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Green Room Interview: Morgan Spurlock

August 17th, 2011 by Ben Collins Editor

So, in America, the greatest courage of all is doing stuff. “Gettin’ out there and doin’ stuff,” is probably how we’d say it, too, as we throw our son in a van to go to Little League, or—more accurately—put him in a suit to manage that team in order to make sure he has a job in 15 years.

Morgan Spurlock’s new show “A Day in the Life” – Hulu’s first long-form original production – is about, very basically, people doing stuff. A whole lot of stuff, at a very high level, all the time. It debuts today on Hulu and Hulu Plus with new episodes rolling out every Wednesday.

The first episode details one of those suit-wearing kinds of people.

This guy flies from London to Chicago, puts on some boxing gloves for a photo op, gets on a subway car, hands out some airline tickets, meets up with that floppy-haired guy from “Entourage,” then flies back to Europe the next day, before flying back to the United States after that. Oh, and in the beginning, he goes to a dinner with the President of the United States and the Queen of England.

Okay, so that’s Richard Branson. It probably sounds like an understatement that we’d call him “a guy doing stuff.” But this show does a very good job of getting you to forget that Richard Branson is a painfully famous billionaire.

He seems sort of like a human being, and that was Spurlock’s intention. The “Super-Size Me” creator wanted to spend a day in the life of some of the world’s busiest, most talented people. Sure, Spurlock’s crew is on one of Richard Branson’s jets one day, but he’s on club music legend Girl Talk’s Winnebago the next.

So we talked to Spurlock about how he got his new idea, how he narrowed down the list of who to shadow, and how the super-famous maintain their sense of self.

Hulu: So how did this show come about? Did it go through a typical pilot process?

Morgan Spurlock: We didn’t really have a pilot process. The best part about it is we went right to doing six episodes. I’ve done pilots before and pilots can be so frustrating because you pour so much time, so much money, so much effort into something that can go die on the vine somewhere. This whole process was much more productive and beneficial for everybody. We were out pitching it and Hulu came on and said, “Great. We’ll do it. Let’s make six.”

That seems like a much better way to go about it.

It’s almost like a British model. Like the BBC in the UK, they’d always do six episodes for a series—like a much smaller order. I think, to say, “Listen, let’s just try, get some excitement around it and let’s go from there,” that’s a very, very smart play by the folks at Hulu. And I was excited that they were willing to do it.

Were these shot in order? How did you choose who was being shot?

You’re working around people’s availability and which days you’re gonna get to shoot with them. There wasn’t really a method to the madness. It was just based upon when you could meet people and how it could fit within their time of how you started airing the show. It was literally by the luck of the draw.

Did you sit down and have a big list of people you wanted to follow?

We had a list and we wanted it to be very eclectic. We knew we wanted someone from the world of business. It’s much more of archetypes than it was people. Once we started creating archetypes, we started chasing people within those categories.

Richard Branson was, probably, the first person on that list. He was the first person we called, and he said yes. We wanted to have the frontman of a rock band, and will.i.am fit right into that list. We wanted an eclectic mix of people: from music, industry, of art.

We’re shooting with Mr. Brainwash, for example, in a few weeks. He was sort of made internationally famous by “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” So it wasn’t just all rock stars and it wasn’t just all CEOs. I knew we wanted to paint a very different picture.

We wanted to spend a day with a comedian, and I think we probably got one of the best in the world today with Russell Peters. And Russell Peters—most people hear the name, they don’t know who he is. Most people really, when they see him, they’re like, “He looks familiar, but I don’t know.” But he’s one of the biggest comedians on the planet. He made something like $15 million as a standup last year. He sells out arena tours. He sold out the London o2 Arena, and a lot you have no idea who he is.

There’s this intense dichotomy between the Richard Branson episode and your trip with Girl Talk. You go from private jets everywhere to talking about porta-potty etiquette on a tour bus. Did you have some time between shooting to prepare for that sort of change?

Yeah, there was probably a week, a week and a half between those shootings. I mean, here you are: Girl Talk, they’re living that rock & roll dream. They’re on the road for seven weeks bouncing around music festivals all around the country, rocking out with 10-to-12,000 people a night. It’s not better or worse, but that’s a big difference from Richard Branson, flying around the world in his jet.

What was it like being on the shoots?

It’s amazing to see how people respond to someone like Richard Branson. People are attracted to him. They just want to be around him. He’s a magnetic personality. Then you have somebody like Russell Peters, who—some people want to talk to him—but he still has a life. He can still walk down the street and not be bombarded by folks. But he still has enough notoriety that he travels with personal security.

Specifically with Richard Branson, do you think that there’s a “stardust” situation where they’re destined to be successful? Or is it one of those things where that magnetism—as you said it—comes along as they’ve been more successful.

That’s something will.i.am talks about in his interview. He talks about willing things to happen and having some certain idea of what your destiny is meant to be. I think a lot of it comes from projection and knowing where you want your life to take you. Richard Branson is very charismatic; will.i.am is also very charismatic, very sharp. These are people who knew what they wanted to happen in their lives, and they just got their.

When you spent that day with Richard Branson, did you start to get used to that lifestyle?

I certainly think you start to get a true sense of how much he has going on. This is a guy who oversees 300 companies. He has a vast empire. I mean, I know how busy I am over the course of the day. Just the number of things he has to give answers to over the course of the day is remarkable.

That brings up something that’s really interesting about watching this show: You start to see how frequently these very successful people are almost entirely handled by other people.

That’s exactly right. Once you start reaching a certain level, there becomes some time-management issue that other people help you take care of. People start driving you around. There are people just to help you with your schedule. There’s will.i.am who’s working with a fashion designer to get every bit of clothing that he wears on stage in his shows. It’s interesting to see how much goes into a lot of these people’s lives. That’s part of what makes this show so fascinating. You get access to a window to other people’s lives that you’ve never seen before.

Did you sense that they lost some sense of autonomy if they’re always on the go and pushed by others to go to these places?

As someone who spends a lot of time on the road, I find I have a lot of time to ruminate on the plane. I have a lot of “me” time. What I don’t have is a lot of family time. Focusing on the stuff that makes you who you are—I don’t think that’s the time you start to lose. I think what you lose the ability to do is spend more time with the people you love and care about the most. You have a business and a career to deal with. That’s why I brought my little boy with me, just so I could see him this week.

Richard Branson, that’s one of those things he talks about. He says, “My family means the world to me.” So he bought an island just to find a place to get away and spend time together away from the world and have nothing else. No other kind of influences. I think the more you can maintain those types of relationships, the less of a chance you become the sort of person you were talking about.

And with will.i.am, one of his best friends from childhood is apl.de.ap from the Black Eyed Peas. These were two guys who met each other when they were 13 years old and they’ve been best friends ever since. In his own life and in his own world, he’s someone who’s been there from the beginning. He’s able to keep him in check and keep him real and keep him down to Earth in the midst of all the crazy.

This show makes it pretty clear that being able to attain this level of success—and, granted, these are all artists or performers or generally people with a strong sense of self-awareness—but you need to have the wherewithal to deal with that level of fame.

I think you really have to have that support. You really need to have a base around you—and I try really hard—of No People, rather than Yes Men.

At a time when there’s a backlash against the super-rich in America, the first couple of episodes of “A Day in the Life” follow some very wealthy people around. I think Richard Branson comes off as incredibly charitable — you get the feeling he’s genuinely trying to be good to people. Yet, with Russell Peters in the second episode, we hear about him trading in his Bentley — because it’s too feminine — and getting a Rolls-Royce. At a time when everyone is so conscious of the tough economy, do you think people will be interested in the lives of rich people?

I don’t think the whole show is about rich people.

That’s true. Girl Talk Saran wraps his computer so it doesn’t get ruined, for example.

Yep. We follow Misty Copeland, who’s the lead dancer of the American Ballet Theatre. A throwaway comment like that, from Russell Peters, who—again—came from nothing… if a guy wants to throw around money for a Bentley, a Rolls-Royce and be a little flash—and that’s the other thing: he buys every friend around him presents all day long—if a guy wants to spend all that money, why not?

It’s funny that we have to say this about rich people, but I feel like it humanizes the decent ones. Or at least a rich person, with Richard Branson, who is doing a lot of good things with his capital.

I think that’s the one thing I love about Richard Branson. He built this empire by himself through this huge record company, and now he’s got this huge airline. Now he’s gotten to the point where he can focus on charity, he can focus on philanthropy with a lot of his time. A lot of these people feel they’ve been very lucky, very fortunate, and they don’t want to squander that opportunity.

Last comment: Nov 7th 2011 1 Comment
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