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Morgan Spurlock on 'Inside Man' and the Continuing Impact of 'Super Size Me'

Indiewire By Joel Keller | Indiewire April 11, 2014 at 11:26AM

In advance of a new season of his CNN show "Inside Man," the documentarian reflects on his career in television and movies.
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'Inside Man'
CNN 'Inside Man'

Morgan Spurlock is not a film snob. Sure, he has held the highest reverence for documentary filmmakers like Michael Moore, Errol Morris and Steve James. But he's also a practical filmmaker, because he's platform agnostic. It doesn't matter if he's producing a documentary film, a weekly TV docuseries, or a web series that's shown in seven minute chunks. Whichever format lets him tell the stories he wants to tell is just fine with him.

"I think they’re just different," Spurlock told Indiewire. "I love making films and films are forever. That’s the beauty of movies. Movies are timeless. Movies are cross-cultural. Movies travel much more internationally that television does.

"Television has really had a renaissance in the last few years," he continues, "and the bar has been raised quality wise. It’s exciting. I think there’s so much good stuff coming out from television production, really challenging and ground-breaking stuff so for me, it’s like I find TV exciting because there’s been this amazing kind of a resurgence and acceptance of it being a great visual medium and it’s great to take chances and takes risks.”

He singled out key development above all. “I think the internet’s a fantastic place if you’re programming just because it’s a place to really try things out,” he said. “People are willing to be a little more risky there, and it’s a great place to have a much larger ownership of what you create."

For now, though, Spurlock's latest ventures are on the small screen. The second season of "Inside Man," his CNN docuseries where he spends a week or more digging into a different aspect of our society to find things people don't know about those subcultures, premieres Sunday at 10 PM Eastern. In the first episode, Spurlock spends a week chasing celebrities as a paparazzo, finding out that making money taking pictures of Amanda Bynes isn't as easy as people think. He also just struck a deal with Showtime to produce a series called "Seven Deadly Sins," which will document people who are the living embodiment of each of the biblical sins in the title.

"Inside Man" is Spurlock's second series; "30 Days,” an FX series which capitalized on the success of Spurlock's breakout film, "Super Size Me," ran for three seasons. But while Spurlock didn't always appear on camera in his first series, he's front and center on every episode of "Inside Man," doing the participatory journalism that catapulted him to fame a decade ago, when he wanted to see what would happen if he ate nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days.

"Every episode that I did of '30 Days' was always the highest rated show, and the network wanted me to do every episode of that back in the day, and it was a decision that I made to try and salvage my personal life," he said. "With this being a different structure where usually I’m in whatever environment from anywhere from seven to 14 days, it became a much more manageable process versus six months.” The format also allowed Spurlock to explore a different narrative approach. “For me, and I think it’s just a much more active way of telling the story by having me in there,” he said. “It becomes a vicarious journey that you’re going on at that point where it’s not just us following people you’re not invested in."

"One Direction: This Is Us."
"One Direction: This Is Us."

What does Spurlock like about working for TV? Having a deadline, for one thing. Even though with films he has a bigger crew and a bigger budget -- when he directed the concert documentary "One Direction: This Is Us," he had 250 people -- he likes TV because he can go small and intimate.

For instance, he spends an entire "Inside Man" episode at a Pennsylvania animal shelter, caring for the animals brought in and showing the tough decisions the workers have to make when it comes to deciding which animals are adoptable and which are likely to be euthanized.

"You realize that with movies, you can’t do them all," he said. "It’s just too difficult to make as many films and with TV, it enables us just to kind of tackle certain issues or tackle topics in a way and get them out faster for people to see while they’re still timely." Later this season, he'll explore topics like the NSA and how people five up their privacy for convenience, and the hot-button issue of the demands on student athletes.

But even a decade later, the movie that started it all for Spurlock still is making an impact. "I’m floored all the time. I get letters from kids who are watching ['Super Size Me'] as part of their health class," he said. "As I was making the One Direction film, and chasing these guys all around the world, there were fans of theirs that would be like, 'I just watched your movie in school.' It’s amazing."

WATCH: "Super Size Me" On SnagFilms

He's nothing but grateful that the film has given him the career he has now, which has taken him to Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, and enabled him to do a FOX documentary on "The Simpsons," which he cites as a career highlight.

"Out of that film, came people calling me back and we could actually get meetings really easily, and we could actually sit down and talk to people," he said. "That film just opened up doors across the board, and then I think we’ve just continued to build on that with the other films that we’ve done, and the other TV projects, but starting with that movie.” But it wasn’t his first attempt. “I had been working in the business for ten years before that,” he added, “but that film literally blew the doors off of everything and enabled us to do everything since."

Fans of Spurlock's who think that he's leaving the film world behind for good will be happy to know that he'll never abandon the big screen. "In my heart, I’m a filmmaker,” he said, “and I’m going to make movies forever."

This article is related to: Television, Morgan Spurlock, Documentary, Inside Man, CNN, Super Size Me, 30 Days