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Though it took him months to recover from consistently eating McDonald's food while making his critically acclaimed documentary "Super Size Me" (2004), filmmaker Morgan Spurlock gained more than just 25 pounds in 30 days and a 40 percent increase in his cholesterol count - he earned critical kudos, comparisons to Michael Moore and an Oscar nomination. Prior to overnight fame, Spurlock's filmmaking pursuits led him from low-level production work, to a corporate spokesperson job, to televised sports announcing, before producing his Internet-born reality series "I Bet You Will" (MTV, 2002-03). Then, inspired by a bizarre lawsuit filed against America's fast food goliath, he helmed the hugely successful indie documentary "Super Size Me." While some debated the merits - and results - of his unorthodox experiment, there was no denying that it kicked off a nationwide debate about the causes of obesity like never before. Spurlock's sophomore project was the less successful "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?" (2008), followed by the playful examination of product placement, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" (2011). A master self-promoter, Spurlock became known for tackling prescient subjects - sometimes in an ill-fitting jocular manner, as his critics often claimed - but always with an eye toward both educating and entertaining his audience.
Born Morgan Valentine Spurlock on Nov. 7, 1970 in Parkersburg West VA, but raised in Beckley, Spurlock was exposed to art, music and writing at an early age by his working mother who encouraged him to find his artistic voice. Bucking rural Southern tradition, she sent Spurlock and his two brothers to ballet classes and Camp Saga, a summer writers, camp in nearby Raleigh. By the time he had graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1989, Spurlock's love of movies led to his decision to become a filmmaker, although the road to seeing his dream come to fruition proved more difficult than he had first envisioned. He was denied admission to film school at the University of Southern California five times before being accepted at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he frequently performed in stand-up comedy clubs prior to graduating in 1993. After leaving Tisch, Spurlock found irregular work as a production assistant on several films, including the Luc Besson action thriller "The Professional" (1994) and "Kiss of Death" (1995) starring Nicholas Cage.
At the urging of a friend, Spurlock auditioned for a national spokesman spot at Sony Electronics, landed the position, and spent the next two years acting as the public face of the company. He later used that experience to become an announcer for the Sony-sponsored Bud Light Pro Beach Volleyball League, going on to call matches at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, in addition to work as an announcer for various extreme sports events on ESPN. A few years later, Spurlock formed an independent production company, dubbed The Con, and began making corporate videos. He had his first taste of real success with the reality show "I Bet You Will" (MTV, 2002-03), which began as a popular Internet venture before being picked up by the network - the first online program to make the transition. Frequently disgusting, the show dared contestants to perform outrageous stunts - including eating a hair ball made from their own hair clippings mixed with butter, and licking guacamole off of a person's feet. The wary participants were offered a fixed sum of prize money, increasing the dollar amount if they refused, until the contestant agreed to the dare. Although the series lasted only a season on television, it positioned the young filmmaker to tackle his next project when the inspiration struck - which it would, while visiting his family in Beckley for the holidays in 2002.
While sitting on his mother's couch, happily digesting the Thanksgiving feast, Spurlock was struck by a TV news story about two girls in NYC who were suing McDonald's, claiming that it was the fast food giant's fault that they were obese. Upon watching a McDonald's representative respond with the simple statement "Our food is nutritious," Spurlock was struck by an idea. He immediately placed a call to friend and cinematographer Scott Ambrozy, pitching him his concept, to which the potential collaborator replied, "That's a really great bad idea." Six weeks later, they were in production on "Super Size Me" (2004). For 30 days, Spurlock's diet consisted solely of items from the Golden Arches, menu, with the added provision that whenever offered the option to "super-size" his order, he would happily accept. In above-average physical condition at the beginning of the experiment, he soon found himself gaining excessive weight, suffering precipitous mood swings, and racking up dangerously high cholesterol levels. Before the filmed experiment ended, Spurlock's family, friends - even doctors - were urging him to stop. He refused, and when the completed documentary screened at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, it not only became the darling of the festival, but went on to win Spurlock the award for Best Director in the documentary competition, and garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Film.
While the film received largely positive reviews and performed well at the box-office, some pundits accused Spurlock of engaging in "anti-fast food elitism," performing a rigged experiment that had little basis in reality. Regardless, within six weeks of the film's release, McDonald's removed the super-size option from its menu and rolled out a number of healthier menu items, all the while claiming it had nothing to do with Spurlock's movie. In May 2005, Spurlock released his first book, Don't Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America, a companion to his movie. Future wife and vegan chef Alexandra Jamieson released her own book, The Great American Detox Diet, outlining the meal plan she devised to restore Spurlock's health after the filming of "Super Size Me." The couple appeared together a number of times on the in-demand documentarian's next endeavor, the reality series "30 Days" (FX, 2004-08). The show's premise had Spurlock and others walking in someone else's shoes - metaphorically and literally - for a month. Examples of lifestyles participants would immerse themselves in included a conservative straight person living in a gay household, a couple attempting to live on minimum wage, and Spurlock himself spending a month in jail. The series lasted three seasons before being cancelled, but by that time, Spurlock was well into his next cinematic adventure.
With "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?" (2008), Spurlock set out to track down the world's most wanted terrorist, even as he contemplated what kind of a world he and pregnant wife Jamieson were about to bring their unborn child into. By the film's end, he ultimately fell short of the initially stated goal - he turned back at the Pakistani border, a region many posited to be the al-Qaida leader's hiding grounds - although he did manage to illustrate many similarities between American and Middle Eastern families and average citizens. Far from the overnight success of his debut film, the movie was dismissed as facile and poorly-made by the majority of critics, drawing little attention from filmgoers. Tackling far less divisive material, Spurlock next helmed the televised "The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice!" (FOX, 2010), an examination of the long-running global cultural phenomenon. Over the course of the hour-long special, the director interviewed fanatical fans and collectors from around the world, as well as the show's creators and writers, such as former staff scribe Conan O'Brien. He next directed a segment in the collaborative documentary "Freakanomics" (2010), an unconventional view of world economics as seen through a pop-culture prism, based on the book of the same name. Back at Sundance the following January, Spurlock unveiled his latest effort, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" (2011), an insider's look at the world of branding and product placement within the world of entertainment. For the film, he set himself the challenge of making a documentary about product placement, financed entirely by product placement. Apparently, the gambit played out, as evidenced by the addition to the title just prior to the movie's premiere - "POM Wonderful Presents."
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