By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire June 13, 2011 at 3:11AM
Documentary funnyman (and Academy Award nominee) Morgan Spurlock dolled out advice to a packed house of documentary filmmakers over the weekend at the Sheffield Doc/Fest. Spurlock, who arrived in Sheffield last week to kick off the festival with his latest, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," shared his secrets on how to make it in the business.
Below are his top 8 tips gleamed from the panel 'Morgan Spurlock Presents: The Greatest Masterclass Ever Sold':
If You’re In Your Own Movie, Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Yourself
We cut for story and nothing else. My biggest rule when we’re cutting something is always cut me first. I surround myself by lots of 'no men.' I want people who really tell me what they think. We’re always quick to get the reactions from everybody else. Most of what we do is capture reactions.
Right now we’re doing two films that I’m not in a frame of. One was shot at Comic-Con last year -- seeing Comic-Con through other peoples’ eyes. I’m not in it at all. It feels fantastic! As much as I love Comic-Con, I’m not the type of person that goes every year. I’m not a diehard. There are better people to tell that story.
Keep It On the Fly
We don’t shoot things multiple times. Everything’s shot in real time. I was a huge fan of “Battlestar Galactica" and “Friday Night Lights.” Both shows have such an active camera. [On "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"] we never used a tripod, just to make it seem that we were much more vibrant. We only used a dolly etc. for the commercials we shot within the film.
Love Thy Lawyer
I love lawyers. A good lawyer will keep you out of trouble. A great one will help you cause it. We want to make sure we can dance as close as possible to that edge of that line, but stay on the side of the law.
Do What Needs to be Done
The whole budget [for “Super Size Me”] was $65,000. Everybody worked for free. We had a total of 45 people. While we were making it I would go on Craigslist and I would go move furniture, paint people’s apartments so I could make money. I flew everyone out to the premiere at Sundance, using money from my grandparents, to share the experience.
Keep It Positive!
Have a good team around you. Even when it’s terrible it’s positive. There’s never negativity around any of my projects. So long as we have a great team, my biggest goal is to always hire people smarter than me, which isn’t hard.
I think there are more opportunities for docs than ever before. It’s a real shifting landscape. A great thing happened when I made “Super Size Me.” Suddenly with these great pre-HD cameras that could be blown up into film, people started making movies. All you needed was a camera, computer and a great idea. We were all still fighting to get shown in the same theaters though. With VOD etc., there are now so many more opportunities for fimmakers. You’re not going to make great money if you don’t get theatrical, but it will [soon] start to be profitable.
Envision How You’re Going to Market the Film Before Completing It
Fimmakers will do anything to get a movie made. I think the more you can relay marketing ideas the better. Find somebody who can assist in marketing that shares the same ideology as your movie. In this day and age you have to have a real idea of the business side of things.
Listen to people. The one thing I know that I know is that I don’t know everything. I listen to everyone. I like to create an environment where everybody has a voice to chime in.
Trust Your Editor
If you want to empower an editor, don’t hover over them. The more you leave the room, the more they’re involved, the more they’re invested. That’s the reason all of our editors want to come back. They get a real sense of creative freedom, which makes all the projects better.