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Just as digital has created more platforms for high-quality scripted television, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock believes it will also help raise the bar for reality programming.
Previewing his new docudrama Connected at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Spurlock said digital players give filmmakers more freedom and help increase the quality of content. “It means freedom,” he said. “What I love about what digital entertainment has done is that they’ve given real creative freedom to folks like myself who are doing really groundbreaking stuff.”
Connected put cameras in the hands of seven New Yorkers and let them share their lives over a period of six months. The series premieres March 31 on AOL.
AOL Studios and video president Dermot McCormack interviewed Spurlock onstage about the project and previewed a few clips of the series, which stars Spin ping-pong bar owner Jonathan Bricklin and his girlfriend, Susan Sarandon; interior designer Nina Ferrer-Mannino and husband Stefano Mannino; comedian Derek Gaines, host of MTV’s Broke A$$ Game Show; married tech executives Eli and Ido Bendet-Taicher; Lori Levine, founder of Flying Television Celebrity Marketing, and husband Jan van Arsdale; and TV host Rosie Noesi and boyfriend Joshua Baggett.
“I was lucky to inherit it,” McCormack said of the series, which is based on an Israeli format. “It feels like there’s a turning point in the reality genre.”
For Connected, Spurlock looked for people at different stages in their lives with a variety of stories to tell. He landed on a cast that over the course of six months deals with pregnancy, step-parenting and cancer. Each castmember was given a handheld camera and taught the basics of how to capture footage from their lives. Spurlock said that it took a few weeks for them to loosen up on camera.
“When you first give them the camera, they’re incredibly self-conscious,” he says. “By the second week, it becomes this additional thing — this other person that they’re talking to.”
In one scene previewed, Levine and her then-fiance go to the Hamptons with her soon-to-be stepchildren and she talks about her struggles fitting into this already established family. In another scene, Bricklin and Sarandon go on a canoe ride where Sarandon is recognized by a fellow paddler. Bricklin later opens up that he’s not bothered by her fame as much as by the disparity in their financial situation.
Spurlock said that the level of honesty in such scenes amazed him. “People get incredibly honest and tell us things they will never tell us in a real conversation,” he said. “Some of the things that we capture in this show, I’m blown away by.”
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