Spurlock Turns Cameras on Comic-Con11 Jul, 2012 By: John Latchem
For director Morgan Spurlock, best known for documentaries such as Super Size Me and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the pop culture phenomenon known as San Diego Comic-Con International was a natural subject for a film. His efforts are on display in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, which was released on DVD July 10 from Wrekin Hill Entertainment in advance of the 2012 convention, where Spurlock was heavily promoting the film.
Spurlock decided to make the film after visiting Comic-Con to film a 20th anniversary special for “The Simpsons,” and realizing there was a much larger story to tell there. Spurlock sent a production crew of 160 to film the 2010 event, which represented the 40th anniversary of Comic-Con.
“The goal for me was to tell the story of Comic-Con that never gets told,” Spurlock said. “Whenever you see Comic-Con in the media, it’s always presented as, here’s some famous people, and here’s some weirdos in costumes. But a lot of these people have a vested interest in going, and I wanted to put a human face on that experience, so that it’s not just about making fun of people.”
Spurlock said he was surprised to discover the convention wasn’t all fun and games for some attendees.
“The eye-opening thing was seeing Comic-Con as a geek job fair,” Spurlock said. “Folks can go there with their portfolio and have a shot of breaking into the comic book industry. Then there’s the idea of the masquerade as a job fair for people who want to design costumes.”
The film is told in two parts. One features interviews with celebrities in attendance as they discuss the convention experience. The other involves following several regular attendees throughout the weekend.
“We sent out a casting notice. We wanted to find a couple. We wanted to find a guy who ran a comic book shop. We looked for a collector,” Spurlock said. “About 2,000 people sent us videos.”
Spurlock said he was having trouble selecting a couple to follow until he came across the tape of James Darling and Se Young Kang, who met at Comic-Con the year before and had earned Spurlock’s attention because Darling was planning to propose during the Kevin Smith panel.
“What he pulled off was remarkable,” Spurlock said.
Spurlock said the proposal almost didn’t make it to film. Prior to Smith’s panel that day was the infamous Hall H stabbing, which prompted organizers to clear the media from the room.
“I told them they had to get us into the room or we wouldn’t be able to film the proposal, and they gave us clearance,” Spurlock said.
Otherwise, Spurlock said, Comic-Con officials were very cooperative with his crew, despite having turned down filmmaker requests to chronicle the event in the past.
“The only reason I think they agreed to let us make the movie was because Stan Lee and Joss Whedon were involved,” Spurlock said.
One aspect of the show Spurlock touches on in the film is the increasing influence of Hollywood in recent years, which has pushed the comic book side of the convention to the sidelines. But Spurlock sees that as a positive development.
“People say comic books are being pushed out, but I think that aspect of the show is very much alive and well,” Spurlock said. “How many people would go to just a straight-up comic book convention? The book business in general is dying, and naturally that is going to filter to comic books. But people are still reading comics. I still buy comics to read with my son. But the paper experience is going away. The generation that prefers that tactile experience is going away. But that just makes comics even more collectible. The inclusion of movie and television turns on a new group of people to comic books.”
The downside, Spurlock notes, is how quickly the show sells out.
“I think eventually they should do what the TED conference does. They sell only a certain amount of tickets to go there live, but you can pay to watch it online,” Spurlock said. “So I think in the future Comic-Con could do something like that where you buy a digital ticket and can watch all the panels.”
Spurlock said he shot 600 hours of footage during the convention and had to make some difficult decisions about what to include in a movie with an 86-minute running time. That’s why he thinks disc is an ideal format for the film, allowing him to include extended interviews with celebrities and more video of the people he followed in the movie.
“The key is to give people a deeper experience and the ability to have real added value,” Spurlock said. “We’re hoping to have more on the Blu-ray version this fall.”
Spurlock said he was happy with the film’s unorthodox release strategy, which involved a limited theatrical run and availability on-demand.
“Every filmmaker wants their film to play in theaters,” said Spurlock, whose latest project, Mansome, for which he partnered with comedians Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, explores the trend of manscaping. “But with documentaries, on-demand offers a chance to reach a wider audience, so there’s great value in that.”