Chatting with the famed documentarian about his new film, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope
Comic-Con and Morgan Spurlock belong together. The Comic-Con phenomenon, with the annual July event in San Diego as its centerpiece, is arguably the premiere pop-cultural force in America today, bestowed with an unparalleled ability to shape a range of media, from Hollywood movies to video games and television. Spurlock, meanwhile, has perfected a form of populist documentary infotainment, most notably in Super Size Me, in which he famously ate nothing but McDonald's for a month.
But Comic Con: Episode IV: A Fan's Hope isn't the sort of fast-paced, graphics-heavy, performance-piece doc one expects from Spurlock. The filmmaker stays off-screen here, stepping back to focus on four individuals and one couple attending the 2010 San Diego Con, all of whom are hoping to achieve various significant goals. There's a veteran seller hawking a valuable comic, two illustrators armed with portfolios, a costume designer hoping to garner industry attention when her work is displayed during the Comic-Con Masquerade, and a boyfriend planning to propose during a Kevin Smith panel.
With the movie opening in limited release and premiering on demand this week, Spurlock shares his thoughts on the genesis of the film, the challenges he faced in getting it made, and the joys of proudly being a nerd in "later adulthood."
What told you that the time was right for a Comic-Con documentary?
It was 2009 when I was at Comic-Con doing The Simpsons [20th anniversary] special for Fox. I was there and I was like, "Wow, this is a movie." This is just getting bigger. The popularity is just growing. It's something that's affected so many different pieces now. It's not just comics. It's not just movies. It's video games, it's television, it's toys, it's painters [and] it's artists. I was like, "There's a bigger thing that is still growing around this."
"I didn't know that Comic-Con as a geek job fair existed. ... People were going there with their portfolios to get jobs."
Are there any downsides to Comic-Con's extraordinary influence?
Personally, being somebody who was a geek and a nerd throughout my childhood and into my adulthood, and still into my later adulthood, I find it to be a really positive thing. People love to say that movies have ruined Comic-Con. When I look at that, I'm like, "No, movies have ruined the press coverage of Comic-Con, because that's all that the press likes to talk about." You go to Comic-Con and movies aren't dominating Comic-Con. You'll have movies in Hall H, and 6,000 people are in Hall H, and there're 144,000 people that are anywhere else but Hall H. I think there is a much larger cultural phenomenon beyond this Hollywood takeover.
What do you see as Comic-Con's primary achievement?
It's just continued to popularize a lot of these things that many of us knew were cool for years. We grew up knowing comics were cool. We grew up knowing video games were cool. And they've only gotten cooler. They've only gotten deeper. They're like little movies themselves now. What it's done is it's helped these things become part of the mainstream.
What's something new that you learned about the event?
When I first started exploring what Comic-Con was and we started thinking about making this movie, I didn't know that Comic-Con as a geek job fair existed. The fact that people were going there with their portfolios to get jobs, the fact that people were competing in the Masquerade in the hopes of breaking in to the costume business in Hollywood, these are things that I didn't really know.
How did not being in front of the camera change the filmmaking process for you?
It changed the fundraising process. When we started meeting with investors and started pitching the film to investors, they were like, "Oh great, we really like it. You're going to be in the film, right?" I said, "No, I'm not going to be in one frame." They were like, "Well, I'll tell you what. We'll finance the film, so long as you're in it." And I'm like, "We'll find the money somewhere else." We met with probably four or five investors [who] said that to us that they would invest in the movie if I would suddenly be in the film, which I walked away from every time.
Why was it so important for you to stay off-screen?
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The plan from day one was for me to never be in one frame of the movie. I said, "I'm a fan, but I don't want the movie to be about me as a fan going to make a movie as a fan." For me, it [was] like, "I want to tell the story of the people who are really going there for a much greater purpose." Everybody who we talk about in the film, they really do have some sort of a goal that they're looking to achieve. I think that gives you a very different window of insight into that world.
What inspired your decision to incorporate celebrities like Joss Whedon and Kenneth Branagh as talking heads, sharing their thoughts on Comic-Con?
What I love about that as a device in the film is it puts everyone on the same level. Everyone is equal, which is something you really do get a lot of at Comic-Con. People are there, as somebody says in the film, rubbing elbows with each other. You're pressing the flesh. You're getting to see them in a normal environment. Having that level of equality within the film, it does make a difference.