Documentary Community Remembers Morgan Spurlock: ‘Ahead of His Time in So Many Ways’

When Morgan Spurlock, who died May 23 from complications of cancer at age 53, first entered the documentary space in 2004 with “Super Size Me,” he managed to turn the film’s success into a career. A career that was not only prolific, but also lucrative — a rarity, to this day, in the field.

The secret to Spurlock’s success? He was not only a talented filmmaker, but also a brilliant businessman.

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Just 11 months after the Sundance premiere of “Super Size Me,” Spurlock partnered with FX on the docuseries “30 Days,” which chronicled the journey of an individual situated in an environment antithetical to his background. The first season of the series began airing in 2005 and included episodes about a Christian living as a Muslim and a conservative heterosexual living with a gay man. In total, FX chairman John Landgraf ordered three seasons of “30 Days,” which was executive produced by Ben Silverman and R.J. Cutler.

“Morgan was a good man who did great work and brought joy and fresh ways of seeing things to so many,” says Cutler. “So much of the work that we did together on ’30 Days’ was about seeing the world from the other’s point of view. That was Morgan’s vision and it infused all of his filmmaking. He abhorred hypocrisy, he loved to laugh and he loved to inspire laughter in others. And as we all know, he wasn’t afraid to face criticism for his efforts to make the world a more honest place. He left us way too early but left the world far richer for his having been here.”

Spurlock’s ability to take on subjects including Osama bin Laden (“Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?”) product placement (“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”) and what it means to be a man (“Mansome”) and turn them into commercially viable films that appealed to superhero fans made him and his production company Warrior Poets anomalies in the doc landscape.

“He was creative and also business oriented,” says director Ondi Timoner. “He taught us that we have to be chief executive artists.”

Timoner met Spurlock in 2004 at Sundance, where she was debuting her feature docu “Dig!”

“I walked into the Cinetic house (in Park City) and there was this basket of Ronald McDonald dolls by the fireplace ,” says Timoner. “It was a learning experience seeing those Ronald McDonald dolls. I had shown up to Sundance with some postcards, but that was Morgan. He had such an incredible knack for marketing and for making things happen across all platforms. He was just ahead of his time in so many ways. He was a great role model and an inspiration.”

At a time when most documentaries were being broadcast on either HBO or PBS, Spurlock produced and directed nearly 70 documentary films and television series for outlets including Showtime (“7 Deadly Sins”), Hulu (“The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3D on Ice!”) and Sony Pictures (“One Direction: This Is Us.”) He received an Oscar nomination for “Super Size Me” and won a WGA award for that screenplay, along with subsequent kudos for this work on the big and small screen.

John Sloss, who sold “Supersize Me” out of Sundance in 2004, said “Along with Michael Moore, he pioneered the gonzo journalistic on-camera approach toward documentary. He was a major component of the commercialization of documentaries and carved out a real niche for himself.

“He was equal artist-slash-impresario and there’s an element of impresario that is a businessman.”

In a nod perhaps to Spurlock’s own irreverent approach, Sloss said, “I always told him that that month of McDonald’s would catch up with him.”

In 2013, Spurlock partnered with CNN Original Series to produce and host “Inside Man,” which examined diverse sectors of American life and took a deep-dive into pressing issues facing the U.S.

“Morgan did four seasons of “Inside Man” from 2013-2016,” says Amy Entelis, exec VP for talent and content development for CNN Worldwide. “He travelled across the country for us, showcasing his signature blend of inquisitiveness and humor. From medical marijuana farming and living on bitcoin to the elder care industry and America’s trash epidemic, his journey was always illuminating. Morgan had a unique style of getting underneath these complex subjects. His storytelling helped established CNN Originals Series and we are grateful for his collaboration.”

In addition to his film and television work, Spurlock’s Warrior Poets led Hulu’s push into original programming with their first series, “A Day in the Life”, and helped ignite Yahoo’s original content strategy, producing three separate series, “Failure Club,” “Mansome” and “Losing It With John Stamos.”

Spurlock’s career came to halt in December 2017. As the #MeToo movement continued to gain traction, Spurlock wrote a lengthy social media post saying he was “part of the problem.” In the post, he admitted to serial infidelities and said he had settled an allegation of sexual harassment from a former assistant. He also said he had been accused of rape in college. The post effectively ended Spurlock’s documentary career, as Spurlock stepped down from Warrior Poets shortly after.

“It makes me very sad to think about the many great film and TV projects we will never see from Morgan, not just because of his untimely death but also due to the cancel culture in our business that judged him far too harshly,” says director Joe Berlinger.  “He was a deeply caring and talented human being and filmmaker.”

Timoner adds: “I was really disappointed when he sort of #MeToo’d himself, because he didn’t need to do that. He was always about seeing people’s potential and supportive and, was always supportive of me and my career. He will be greatly missed.”

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