Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock might make the most accessible documentaries out there. He finds a way of weaving the message of his films with some of the most entertaining, self-narrated examples of his themes. He doesn't ask others to do his dirty work. He puts himself in front of the camera, taking all the risk to health (SUPER SIZE ME), body (WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN), and dignity (THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD).
It's only been a year since I lost spoke to Spurlock about GREATEST MOVIE, but since then he completed two new films: the Comic-Con spotlight COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN'S HOPE, in which Spurlock is noticeably absent from the film (for reasons he explained to me), and the very funny and insightful MANSOME, an in-depth look into the growing importance of male beauty, featuring some delightful commentary from the likes of Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, John Waters, Adam Carolla, Zach Galifianakis, and the Old Spice guy.
And one of the best moments in the film features Spurlock shaving his mustache for the first time and years and watching his young son freak out a the prospect of his dad looking so different. The movie isn't exactly a heavy hitter, but it is ridiculously entertaining, and men may spot a few of their own behaviors and rituals amongst the parade of handsome men in the movie. Please enjoy my latest in a series (four and counting, I believe) of interviews with the lovely Morgan Spurlock…
Capone: Hey, Morgan. How are you?
MS: Hey, man. I’m good, how are you?
Capone: Good. You’ve got so many movies out right now, I don’t know which one to talk about first. No, we’ll talk about MANSOME and by the way the Comic Con documentary was phenomenal.
MS: Oh man, thank you.
Capone: I had such a great time watching that and reliving some of my favorite experiences from that event; it was really great.
MS: Oh, good.
Capone: But going back to when you were here in Chicago with GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD it made me think, has the Mane & Tail shampoo worked its way into your morning routine at this point?
MS: I still, in my shower if you walked into my apartment today and looked in my bathroom, there are still two giant bottles of Mane & Tail Shampoo and Conditioner in my shower.
Capone: Unopened or opened?
MS: No, no, they're open. This is my shower shampoo of choice, yeah. I tell myself everyday, “I’ve never seen a bald horse, so if I keep using it, I’m hoping that at some point it may awaken some of the sleeping soldiers in my head.”
Capone: Or at least give you a shiny coat on what’s there.
MS: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s exactly right. I want a very prize winning sheen.
Capone: Exactly. So I’m guessing--and I don’t mean this in an insulting way at all--before you made this movie, you weren’t someone who obsessed over grooming rituals.
MS: I so do not obsess. I am such this average guy. From the minute I wake up to when I leave my house is 20 minutes, and that’s if I’m taking time to really trim my mustache and trim down crazy ear hair, you know? If that’s been done the day before, then it’s like 15 minutes, yeah.
Capone: So what was the appeal of this as a subject matter then? Where was this a part of your life?
MS: For me, it started with a conversation that Will [Arnett] and Jason [Bates] and I had. Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, who I am huge fans of, were working with an old friend of mine, Ben Silverman, and Ben and I had done "30 Days" together years ago for FX. So when Ben called me and said, “Would you be interested in meeting with Will and Jason to talk about this movie?” I was like “Absolutely,” because I loved those guys. I think they are just so smart and funny and so I flew out to Los Angeles with Jeremy Chilnick who is my writing and producing partner, and the four of sat down and had lunch to talk about “Is there a movie here? What would this film be?”
We talked about the people we would follow, things we would talk about, what would be in it, and you know after laughing probably non-stop for about two-and-a-half hours, I was like “We have to make this movie. This is such a great conversation to have,” because it’s not just about like the ridiculousness of “manscaping,” but it’s an entrée to a bigger conversation about “What does it really mean to be a man?” I think what the film does a good job of doing--if you look at how advertising and marketing has been geared towards men over the last like 20 or 30 years, there’s been a real shift toward making things that are irreverent, that are funny, that still want to bring men into buying product. What the film does in the exact same way is using this irreverent comedy to open you up to this conversation about this commodification of manhood.
Capone: I was just in a bar yesterday watching the Bulls game, and the station was played a commercial for like what was basically a man-spa, but they called it a “sports spa”; they wanted to keep it manly.
MS: [Laughs] Where is this? Where were you watching the game?
Capone: In Chicago at a bar.
MS: There’s a man spa, which this is becoming a real trend. There was one in D.C. that we shot in, which is basically almost like a sports spa, where guys will go there, they hand you a beer, you can sit down and prop your feet up in a leather chair and watch the game and then go get a facial, you know? So they're trying to shift these things towards being kind of more manly by the experience you have around getting things that have ultimately been seen as being very feminine.
Capone: More manly/less feminine, yeah.
MS: I think it’s more of the latter.
Capone: I think so too. So you’re conceiving this with Jason and Will, that to me says that you’re conceiving this as a comedy in a way.
MS: Completely. I think the film was conceived as a real comedic look at this world. There’s a real mantra that we have at our company, which is that “if you can make someone laugh, you can make someone listen,” and I think through comedy you have the ability to reach a much wider audience than anything else. Brow beating will only get you so far, and I think that we wanted to make a film that had a much more mass appeal and I think through having Will, Jason, Zach [Galifianakis], Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, these types of folks really lend this film a fantastic air of humor and levity that take away from the more I think serious topics that are in the film.
Capone: Male beautification isn’t a new concept, but it does sort of ebb and flow in history.
MS: And it’s one that has been thrust upon us. If you look in the last 10 or 15 years, walk down the magazine aisle. The next time you walk through any type of a newsstand, you are walking down the street, and look at the women’s magazines first, like look at what WOMEN’S DAY says and COSMO and all of those sort of things, and then look at the men’s magazines, and now the headlines are the same things. “You’re not good enough. You are too fat! Lose weight! Six-pack abs! Be the perfect man!” The same types of insecurities that have been thrust on women for the past like 50 years are now suddenly what are the lead stories in these male magazines; there has been a real transformation happening.
Capone: And you actually feature the one guy who sort of embodies all male insecurities--the Old Spice guy.
MS: Isaiah Mustafa. Here is this perfect handsome man, who is incredibly condescending and very self deprecating, but at the end of the day, you know will probably go home with a chainsaw, cut something down, skin an animal, and then make a cake for his lady.
Capone: Whose idea was it to include those inserts of Jason and Will?
MS: Early on, like literally in the first conversation we had, when I basically said “I want to make this film. How do we utilize Will and Jason? We should have them be the bookends. Let’s have them be our narrative thread that takes us through the movie. Let them be the links in the chain that kind of put peoples’ stories together.” So that was the plan from day one about having that in there, and we ended up shooting their stuff last once we knew what the final content of the movie would most likely be.
Capone: Sure. How much did their spa routine cost the production? Do you have any idea?
MS: Oh, that’s a great question. I would say probably quite a lot. [Laughs] How many treatments and things did they go through? How many rooms were we in? I think we were in like five places during that day, so I’m going to guess $75 a thing. That’s probably a good pop to go with. That’s like $75 a treatment on average, so it was probably a grand if I had to guess.
Capone I have a feeling a lot of people who are going to watch this who maybe don’t subscribe to some of these practices might see this and go, “That looks kind of interesting. I wonder how much that cost.”
MS: I would say you could probably do most of the things they did, like pedicure, manicure, massage, soaked tub, facial. I would say like $500 bucks each.
Capone: They probably saved some money by sharing a tub.
MS: [Laughs] That’s true. We probably did get a two-for-one deal on that.
Capone: And then some people who I saw the movie with were sort of asking about some of the places you could have gone. For example, you didn’t get in too much to the waxing thing or…
MS: We shot some people who got waxed, and I felt like the whole idea of male waxing, which Judd Apatow so nailed it in 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, there’s only so much you can do. Then suddenly, our footage didn’t even live up to that; that was such the perfect scene with Steve Carrell. How do you top something like that in a film like this? So there were people that were getting like back, sack, and crack [waxing], and there are certain things you don’t want to see in a movie also, because once you see them you can’t un-see them, you know?
Capone: Don’t you want your movies to be unforgettable?
MS: [laughs] I do, but I don’t want people to be scarred.
Capone: You don’t want your movie to be the stuff of nightmares, no.
MS: Yeah, there are seeds of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE that are still just like in my brain forever.
Capone: Your film seems to be about working with what you’ve got. You don't get into the world of tattoos and piercings.
MS: Yeah, because I feel like that’s what most men do, like I feel like most men are like, “How do I deal with what I’ve got? Where do I go from here?” I think we wanted to use that as the basis of the whole film.
Capone Beautification is often a result of insecurity, and that one guy, Ricky, seems to be the embodiment of beautification coming as a result of just a lifetime of insecurity. Are men more insecure today?
MS: Well I think it has to do with the way that the magazine industry has done it, and television. There was a time when what a man represented, even look at films and television of like what was the perfect man. The perfect man was the guy who, as much as Isaiah Mustafa made fun of in the Old Spice ads, was the guy who would go chop something down, work in a factory, come home smelling of garlic and motor oil or whatever it was.
But today that tough version has been so softened, and now you shouldn’t be covered in hair, you should be incredibly fit, you should have a full head of hair--the minute you start going bald something is wrong. I think there’s this very David Beckham-ish version of a man that is now seen as being the perfect man. So I think there are insecurities, because we do see ourselves as never being Brad Pitt. “How do I suddenly become Brad Pitt?,” which is what we have been told every woman wants. If you’re not George Clooney or Brad Pitt or David Beckham, then “Who am I?”
Capone: You do a great job of documenting the shaving of your own mustache. How long did it take you to feel uncomfortable without it?
MS: Oh, like 38 seconds.
Capone: Did you just shave it and then immediately grow it back?
MS: Well as soon as my little boy had his freak out like the day after, I was like “I have to start growing this back immediately,” so I did start growing it back very quickly. You look at yourself and you’re like “Who's that guy? I don’t even know who that person is.” And part of you does start to feel incomplete, like Tom Selleck without his mustache is not Tom Selleck anymore; that's who Tom Selleck is. So for me, the minute I shaved this things off I looked younger. It was true how much younger I looked, but I looked younger and balding. So at least what the mustache does is distract you from how balding I am. [Laughs]
Capone: Did you really give a lot of thought as to why you felt that way?
MS: I think you just grow attached to something, just like everybody else. Even when people see you, there is an expectation that you have of someone to look a certain way, you know? I think of the people who have mustaches and beards that I look at, like the Teutuls, like Papa Teutul on "American Chopper," right? I can’t imagine Papa Teutul without his mustache. The minute he shaves that thing off, who would he be without that big crazy thing going down his face? Hulk Hogan, what would he look like without that mustache? Or if he took that bandana off his head and actually showed us how bald he was. You have a real attachment to how people start to look after a while.
Capone: I remember the first time I saw an episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." That’s the first time I was ever aware of most of these practices that you getting into in your movie. That show had a huge impact.
MS: It had a huge impact and took this idea of things normally people just associate as being like gay or part of gay culture away from gay culture, because straight men were doing it, but they just didn’t talk about it. One of my favorite lines in the films is when the guy says, “Men should look as put together as they can be, but look like it didn’t take them any time to do that.” That’s the reality, that men should so care, but look like they so don’t care. The air you have to project is “I so don’t care,” no matter if it took you two hours like Ricky to leave the house.
Capone: Let’s dig in to Ricky here, because I think some people are going to think he has some sort of mental illness. He really does not see himself I think the way he actually is. It’s almost like an eating disorder with him.
MS: There was a tremendous amount of this idea of almost body dysmorphia with men, and Ricky is a great example because here’s a guy who, from a young age, was made to kind of feel insecure because of his peer group, much as has happened to women for years, and now is very much happening to men. Ricky is very different also, because he was coming from a different culture, so now not only does he not fit in, but he definitely didn’t even fit in as an American, so now “You don’t even fit into our country, to what makes someone an American.”
So he’s done everything he can since he was a child to fit in, to be a part of this fabric of what we deem as being society, and though every imperfection, he is trying to strive towards that perfection. To him it’s like “Here’s something else that’s wrong with me. Here’s something else that makes me not perfect,” and it is almost like an eating disorder, and he’s not the only person. What I applaud Ricky for was being willing to go on camera and talk about this, because he’s part of a much larger piece of our culture of people who are trying to find this image of self that is perfection, which will never happen.
Capone: That scene where he goes and gets his eyebrows threaded, and he’s literally telling her to take out like three hairs. Who does that? He’s going to these dark clubs, no one is going to notice three hairs that are not in the exact right place. That freaked me out a little bit.
MS: There is a level of OCD that goes into that at a certain point.
Capone: And some of the subjects some people might see as either silly or sadly obsessive. Where do you kind of draw the line on this subject matter between humor and simply laughing at somebody?
MS: I feel like people still laugh at the stories. I think people are still laughing at Jack Passion. He’s your champion, America. He is “The Captain of Beard Team USA,” and so I think there is plenty of laughing that goes on. But I think to kind of understand your place within this realm, you have to understand the extremes, you have to understand “How far do people go to come back to X?” So I think that by understanding how far out Ricky is, how far out Jack is, how far out Shawn is, a guy who literally has to get up and shave his body head to toe everyday. It takes him over an hour to shave his whole body before he can even go to work, you know? The idea of me having to shave my whole body before I go to work every day, I would find a different job. I would find a job where I could go be the hairiest man possible. I think that those are lending a place to helping you kind of understanding your place.
Capone: Was there a particular male beauty ritual that sort of shocked you the most?
MS: Listen, when we discovered “Fresh Balls,” that was one of the most spectacular discoveries ever. [Laughs] There was something we tried to cover. There were girls who “vajazzle,”girls who basically get stones put above their regions, and so now there are guys who are “pejazzling” and so we tried to find…
Capone: Oh boy…
MS: Yeah, so we tried to find a guy who would go on camera to get pedazzled, to talk about pejazzling, and of all the shit we were able to cover, we couldn’t get somebody who’d go on camera for that. I was like “Really? I can’t get somebody who will get pedazzled for this?”
Capone: And you were worried about crack waxing disturbing people…
MS: I feel like I do draw a line and I guess north of kind of that Mason-Dixon line is where I draw it. [laughs]
Capone: There's an interesting discussion in the film about the word “metrosexual” and how some people considered it offensive. It did become a very popular buzz word for a while.
MS: Yeah, if I was someone who I guess really cared about what everybody else thinks of me all the time, then maybe I would be offended by it. I mean, I don’t know, I don’t find it to be offensive, but nobody calls me a metrosexual.
Capone: I guess the next step for some of these people as they get older would be plastic surgery.
MS: Absolutely. Well that’s the thing. I was speaking to a plastic surgeon just the other day who said 45 percent of his clientele now is male.
MS: So it’s almost half of his business are guys coming in to get surgery. That’s kind of nuts. For me, what I predict the next trend to be is going to be suddenly guys all across America are going to suddenly have beards like Wes Bentley in THE HUNGER GAMES. That’s going to be the next thing, this incredibly manicured perfect crazy ass beards, which every day I look in the mirror and I’m like, “I would love to be able to shave my beard like that, but that looks like a lot of work.”
Capone: I read somewhere that for your next project you're headed down the feature film road.
MS: Yeah, we’ve closed the financing on a film; getting the money is always half the battle for making a film. We closed the financing for a feature narrative. We are trying to just nail down cast and scheduling, and in a perfect world we will shoot that film this summer, fingers crossed.
Capone: Can you say anything about it at this point?
MS: I can just kind of give you broad strokes. I mean it’s taken years for me to find the film that I would want to be the first film I make and this is something I think very much fit in my wheelhouse. It’s a very ERIN BROCKOVICH-ish type movie, very INSIDER-ish type film. It’s based on a true story of a little guy standing up against the big guy. It’s perfect. It’s good. When SUPER SIZE ME came out, I was like, “I really want to make a narrative film,” and so I got sent all of these scripts that were like “SUPER SIZE ME is hilarious; he should make comedies." So I’d get sent a REVENGE OF THE NERDS remake; no one should ever remake REVENGE OF THE NERDS. I got sent a DEUCE BIGALOW movie. I got sent all of these things and I was like, “This is not what I want to be doing.” Then three years ago, this script came across my desk, and I was like “This is perfect. This is exactly the type of film I want to make.” It’s very much not a comedy at all, it’s very much a drama/thriller-type film.
Capone: Let me ask you real quick about that Comic Con documentary. The way that you went through about distributing it and sort of doing that roadshow tour, did that turn out the way you had hoped it would?
MS: I wish we would have been able to do the original plan, which was create mini-Comic Cons in towns all across America. That’s what I wanted to have happen, to create mini Comic Cons in place that would never get to go to Comic Con, but the promoter of that tour pulled out, because we weren't able to guarantee huge stars at every event, which I thought was the most ridiculous thing ever. It’s like, “Listen, Seth Rogen isn’t going to show up in Milwaukee. Why is he going to want to go to Milwaukee? There’s no upside for him to come to this one event over a weekend.”
I said, “People will come to this because of what it is. People are going to come from the experience, that’s what Comic Con is. To come for like a portfolio review or to come for the people who are selling chotchkies or comic books. That’s what people would have come out for, and so for me I wish that would have happened, because I thought that was a really special and unique thing to the film, and that’s the special and unique thing about Comic Con; it’s that camaraderie and creating that camaraderie in towns all across the country.
When that didn’t happen and we went to just a compressed release schedule, which I was all for because I wanted to make sure that fans all across the country get to see the film when the movie was coming out. Because when GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD came out, I was on television all across the country then we opened on 18 screens, so 99 percent of the country couldn’t see the film. So I said, “We can’t have a film open like that again. We have to change that paradigm,” and the film’s made like a quarter of a million dollars so far On Demand, upwards of that. So I mean financially, the film will do well. I think that it’s going to reach its audience, but that tour I wish would have happened.
Capone: Yeah, if you'd just had those four or five kids that you profiled go on tour, they would have been enough of a guest to make the audience excited.
MS: You are preaching to the choir, my friend. But yeah to have Holly, Chuck, Skip, Eric, those people come out the screenings, it would have been amazing. We could have put those guys on the road, but the promoter was so sold on “Stan Lee has to be at every event,” and I was like “You’re out of your mind. Stan’s got shit going on.” “Joss Whedon has to be there.” I was like, “If you haven’t noticed, Joss is making one of the biggest movies of the summer right now; he’s not going to come out to promote Comic Con.” It was frustrating.
Capone: Yeah, well it turned out great.
MS: I’m proud of that film. I love that movie. When we were fighting against investors when investors were saying, “You’re going to be in this film, right?” I’m like, “No, I’m not going to be in one frame of this film. This film is so not about me,” and we had five different investors that wouldn’t put money in the film because I wasn’t going to be in it. When we ultimately met with Thomas Tull and he agreed to come on to help us put together the financing for this film, find the investors for this movie, he got it, because that’s Thomas’s world. This is a guy that understands that culture better than anyone, but it was amazing how many people just wouldn’t put money in the film because I wouldn’t be in it, and I’m so glad I’m not in that film, because it’s so not about me.
Capone: I don’t think there was a critic that reviewed that movie that didn’t mention that you weren’t in the film. It was a big deal.
MS: And most of them were like, “Thank god, Spurlock finally wised up.”
Capone: Morgan, thank you so much. It was great to talk to you again.
MS: I appreciate it, man. It was great talking to you as well. Take care.