4:06pm PT by Jonathan Handel
Meet the Lawyers Featured in Morgan Spurlock's 'Greatest Movie Ever Sold'
Something fun for the holiday weekend....
“THR, Esq. Presents: The Greatest Blog Post Ever Written,” By Jonathan Handel, Edited by Matthew Belloni, Inspired by Morgan Spurlock’s “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Based Upon a Story Suggestion By Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC’s Marc Handelman, and with the Assistance of Block-Korenbrot Public Relations on Behalf of Its Client Sony Pictures Classics.
In the spirit of Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary, which features and was fully funded by wall-to-wall product integration, we thought it appropriate to begin our post with the same. Although Spurlock has all but acknowledged that Pom Wonderful (“a global brand committed to innovation and wellness”) paid a cool $ 1 million for the presenting sponsorship, we’re a little more reticent and will say only that this post was fully-funded by The Hollywood Reporter and whatever advertising appears on this page.
The subject of the clever and energetic film – which THR critic Kirk Honeycutt calls “a goldmine of comedy” – is product integration, a form of product placement on steroids. As I explain in my new book “Hollywood on Strike!” (yes, this is a shameless plug):
With traditional product placement, a can of Red Bull might sit on the table while two characters discuss how to save the world. With product integration, one character would actually have to drink the Red Bull, or mention it by name: “I’ll save the world after I get hopped up on Red Bull!”
There’s a quid pro quo, of course: Brands pay and/or give products or services to the film or television show’s producers. The story that forms the spine of the film is Spurlock’s journey to raise the movie’s $1.5 million budget in just that way.
In other words, the movie is the story of the making of the movie itself; and the movie itself consists largely of product integration, including three embedded 30 second commercials. If you’ve got that, we’ll move on.
Included in the film are cameos by several attorneys. One of them is advertising industry lawyer Rick Kurnit, whose firm “does a lot of branded entertainment work,” according to firm spokesman Marc Handelman. In an interview with THR, Kurnit explained that producers charge for product integration based on fine gradations: there’s one price if a star uses the product, another if he or she handles it, a different price if the star says the product’s name, still another if the star is in proximity to the product, and yet another if the star and product simply share a scene.
Kurnit’s price as disclosed in the movie was $770 an hour. His rate has since gone up to $890 an hour, making the old price seem like a bargain. But no matter: Kurnit didn’t charge Spurlock, instead receiving value from placing a product – himself – in the documentary.
Kurnit also alluded to the concerns that the guilds – specifically, the WGA and SAG – have expressed about product integration. That’s an issue that Spurlock doesn’t address (although WGA West president John Wells does appear briefly in the film). In the 2007-08 negotiations, the writers sought approval over product integration; they got a weaker right of consultation. SAG sought compensation for integration, in part on the theory that a scene with a brand amounts to an embedded commercial. The actors, however, got nothing in this area.
Spurlock’s current lawyer Paul Brennan also appears in the film. Spurlock told THR at Wednesday’s premiere party in a brief interview – well, actually an offhand remark as his handler led him away – that Brennan’s first reaction when Spurlock proposed the film was “What the f**k are you doing?” He must have had a premonition of clauses to come: the scene with Brennan features a mind-numbing pile of contracts that Spurlock became bound by, including one that prohibits him from disparaging the entire nation of Germany. The reason for that one isn’t clear, since the only country that sponsored the film – Aruba – is part of The Netherlands.
Another lawyer in the film is consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who perhaps inadvertently provides a strong note of irony. As THR’s Honeycutt writes, “Even as Ralph Nader suggests the only way to avoid advertising is to go to sleep, he gets enticed into an involved discussion about Merrell shoes.” It’s hard to know whether Nader is spoofing himself, or just looking for footwear from a brand that “believes in encouraging and equipping everyone to get outside.” (No surprise there: who needs hiking shoes indoors?). Without giving too much away, we’ll just say that Nader doesn’t end up disappointed.