From director Morgan Spurlock, the documentary Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, available VOD on April 5th and out in theaters in April 6th, explores the amazing cultural phenomenon that is the San Diego Comic-Con – an event that started as a comic book convention for 500 fans that has since grown into a pop culture event attended by more than 140,000 people annually. Interspersing the lives of five attendees (an aspiring illustrator, a costume and creator designer, a long-time comic book dealer, a long-time amateur illustrator and a young fan hoping to propose to his girlfriend) in 2010 with interviews with Comic-Con veterans including Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Matt Groening, Seth Rogen and Eli Roth, among others, the film gives a comprehensive overview of one of the largest fan gatherings in the U.S.
During this exclusive press day interview with Collider, Morgan Spurlock talked about what initially led him to make his first trip to Comic-Con in 2009, working with Marvel legend Stan Lee and filmmaker Joss Whedon to get the documentary made, their process for finding and deciding on which individuals the film would focus on, getting as invested in the people they followed as audiences will when they see it, and how they’ll be putting together extended celebrity interviews for the DVD. He also talked about his next film Mansome, documenting the world of manscaping and male grooming, how he would like to do a film on education in America and how the system can be changed, that he’s developing a narrative feature, and what he enjoys about doing his Hulu series, A Day in the Life. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
MORGAN SPURLOCK: I had always wanted to go to Comic-Con, ever since I was a kid. I had been to other Cons, but especially as San Diego Comic-Con continued to grow and continued to grow, all I ever wanted to do was go check it out. So then, in 2009, when I got hired to do The Simpsons 20th anniversary special for Fox, I immediately said, “We’re going to Comic-Con. We’re going there and we’re going to cast for Simpsons super-fans.” So, we had this American Idol-esque casting at the Marriott Hotel next door, where we had people come in to profess their love for all things Homer Simpsons. In the middle of doing that, people were coming in, in other costumes, and I was like, “This is so fantastic! This place is a movie, in itself. This whole convention is amazing!”
And then, later on that night, I met Stan Lee and basically gushed to him about how he changed my life as a kid and how his comics basically gave me the courage and passion to want to tell my own stories, as I was reading his comics. He was like, “Oh, my god, Morgan, thank you! We should make a movie together. We should make a documentary. We should make a documentary about Comic-Con!” And I was like, “Yes, we should, Mr. Lee. I completely agree!” Cut to a year later and we were back, making that movie. It was amazing!
Are you the kind of person who, when you hear something like that, you just get focused on it and make it happen?
SPURLOCK: I told my producing partner, Jeremy Chilnick, “I’m sure he says that to everybody, but I’m the one that’s going to believe it. I’m sure he’s like, ‘Edgar Wright, we should make a movie together!’ and ‘Quentin Tarantino, we should make a movie together!’” I’m just the one who was like, “Yes, we should. Let’s go do it!”
Are you at all surprised that it actually happened and it’s coming out in theaters now?
SPURLOCK: Completely! Oh, my god! Anytime somebody says, “Let’s make a movie,” and then it actually gets released is a force of nature. There’s something happening there that you have to be proud of because there are so many movies that don’t get made. There are so many movies where people say, “We’re going to work together,” or “We’re going to do this,” and they never come to fruition. Not only did Stan say that to me as an aside at a party at Comic-Con in 2009, but we got Joss Whedon to come on and produce the film with us, we got Thomas Tull from Legendary Pictures, and we got Harry Knowles from Ain’t It Cool News. We got this incredible cast of people, throughout the whole film, to come and talk about what this place means to them and how it’s changed over the years, and what they think of it. The fact that we pulled together what we did, so quickly, was amazing. Also, what you see in the film, we didn’t shoot beyond Comic-Con. Everything that you see in there, was shot at Comic-Con 2010, and that was it. We shot that whole movie in six days.
SPURLOCK: Oh, all the time! Behind my desk is a note that he sent to me, after he and I met in New York and we went to dinner. I was just like, “Oh, my god, I got a note from Stan Lee!” It’s amazing! I respect Stan so much. What I really love about him is his never ending drive, his passion and his fervor for this business. Here he is now, at 89, with just as much excitement for what he’s doing. I can only imagine what he was like at 25. He is still out there and seeing these characters that he created become bigger than life, every year. It’s remarkable. He’s still a fan. I really love that. I love that he is still a fan. He’s such a rock star! That guy walks through the Con and it’s amazing.
What were the challenges in getting permission and access to shoot this at Comic-Con?
SPURLOCK: I went from meeting Stan Lee at Comic-Con in 2009, to having breakfast with Joss Whedon, the next morning. I went from Stan Lee saying, “Let’s make a movie,” and Peter Micelli, who is my TV agent at CAA, said, “How was it meeting Stan?” I was like, “It was amazing! We want to make a movie about Comic-Con!” He was like, “That’s a great idea. You should meet my other client, who’s coming into town tomorrow.” Cut to the next day, when I was having breakfast with Joss Whedon. And so, I told Joss, “Here’s what the movie is, and here’s what we want to do.”
By that point, my producing partner, Jeremy, and I had flushed it out a little bit more. We wanted to follow the archetypal characters into Comic-Con, and tell the story of Comic-Con through them and their experiences. So, I threw this out to Joss, and Joss was like, “I love it! I think that’s a great idea. I’m in!”
And so, I went right from meeting with Joss to calling up my friend Mark, who’s on the board of trustees for Comic-Con and has been for years. I told him the story of meeting Stan and of meeting Joss and said, “Here’s the idea for the movie. We want to come back next year and shoot it.” He said, “I’ve worked at Comic-Con now for about 25 years. Over that time, there’s probably been somebody who’s come every year, wanting to make this movie, and every year we’ve said, ‘No.’ But, this time, with those people, it just might work.” And, it did. It was remarkable.
How did you find and decide on the individuals that you focused on?
SPURLOCK: It was tough. We put out a casting notice in comic book shops and through comic book websites, and Harry Knowles blasted it out through Ain’t It Cool News, and we probably got about 2,000 submissions. We got letters and videos from people who wanted to be in the film, which we then narrowed down and got another set of videos from them. And then, we narrowed that down to the people that you see in the movie. We were just fortunate.
The biggest thing, for us, was that, whenever you’re looking for a good story, you need to look for something with stakes or a real goal. Holly [Conrad] has real stakes and a real goal. Eric [Henson] and Skip [Harvey] have real stakes and a real goal. Chuck [Rozanski] has real stakes and a real goal, with keeping his business alive. Anthony Calderon just has a mission. He is going to go get the Galactus ‘cause it’s the only place you can get it. He’s like, “If I don’t get that toy, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m not leaving without it.” You can see the passion over that mission. James Darling is on a mission. He’s going to propose to his geek love, who he fell in love with because of Comic-Con. That’s real.
What I love about the film, and why I really love the film, is because it humanizes something that, for years, has been so dehumanized in the press. We have made fun of so many people for loving geeky things, for so long. You laugh at the people in costume and you say, “Oh, the smell of Comic-Con!,” and it’s become a joke. What this film does is that it humanizes every single one of those people to the point that you’re rooting for them, that you’re cheering for them and that you’re hopeful for them.
Did you get as invested in finding out the outcomes of the people you were following, as audiences are when they’re seeing this film?
SPURLOCK: Oh, absolutely! We’ve been keeping up with everybody and keeping in touch with them, as to what they’ve been doing and what’s been happening, and it’s remarkable. Eric Henson is still in the military. He’s still in the Air Force, based in Germany, but he’s drawing covers for all of these comic book companies now. He’s done three or four for Arch Enemy, and I think now he’s starting to work for Marvel. It’s amazing! The guy is a rock star. Skip went back home, but used the experience as being incredibly motivating for himself, and is still drawing and working on his own graphic novel. I predict that, when the movie comes out, somebody will go to Skip and offer him a book deal. And Holly has had so much blow up in her life in the last two years, and the movie is not even out yet. What’s going to happen with her, when the movie actually comes out? I think she’s so gifted and so talented. I think it’s going to be exciting to see.
Was it easy for you to get the various actors, filmmakers and comic book icons to participate?
SPURLOCK: Yeah, we were chasing everybody. The beauty of it is that they’re all at Comic-Con. Since we were shooting it at the Con, we said, “Here’s where we’re shooting, across from the convention center, at the Hard Rock.” That way, they didn’t have to walk far. We were like, “We’re right across the street. We’ll send an escort to come get you.” We would send security over to get them, walk them over to the Hard Rock, and then walk them back when they were done. We were really fortunate with the people we got. We got an incredible response from folks, and these are people who are real fanboys. Kevin [Smith] and Eli [Roth] are just as passionate as the fans we’re following in the movie. That’s why I think it really works.
Who did you think was the biggest score, that you thought was really cool and couldn’t believe they did it?
SPURLOCK: Kenneth Branagh, by far. All of these interviews with all of these people were each probably about 20 or 25 minutes, depending on who it was. So, when the DVD comes out, we’ve already put together extended interviews with all these people ‘cause there was so much gold in what these people said. I asked Kenneth Branagh about Shakespeare. I said, “What would Shakespeare think about Comic-Con?” And he went into this story, talking about how the Globe Theatre, back in its day, was this center of excitement in the town and this center of the arts. Outside of the show, there would always be minstrels, and people selling trinkets and things, to get people excited about the fervor that they were about to go inside and witness. So, he said, “If Shakespeare were alive today, he would be at Comic-Con.” It was the most amazing thing! That was such an amazing get. There’s him, Seth Rogen, Olivia Wilde, and this amazing little geek dream team of people. It was cool.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next?
SPURLOCK: Yeah, the next film is almost finished. It’s going to be premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21st, and it’s a movie that we did with Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, and it’s all about the magical world of manscaping and male grooming. The movie is called Mansome. It’s an important subject. This one is a deep one. As deep as Comic-Con was, manscaping is even deeper.
Is there a concept or topic that you’d really love to explore, but haven’t gotten to delve into yet?
SPURLOCK: I have a son now who’s five, and I would love to do a film about education and education in America, and how to change the education system. That’s probably something that I would love to do, at some point. And, I’d still love to do a narrative. Right now, we’re in development on a narrative feature that hopefully, knock on wood, will happen.
Was it difficult to find the kind of film you’d be passionate about for a narrative feature?
SPURLOCK: I got attached to this film three years ago. The one we’re developing right now is a script that we found in 2008. We’ve done two rewrites on it and we’re doing a third right now. It was difficult. Right after Super Size Me came out, I was sent all of these terrible comedies. People were like, “Super Size Me is hilarious! We should give him a comedy.” So, I got sent the new Deuce Bigelow movie. I got sent a Revenge of the Nerds remake. I was like, “This is absolutely not what I want my first scripted film to be.” And the film that we finally got four years later, I was like, “This is perfect. This is exactly the type of story I want to tell.” It’s a very Erin Brockovich-ish, very Insider-ish, little guy triumph story, which is exactly the story that I want to tell.
Do you have actors that you would love to work with, or filmmakers that you admire?
SPURLOCK: There are so many people that I admire. I love Guillermo del Toro. Meeting him, making the Comic-Con film, made me love him even more. He’s just this amazing spirit. He’s so passionate. He’s another one of those guys who’s such a fanboy. When I saw him last, I went to meet with Thomas Tull and Guillermo was at his office, and I loved the movie The Car. It was this TV movie that came out in the ‘80s, that was directed by Elliot Silverstein. It was pre-Christine and it was about a car that was killing people. Guillermo del Toro and his brother love that movie so much that they were building the car to drive around Los Angeles. He was telling me about that, and I was like, “I love that movie!” So, he and I just basically nerded out and geeked out over this car, and the fact that he was building it, for 20 minutes. He had a guy who was building that car. I was like, “That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard!”
SPURLOCK: For me, I’m always interested to see people’s work ethic and work practice, how they go about dealing with problems, and how they interact with others. I love being a fly on the wall for stuff like that, and I think the show gives you a window into the mind of some incredibly driven people, who are real thought makers, game changers and taste makers in the world today. I love that window into this world that you would never get to see otherwise.
Do you have a process for deciding when you’re going to be a part of what you’re doing and when you’re not, as far as being visible?
SPURLOCK: Well, it depends on the idea. With the Comic-Con movie, from the minute we got the idea, I wanted it to be about the fans. I’m a fan, but I wanted it to be much more about people who were really invested in going to the Con and going for a reason. I didn’t want those cameras to be following me because I’m making a movie. We met with investors about it and talked to them about getting them to fund the movie, and they were like, “Well, we’ll give you the money for the movie, if you’re in it.” I was like, “Well, then I’ll find somebody else to get the money from. Thanks.” That was a sticking point for me, and I think it makes a difference. I think the film really works, and it works even more because I’m not in it. It’s so not about me. It’s literally about these people who represent the heart and soul of Comic-Con. But, that being said, I am in Mansome, for all of 10 minutes, because I have spent the last eight years, shaving around a ridiculous mustache on my face.
SPURLOCK: It’s a magical geek explosion. If I were to explain it to people, I would say that it’s everything people loved as kids that they then became afraid to admit they loved as adults. That’s what’s represented at Comic-Con. The world has shifted. There’s the idea of, “You better grow up!” It’s not like that anymore. You can still embrace those things and be an adult, and it’s fine. You can be a geek now, and it’s cool. You can collect and obsess about things, and have toys in your house as an adult, and it’s not seen as being a weird thing, unless that’s all you have in your house. If you have your house only filled with toys, then it is a bit weird. But, you can collect certain things and it’s not seen as being completely off-the-wall. It’s all those things, combined into one, that makes Comic-Con work.
Now, it has become this playground of all the things that we loved as kids. For me, it’s all the things that I loved as a kid, but can actually afford as an adult. I have a five-year-old son and it’s a chance for me to share so much of the same things that I’m passionate about with him. To watch Star Wars with my kid is one of the greatest things ever. When my son sees C-3PO and goes, “Oh, look, it’s C-3PO!,” I’m like, “Oh, that’s my boy!” There are so many moments of pride that I have, when I can already see the geek influence that I’m giving to him. It’s cool.
What I tell parents with kids, who talk about, “All my kid wants to do is play video games,” is, “You should see the movie because your kid is normal. Your kid is okay.” Whether your kid likes to draw all the time or he’s making costumes, those are the people now that are running Hollywood and these business. I think there’s a way to encourage that and embrace that, that is beneficial for everybody.