DRINKING IN ALTOONA
My Day with MORGAN SPURLOCK
By Lori Zimmer
It was a Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. While most people were getting ready for work, I was on a private JetBlue flight on my way to getting wasted on Pom Wonderful Pomtinis with Morgan Spurlock. A few days before, I got a text from him “Hey Z, what are you doing Wednesday? Wanna go to Altoona?” Confused as to where the hell Altoona was, but always up for an adventure none the less, I replied “Of course.” Then I contacted my friend Beau Stanton who took a day off from painting to fly with us to this elusive Altoona place.
I soon found out it was in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. As part of his recent film, Pom Wonderful Presents : The Greatest Movie Ever Sold–a film about product placement, entirely funded by product placement–Morgan bought the rights to rename the struggling town of Altoona. For 60 days, Altoona was known as Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Pennsylvania. Yes, really. JetBlue, one of the many sponsors, chartered a plane to bring Morgan and around 40 other guests to Altoona for the official name-changing ceremony, and the East Coast premiere of the film.
Morgan ultimately chose Altoona, as it is a prime example the typical struggling American town, paying them $25,000 for the temporary name change. Buying the rights to name the town was a very smart exclamation point on the whole idea behind the movie–that the business of marketing and advertising crosses lines so often in ways that we’ve just grown to accept as “normal.”
I met Morgan several years ago when working at an art gallery. My intern buzzed me one day and said “Uh, there’s someone named Handsome Morgan on the phone for you?” and I knew he was my type of guy. After helping jam pack his office and home with art, we became lasting friends, despite his insane schedule.
He’s come a long way since his breakthrough film Supersize Me back in 2004, having produced with his company, Warrior Poets, films like Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, the television show 30 Days, and The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: in 3D! on Ice! Each “stars” Morgan, but in the role of relatable host; the guy we know, who sarcastically asks questions, and gets us answers. He nearly killed himself with McDonald’s fast food for us, and lived with his family on welfare for us. He risked his safety in Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, on his pilgrimage to illustrate the very different levels and variations of religion in different countries in the Middle East.
Morgan’s style of filmmaking is a brand within itself. We’ve grown to listen to and trust him, and why shouldn’t we?
This all floats through my head as Beau and I finish our third Pomtini, just as the plane lands in what seems to be a giant parking lot–yep, this town doesn’t even have an airport. And we aren’t even there yet–our boozed-up group is shuttled from the plane onto two buses for an unending two hour ride to Altoona, during which everyone totally crashes out. When we finally pull up to Altoona’s town hall, it seems the entire town is there waiting for us–including the tiniest miniature pony ever (repping Mane n Tail shampoo), which I immediately become obsessed with. (The feeling was not mutual). The ceremony goes off with a hitch, Morgan and the mayor shake hands, and we are supplied with coffee, donuts and smoothies, thanks to one of the movie sponsors: convenience store empire Sheetz. The party continues and we drive around the town changing the signs from “Altoona” to “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” fueled by several six-packs bought from Sheetz. The whole day is one tipsy adventure in the boonies, involving more beer, the mini pony, and the film screening, ending with the ride back to the field where we parked the plane–only to find out that we can’t take off for another 3 hours. This is quickly solved by JetBlue whipping up several more batches of the morning’s Pomtinis. I think I finally got back to my apartment in Greenpoint around 4 am, with a wicked hangover brewing.
Supersize Me was a big hit, but The Greatest Movie Ever Sold has made Morgan a household name. Or at least a household face, as he appears (sometimes sans clothing) in countless ads and on products that are included in the film. (In fact, a naked Morgan greets me every morning–on a poster outside my deli). The movie has been making waves all over the globe, keeping Morgan very busy–with a crazy traveling schedule that lets him sleep in his own bed once or twice every other week. His next stop is down under, where he will premiere Pom Wonderful Presents: the Greatest Movie Ever Sold in Australia on August 11th.
Morgan Spurlock is a New York based filmmaker, art collector and dad. Handsome Morgan is the only man I know that can pull off the handlebar mustache successfully.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography by Jonathan Grassi
Design by Marie Havens
Morgan Spurlock at the Warrior Poets Offices in Soho, July 2011, Photography by Jonathan Grassi