRY; the girls who did JESUS CAMP [Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing] are doing one.
Capone: So it's short documentaries based on this book?
MS: Right, so each person will do a 15-minute short doc that will go in this movie.
Capone: Alright, Morgan. Thanks for talking again.
MS: Take care. I'll catch you the next time around.