On April 6, the experience of attending Comic-Con International in San Diego is going nationwide via Video On Demand and select theatres across America with “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope,” Morgan Spurlock’s newest documentary about the Southern California comic book and pop culture convention.
“I wanted to make a film that was a celebration of fans for fans and I wanted to make a film that was enlightening to people who were on the fringe or on the outside [of fandom],” Spurlock told CBR News and members of the press about his upcoming film.
A departure from his more consumer-critical movies such as “Super Size Me,” “A Fan’s Hope” takes another step away from Spurlock’s normal material as it does not feature him, concentrating solely on his five main subjects and convention-attendees.
“I’m trying to finally make movies people like! So many people who have said, ‘Yeah, I don’t like any of your other films,’ are going to love this one because I’m not in one frame of it!” laughed Spurlock when asked about his conspicuous absence.
“For me the film so wasn’t about me, it had nothing to do with me, and I wanted to tell the story of the fans. I’m a fan but I wanted to root this in the fans who go to Comic-Con all the time,” added Spurlock.
Directing one of the first film crews allowed to film the convention in roughly two decades, Spurlock was originally inspired while trying to find devoted fans working on the twentieth anniversary special of “The Simpsons.”
“When I got the chance to do ‘The Simpsons’ twentieth anniversary special for Fox four years ago the minute they called I said, ‘We’re going to Comic-Con! We have to find the super fans, that’s where we have to go to chase these people down,'” explained Spurlock.
At that same convention Spurlock meet ex-Marvel Comics Publisher and comic book legend Stan Lee, who immediately told Spurlock, “We should make a movie together!”
“I said, ‘Yes we should!'” Spurlock laughed. “The next day we had breakfast with Joss Whedon that was set up through my agent at CAA… by the next morning we fleshed out a little more what the film would be, following different people who represent Comic-Con, who enter this pop culture Mecca and seeing it through their eyes, then we told Joss and Joss was like, ‘I love it, I’m in.'”
It was this “dream team” that Spurlock attributed to getting him the chance to film the documentary about the convention within its hallowed walls, convincing members of the Comic-Con board to let him, Lee, and Whedon make the movie.
“I don’t think they would have said yes to me if I hadn’t had the dream team on this movie; I think Comic-Con would have been totally freaked out if on my own I came to them and said I want to make this movie, because they would have been like, ‘Oh, what’s he going to do? Who’s he going to expose? What’s he going to say? He’s going to talk about the corporate influence on Comic-Con!'” said Spurlock.
Getting permission to film was only half the battle, however, as Spurlock then had to figure out exactly who to follow during the convention weekend. Putting out a casting call for subjects, Spurlock and his crew received two thousand submissions, some of who they did talking head interviews with at the convention rather than cast as the lead subjects.
“Holly was the very first person we selected to follow because when she sent in her submission tape of her and her friends working in her garage and I sent it around to Joss and Stan… and they said, ‘She’s perfect, she’s exactly what the film should be about,'” said Spurlock of Holly Conrad, an aspiring costume designer and Masquerade Ball participant. “She represents the passion of what Comic-Con is: it’s the fan who sees their own passion turning into something bigger.”
Besides looking for people who showed that ambitious spark of passion, Spurlock also wanted to find people with heart, which led him to James Darling and Se Young Kang.
“We wanted to find a couple who fell in love because of their geek passions — and as soon as [Se Young] left the room [in their submission video] that’s when [James] said, ‘The real reason I’m submitting my tape is because I want to propose to Se Yung at Comic-Con!’ So we’re watching the video and as soon as he came on to say this at the end of the audition video I was like, ‘Done. This guy is in! This guy is so in!” laughed Spurlock.
Outside of the main subjects and fans Spurlock and his team also interviewed comic book writers, creators, and Hollywood celebrities associated with comic books for the film. Doing seventy-two interviews in three days, Spurlock set up places to interview fans at the convention and a celebrity interview station at the San Diego Hard Rock Cafe, peppering talking head shots of both groups throughout the documentary. Besides people like artist Tim Bradstreet, actor Seth Rogen and, of course, Executive Producer Stan Lee, Spurlock said there were many interviews he ended up not using such as DC Comics artist and Jerry Robinson.
“We interviewed Jerry Robinson who created the Joker and he was quite old at the time, he’s since passed away. It was a great interview but it was one of those where, when we started to put it into the film, it didn’t feel right,” said Spurlock, who confirmed the Robinson interview will appear on the DVD edition of the film.
On a less somber note, Spurlock also recalled the most fun (AKA craziest) fans to interview at the convention.
“I like the people who not only create their own costume but make their own super heroes,” Spurlock said. “There’s a guy you see us interviewing in the film who you see has an ever-ready E on his belt. He’s got blue latex gloves with this character that he created, which I can’t remember what it was and it was brilliant!”
A topic touched on by the film and of much debate amongst long-term convention attendees is the effect big movie studios moving in has had on the convention. Weighing in with his two-cents, Spurlock said he did not think the studio influence over Comic-Con was as all encompassing and negative as fans make it out.
“The blockbusters don’t dominate Comic-Con. People love to think that it does and they love to say that it does; all it dominates is the media coverage of Comic-Con,” said Spurlock. The documentarian believed that this greater press coverage is ultimately beneficial to the convention and takes nothing away from the “heart” of the con.
“I think there is an upside to the movies being involved that is slick and popular and helps. But I think one of the reasons why they don’t dominate my film is because they don’t dominate the convention,” said Spurlock. “There’s so many other panels going on, there’s so many other things happening — most people don’t even know the Masquerade exists! We wanted to make sure people saw a much bigger, broader scope of passion and obsession.”
Spurlock also took a moment to remember his own start in the film business, working as a Production Assistant for director Luc Besson on the film “The Professional.”
“[Luc] would come over and talk to me as a PA during the break and asked me what I was doing, why was I working on the film, what did I want to do, and on the very last day of shooting we were on the room of the Essex House hotel in New York City and it was him, the DP Thierry [Arbogast], Luke Eder, the assistant cameraman and myself, just the four of us. We’re framing p the final shot of the production and [Besson] goes, ‘Morgan, this is the final shot of the movie. You frame up the shot!'” recalled Spurlock.
Spurlock did so and then let the esteemed French director take a look. “He comes over and he looks to it and he says, ‘Oh yes. Oh yes that is very beautiful — but this is better!'” laughed Spurlock, miming Besson reframing his shot.
Turning back to “A Fan’s Hope,” Spurlock admitted that more than anything he wanted to make a film about fans for more than just fans — he wanted to show non-geeks that fans are people, and that there is a palpable feel of community around the event.
“There are people all across the country and around the world who will never get to go to San Diego Comic-Con, will never get to travel there, experience what that’s like to commune in a place with people with equal and measured passion that you have, that share the same types of desires for the little things that you and I love and nobody else does,” the filmmaker said. “But I think when they watch this film there is a tremendous amount of satisfaction knowing there are other people like me.
“I want every geek to buy this movie for their parents so their parents go, ‘Oh, my son is normal! He’s like everyone else.’ When I showed the film to my own mom she went, ‘Oh, I get it now!'” Spurlock laughed.
“Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” releases theatrically and on Video On Demand April 6.