I got the chance to talk to Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? and of course his amazing television series 30 Days that starts it’s third season tonight at 10PM ET/PT on FX.
Nads: What do you enjoy more, doing the films or doing the format of 30 Days?
Morgan: I love making movies. I think that the incredible thing about a film is that a film has the ability to really transcend culture. Super Size Me played in like 75 countries around the world. My new film that came out, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? has been sold in about 60 countries around the world. And 30 Days has done really well. I think 30 Days plays in about 15 different territories now internationally, with a lot of these countries starting to produce their own 30 Days episodes, because originally that was my intent was for these own countries to focus on problems within their own societies. And so that’s starting to happen.
I find each to be rewarding for a lot of different reasons. With 30 Days we’re able to cover so many more topics. It’s a very defined production schedule with 30 Days, there’s a beginning and a middle and an end when you make this TV show. Whereas, when you make a doc it can take a very, very long time. Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? took us about two and a half years from start to finish, where with 30 Days the start to finish of this whole show cycle is about eight months.
Nads: Wow sounds really quick vs making a whole documentary. When you start do you have a beginning, middle and end? And is your journey that of a scientist where you’ll start with a hypothesis and know what you’re hoping to find?
Morgan: No. I pretty much go in with just an idea of, like with Super Size Me we’re going to eat this food for 30 days and see what happens. With Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? we’re going to go try and find the world’s most wanted man. Then we kind of spin the top and see what happens. You know there’s people you want to talk to and you know there’s places you want to go, but other than that I really like to let that whole process be very organic. I like things to develop on their own. I let people help steer where we’re going, and when we’re in a country or we’re in an interview the best things that happen are when somebody comes into an interview or something happens that one door opens and leads you to three or four different things you never even thought about or never anticipated.
Some of the best advice I ever got was from a friend of mine right before we made Super Size Me. I called a filmmaker friend of mine; I’d never made a movie, never made a feature and I said, “Could you just give me some advice?” And he said, “If the movie you end up with at the end is the exact same movie you envisioned at the beginning, then you didn’t listen to anybody along the way.” That’s such good advice. And we take that advice with 30 Days and I take that advice every day with the films we make.
Nads: What do you consider a successful 30 Days?
Morgan: I think a successful 30 Days is one where you don’t really know what’s going to happen. I think there are two. There’s a successful 30 Days as a participant where I go in and I’m surprised and my eyes are opened and I learn things and experience things that 99% of us will never get to. And I think that’s really what I love as a participant that I get out of the show. For me as a person who watches the show, I love that every episode isn’t tied up into a nice little bow, that at the end of every episode people don’t always get along. Everything isn’t always resolved. Sometimes people find commonality; sometimes they agree to disagree. Sometimes their relationship is just as volatile at the end as when they started. And for me that’s what makes the show real. This is a show that really does deal with reality in so many ways and deals with a lot of the problems that we face as a culture on a daily basis. And I think for me, that’s what I love about 30 Days.
Nads: Your first episode airing tonight is Working In A Coal Mine…was that the hardest one to produce?
Morgan: From a production standpoint I think that was probably the most difficult. Being in a coal mine you’re in an environment that is very constricting already, constricted in terms of the light, in terms of the air, in terms of just the, the mine that we shot in, the average height in the mine was about 5’5″. So I’m 6’2″, so like you’re in a mine where you’re hunched over constantly. Our producer, Al LaGarde, is also my height; he’s like 6’2″. Luckily, our cameraman, Michael Dean, was right around 5’6″, 5’7″, so he didn’t have to hunch over so much. It’s one of those things and you’re in there shooting every day with a crew and with equipment.
Nads: What was your experience like in a coal mine?
Morgan: I just think for me it was just kind of eye opening and the people that you meet and these are people that none of us think about. It’s a profession that none of us really know much about or know what goes on and we really take it for granted. These are people who are putting their lives on the line every single day to basically go underground and mine a resource that essentially enables you and I to turn on a light bulb every day. Fifty percent of our electricity comes from the work these guys do, and I don’t think anybody thinks about that.
So I think for me that was probably just one of the many eye-opening things that you start to see. And as you’re surrounded by these guys it really is a brotherhood of these people. It’s a group of people that really look out for one another; they really care about one another. And I just felt really honored just to get to be a part of that.
Nads: How did the guys react to you when you first showed up at the coal mine?
Morgan: I think in the beginning they don’t kind of know what to expect. They think I’m just going to show up and do a 9:00 to 5:00 gig or just come in and do a couple shots and then leave. But I think once I come in and they see that I’m there working every day, what you don’t see is when the cameras aren’t there I’m still working in the coal mine. The days when the crew has off I’m still a coal miner; I’m still going to work. I’m still mining every single day. It doesn’t stop for me. This is their life. If it’s their life, it’s my life over the course of doing this show. And I think that when the miners and the guys that we were with saw that and they saw that I was just as invested in trying to really understand and comprehend and become a part of this then I think that they were much more open to me.
Nads: Have you ever had an episode where the participants just wanted to give up?
Morgan: There’s this time of when there’s breakthroughs and breakdowns. And even when people are like, “I want to go home; I’m unhappy” you kind of talk people off the ledge and you say, “Stick it out.” But they’re not contractually obligated to stay there for the 30 days. People can stop; they can stop if they want to.
Like in season one there was, our participant was doing steroids and human growth hormones for a month, and around Day 20 he went to get his sperm checked, and basically when he started he had a sperm count like 80 million and on Day 20 he had zero. Basically he killed all the sperm in his body. And his wife was like, “You have to stop right now.” He was like, “You’re right; I’m done. I’m walking away.” So he was finished after three weeks. And once he got off the HGH and the steroids all of his semen count came back and it was back to normal.
But it was one of those things and listen, I don’t blame him. If suddenly after three weeks I went from 80 million to zero I’d have probably been really seriously thinking about dropping out, too. But for me, as I said, I think that’s the interesting thing; that’s the exciting thing. And these people are really courageous for sticking it out and for putting themselves in this environment where, think about it, think about something that’s really important to you and you’re surrounded by people who believe the exact opposite for a month. That’s a difficult place to be mentally, emotionally, physically. I think it’s very taxing.
Nads: Were you ever supposed to be in all of the 30 Days episodes?
Morgan: Seasons one and two I only did one episode and then this season, season three, I decided to do two. It’s just I want to try and keep my marriage somewhat intact. When we originally pitched the idea to FX four years ago, when we got the idea for 30 Days, the original concept behind the whole show is I would go off and do every single episode, which essentially means I would be gone and in some sort of a different environment, a different experience every month for six months straight, essentially. And my wife said, “You’re not going to have a wife very long if you do that.”
Nads: Are you doing anything fun for the first episode of this season?
Morgan:On June 2nd I’m flying back to West Virginia where we’re going to have a friends and family screening for all the coal miners.
I want to thank Morgan for taking the time to talk to me, he was so nice and so interesting to talk to. Check out the season 3 premiere of 30 Days on FX tonight at 10PM ET/PT. This season, you’ll see Working in a Coal Mine, 30 Days In A Wheelchair, Animal Rights, Same Sex Parenting, Gun Nation and Life On An Indian Reservation.