Morgan Spurlock: Inside the Mind of a Human Guinea Pig

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The Tim Ferriss Show with Morgan Spurlock

This is an interview you’ve been asking for since before I started the podcast: Morgan Spurlock. 

Morgan Spurlock (@morganspurlock) is an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker based in New York. He is a prolific writer, director, producer, and human guinea pig. His first film, Super Size Me, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, winning Best Directing honors. The film went on to win the Writers Guild of America Best Documentary Screenplay award as well as garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Feature Documentary.

Since then he has directed, produced, and distributed multiple film, TV and digital projects, including the critically acclaimed CNN series Morgan Spurlock Inside Man, the FX series 30 Days, and the films Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, Confessions of a Superhero, Freakonomics, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, and many others.

Morgan’s latest project is a tech startup called Clect (homepage, AngelList profile), which is a community for the high-spending collectors community with a one-stop marketplace where people can browse, sell, and buy collectibles of any type imaginable (Star Wars, Smurfs, comics, a Millennium Falcon made from motorcycle parts, etc.). Imagine Comic-Con meets Pinterest and eBay.

In this episode, we cover a ton:

  • How Morgan got his biggest breaks and, in some cases, made his own luck
  • How he builds rapport with people and gets them to open up
  • Tips for aspiring creators and filmmakers
  • How to get people to care about important issues
  • Favorite books, documentaries, movies, etc.
  • Morgan’s thoughts on the future of media and storytelling

If you want a taste of this fantastic interview, here’s the segment on how Morgan gets people to care about important issues.

Enjoy!

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Want to hear another podcast from a film director, screenwriter and producer? — Listen to my conversation with Robert Rodriguez. In this episode, we discuss the creation of “El Mariachi” and how the film went on to win the coveted Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival (stream below or right-click here to download):


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What important issues are you most passionate about? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

Inside Man | 30 DaysThe Greatest Movie Ever Sold | Super Size Me

Zoom H6 | Shure SM58 with XLR cables

The Jinx | Making a Murderer | Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room | Going Clear

  • Read about James Cameron’s style, Man of Extremes
  • Connect with Morgan Spurlock on social media:

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Snapchat: @MorganSpurlock

  • Check out Nuzzel, which provides a digest from the Twitter accounts you follow

Show Notes

  • On post-Super Size Me judgment [8:50]
  • How Morgan Spurlock was inspired to become a storyteller [9:36]
  • Why New York fits Morgan Spurlock’s personality more than Hollywood [12:45]
  • Important lessons learned at NYU Film School [13:46]
  • First major project post-film school [14:35]
  • On the power of listening [18:50]
  • On deciding to do 30 Days [24:07]
  • Mandatory Morgan Spurlock movies [29:23]
  • How to get people to care about important issues in a noisy environment [36:45]
  • Movie or TV – How to decide which is best? [38:47]
  • Resources for masterful storytelling [42:58]
  • Exploring the future of movie making – TV, Netflix, Networks, etc. [48:37]
  • Speculating on future projects [51:26]
  • Who are the filmmakers pushing the technological envelope? [55:52]
  • The story of the making of Super Size Me [57:25]
  • On forward-thinking thought leaders [1:01:03]
  • Most gifted books [1:02:43]
  • About Clect [1:03:55]
  • If you could have one billboard anywhere, what would it say and why? [1:07:20]

People Mentioned

Posted on: March 29, 2016.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

55 comments on “Morgan Spurlock: Inside the Mind of a Human Guinea Pig

  1. Loved this one!
    Storytelling, passions, tech, how to make people open up to you and trust you – great stories, great advice and fun to listen!
    Thank you Tim!

    QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What important issues are you most passionate about?
    People giving in to mediocrity.
    There is greatness in every single human being. So few use it. So few ever learn what their potential is. Most are just killing themselves from inside a little bit daily.
    Why is it true for the majority of people?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tim; your podcast is the only podcast I listen to. Every episode including this one confirms I´ve made a good choice on what to feed my mind on my commute.

    QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What important issues are you most passionate about?
    – There is so much hype and focus on improving and changing ourselves and the world, often mediated by some liberal start-up or new techno-fix. However, so little attention and voice has been granted to the practice of contemplating life as something that is allready perfect, and that our tinkering and improving is as much the problem as the solution.

    So Tim, since you are interested in outliers; where are the interviews with people who by their totally autonomous standards live perfectly content lives that are totally off the radar, but equally outstanding; the hermits, the scientists that are world-leading in something nobody cares about, the social workers, the farmer, the carpenter, the fisherman, the midwife, the shepard, the mountain guide. Where are these voices, and the world need their values.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am most passionate about 1. Helping people let go of the negative voice in their head to allow them to achieve their end goals. 2. Helping homeless teenagers. I do both professionally on a 1:1 basis, but have plans to help on a larger scale as possible in the near future.

    Like

  4. Tim,
    I love your blog and have been recommending the Four Hour Work Week for years. I would love to discuss a question with you.
    Your four hour philosophy of leveraging your time and working smart is fantastic, but how far can you take that? If you look at Elon Musk as the other end of the spectrum. He works enormous amounts of hours and is almost entirely focused on work, but has reached the high water mark of success. What is the relationship between time and success? Can you have 1/3rd of Elon Musk’s success on a 40 hour work week or even 30 ( recognizing that he is also really talented and supremely focused)?
    Thanks
    Dave

    Like

  5. Listening to all your great podcasts, there are a lot of notes I would like to take but because I am in my vehicle, running, or basically can’t use my hands at the time, do you recommend a note taking app that I can use while listening to a podcast at the same time? Thanks for you time!

    Like

  6. First the meh: It was a little disconcerting to hear you guys bring up Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear.” I’m a long-time Scientologist (and listener/reader) and have even worked for two upper Scientology management organizations in New York and Clearwater, FL. I cannot tell you how incorrectly the media misconstrues information about Scientology – just like everything else mind you. It’s actually unbelievable. In fact, if something is highly criticized in the media, I like to see what they’re doing right. See: Theranos getting bashed by The Wall Street Journal for example.

    I absolutely love the documentary format but have realized it’s incredibly open to abuse, like many art forms. I believe that the same principles from “Bad Science” should be considered with the documentary world. There are tons of inconsistencies with “Going Clear” which can be explored here: http://www.freedommag.org/going-clear/ – Believe me… I’ve heard it all in my eight years as a staff member on the public lines. Please check something out for yourself before throwing it under the bus. Just a look at the group’s humanitarian work is eye opening. Although you probably wouldn’t know that because that’s not what we’re fed by Bullshit, Inc. (Took that one from Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”)😉

    Now the praise: Long time listener/reader. THANKS Tim for the incredible content. Morgan was great and his Supersize Me is one of the best docs I’ve ever seen – considering I’ve never touched Fast Food since seeing it. I think he does incredible work as storyteller and hope he continues!

    Like

    • nice you can be so balanced in your approach – despite your huge objections you can still make a final point about how grateful you are to Tim and Morgan and how influential they are for you
      that is often not easy for people to do

      I’d like to remind everyone of Tim’s friend Kevin Kelly (interviewed twice on this blog) and his excellent, really really excellent blog about the great documentaries he has seen. It’s very accessible, just a list of films in categories and a short paragraph explaining why it’s so good.
      he only refers to documentaries that are cheap and easily available, and are GOOD. It’s called True Films.

      So, your second point regarding the documentary form. To be fair there are many approaches to this form. A more successful and reliable documentary is balanced like a thesis. it has an angle but offers material contrary to that angle to offer an attempt at impartiality and to let the viewer make up their own mind. Somewhat at least .
      It’s hard to persue your argument and yet be detached enough to offer evidence against it for the sheer sake of balance – of course one is attached and bound up in the object of their pursuit. eg in Mr Spurlocks case, the peril of subsisting on junk food.

      an interesting example of this brilliant and brave documentary film maker Laura Poitras, she actually set out to portray one thing and ended up siding with another, in her making of film The Oath. (this is to my understanding anyway)
      It’s easy for a doco maker to just fabricate/manipuate/omit in order to justify their argument and classy film making it is not. I recall some objections to Morgan Spurlock about this practice in one of his anti-US Gov in Afghanistan film. I never saw it so I don’t know. Did he really vomit out the car window after his first super size meal early on in Supersize Me. We don’t know. (i am not attempting to discredit nor subtract from Mr Spurlocks great work BTW)

      Your first point RE bad press. Tom Cruise has a huge responsibility for this as 1. He is the single most high profile Scientologist and 2. Gave an interview about his experience with Scientology, that managed be the highest calibre unintentional comedy interview anyone had ever seen, and most inadvertent accidental assassination (of both self and the topic in question), that Scientology has been smeared forever. It’s worth noting Scientology have done everything they can to prevent said interview being seen. If readers haven’t seen it – they must! Immediately! It’s a Roger Ebert four star classic😉

      one can also put aside the very long list of objections people have with Scientology, and single out the one fact, they seek to absolutely ruin and destroy anyone that makes even the most mildest accusation about them.
      They are single mindedly notorious for this behaviour.
      It’s hard to take seriously a large powerful corporation without a sense of humour, and without the ability to receive criticism. Those two things are known as virtues and you cannot be successful without them. a sense of humour, particularly about oneself, and gladly receiving constructive criticism. ( We may care to note, our trusted guide and author of this website, has both😉

      Like

  7. Love this episode so much!
    Currently listening while at the gym getting weird looks from the ‘beef cake ironmen’ as I laugh out load about ”Mane and Tail’ Too funny!! Thank you!!

    Like

    • Lol i bet those ”beef cake ironman” have more iq points , every bitch thinking for herself she’s so great without any proof lmao.

      Like

  8. Long time T.F. fan, the 4HWW got my attention back in 2008 and I’ve been plugged in to what you’ve been up to ever since. As a extreme sports and adventure/exploration junkie, I’d like to suggest a podcast interview. This guy is a Red Bull sponsored athlete, has some very specific and well thought out ideas on endurance sport nutrition, and is one extreme yet humble dude.

    Will Gadd.

    Thanks Tim!

    Like

  9. Why does print — in regard to book publishing — persist in a digital age, you asked Morgan rhetorically, somewhat perplexed. Simple. Print is digital disconnect. Read a magazine or book and it’s total immersion. Email doesn’t ding. Alerts don’t slide in, annoyingly. You can’t click over to Facebook. Reading print is like meditation. Great interview with Morgan. Enjoying the series very much.

    Like

  10. Tim,
    What was the name of the book Morgan recommended? I couldn’t get the name after listening several times and looking through your notes of the podcast

    Like

  11. I find it sad that a fraudster (or another? I have not looked into Walter O’Brian) gets featured. How many studies have to be made to debunk a 11 kilo gain in 30 days – without the aid of anabolics, that is?

    Like

  12. Hi Tim ! I really like your blog, actually I found it a half year ago. Found it very useful, and working on mine to be very good too.
    Sorry that it may sound a little off topic.
    The little problem I questioning myself over and over again is – I’m actually russian, but of course it’s good to make it worldwide – you know how many more people sit over there. I can’t finally decide – should I write all my posts in “rus// eng” mode like eng text after rus text on one page. Or should it be completely different versions.
    I’m even laughing when I imagine your article in english and right after in spanish. But mine are not that long.
    What would work better?

    thnx Tim, and bloggers for your attention, if someone wants to ask me something you can do it.

    Like

  13. I’m absolutely stoked about Morgan getting into Virtual Reality game. I think the storytelling feature is the most exciting part in VR as it bring so much freedom and emotional connection to the plate. If anyone is willing to talk more about VR, find me on twitter.

    Like

  14. Hi Tim,

    This is just a quick thank you message.

    Over the last few months (possibly even longer…), I’ve been getting my podcast ready for launch. And you know what? Today is the day- it is finally launched, and doing well so far.

    One thing I always try to maintain is a good level of gratitude.
    And I like to show that gratitude.

    So I’d like to say thank you to you, because I know that without the countless hours listening to the The Tim Ferriss Show, writing down all of the golden nuggets you’ve taken your time to literally give to me for free, I wouldn’t have gotten this far.

    So, thanks again. You are my yoda. Or Obi Wan. I haven’t decided whether I’ll live as a Jedi or Sith yet.

    Hayden Lee
    Travel Stories Podcast

    [Moderator: links removed]

    Like

  15. Timmy,

    I’ve been listening to your podcast with great interest for several months now. I’m about to sprinkle in some criticism so don’t be offended, please. Most of the episodes are way too lengthy but I do get a lot out of many of them and appreciate your efforts. The commercials are brutal as well, to be candid. I fast forward through all of them. My recommendation would definitely be to condense or edit most of your interviews if you really wanna improve on your format. I’d say Rick Rubin might have been my favorite so far, with Chris Sacca right up there.

    Notwithstanding, this time you really sh$t the bed Timbo. This guest was sooooo dull and just not funny despite his best efforts at humor. Supersize was interesting I guess but really nothing good since from this guy. Honestly, you seemed rather disinterested in him yourself.

    In sum, keep bringing in the successful entrepreneurs and finance gurus, comedians, etc. but this episode really felt like than an extended promo piece for Sherlock’s boring documentary or whatever the fuck he’s working on.

    Like

  16. what was Morgan’s suggested book, I tried listening over but really couldn’t make out and it’s not in the notes? the one you said came up frequently but never sat down to read similar with 道德經. cheers. luv the work.

    Like

  17. Wow! The story about being a quarter million in debt was the most inspiring thing I have heard this month! I have often put my cash and my whole business on the line for what I believe in and it has felt like everyone thought I was crazy. Stories like this help the crazy ones!🙂

    Like

  18. hey tim,
    i was really surprised that you would be interviewing Morgan given his Super Size Me movie. He seems like a interesting person and I like his whole story about being scrappy to get his films made.
    at some point I came across Tom Naughton’s movie called Fat Head and found that to be much better perspective on the whole issue.
    given all your friends taking and making stuff that tastes like rocket fuel, I’m kinda stumped…

    Like

  19. I had hoped to get the interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita that Morgan read!

    I, too, have had this book come up in my life many times, and many times put it off. Every time I heard it, I knew it was something I had to read. ALAS- it is time!

    Like

  20. ” It’s a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist, and you have to earn that. And you know. If you drive past a car accident – you have to stop. Because you know. You’re the only one that can actually help.”

    “If you know it, then you have to do it. And if you don’t know it, well , then you better go find out ”

    Tom Cruise on Scientology

    Like

  21. To all the strange people saying Super Size Me and thus, Mr Spurlock, are a fraud. Lets address this shall we
    1. ‘Studies’ have been done to disprove it, have they? Well, Mr Spurlocks exercise was a study as well, and as a real life self experiment has way more validity than some clinical fabricated study. So, unless you can replicate all of the conditions of Mr Spurlocks study – in other words clone him and re do it exactly the same – then you cant say ‘my study beats your study’
    2. I don’t believe it was a fraud. But I don’t care if it was. Even if it was a complete fraud, I would welcome it. Why? People are so crazy, they forget who we are talking about here. MCDONALDS. They have NO redeeming features whatsoever. No justification to exist. They are a destructive cancer that…umm..cause cancer. They are drug dealers, pawning out toxic addictive crap all over the world, that destroy lives. deforestation and developing world exploitation and…you can look up all the ways. And no one is doing anything to counter act them. Now, when people try and educate others, like handing out flyers outside a McDonalds to try and help people, McDonalds have a tantrum and take those two people to court for the longest running court case in Englands history (McLibel is the name of the case) 10 years of their life gone.
    So, SuperSize Me – bring it on! Mr Spurlock is a hero for what he has done. The countless number of people he has saved, he deserves a medal. Getting it out to a wide audience like that – amazing. (The only thing I regret is that he admitted that he still enjoyed the occasional mcdonalds hamburger. I thought that detracted from his objective and cred a little bit. Don’t say you keep eating it!!!!)
    as an aside, did it ever occur to you that any ‘debunking’ studies were funded by McDonalds as their PR department went into damage control the only way they knew how? As they had no options left?
    3. The person in the comments here that said you can’t gain 11 kilos without anabolics. Well one – maybe mcdonalds has anabolics.I’m only half joking. Secondly if the liver totally shuts down it can’t metabolise. Given all the highly toxic High Fructose Corn Syrup in that ‘food’ it is no surprise. So, that 11 kilos could be purely unexcreted matter, water retention, metabolic byproducts etc. Plus – as we know from Four Hour Body – weighing body weight is generally highly ineffective, it is hard to get reliable body weight data. We don’t know what criteria Mr Spurlock was really using. Stool samples would have been more illustrative of the physical degeneration but not necessary as the film spoke loudly enough
    4 . Another aside. I know people that eat mcdonalds and say they felt psychotic afterward. I am not surprised. Again I blame High Fructose Corn Syrup for this. Aside from that the fact that it can’t be uptaked by the cells, it has to pass through the liver – Really seriously toxic chemicals are used to manufacture it – look it up – you’ll be amazed – easy to find information about it
    I would put big money on the bet that most police shootings of innocent civilians in north america ( where that happens all that time) had happened after the cop had eaten mcdonalds promoting unwarranted and irrational acts of aggression and unreasonable or unwarranted force
    all the crazy spikes in blood sugar, the liver totally freaking out etc – not conducive to the qualities for calm, healthy, community supportive policing thats for sure!! (the reason its the only country in the world i never want to go to – i”m not worried about crime it’s the police , making it the most dangerous country yes. This is a popular belief worldwide by the way – every time theres another police shooting tourism falls even further. I reckon you can partially blame McDonalds for this )

    Like

  22. Hey Tim,

    On March 8th I made a comment recommending you have Morgan Spurlock on your podcast. Not sure if I had anything to do with this but thanks, this was an awesome interview. Thanks for listening to your fans. I will continue to be a follower of your great work!

    Best,
    A Long-time Listener

    Like

  23. Love most of the podcasts but I’m now more convinced than ever the Morgan Spurlock is a fraud. Yeh, I finally watched Inside Man on guns and I wanted to ask if the founding fathers envisioned typewriters and the internet for the first amendment as he kept repeating the “90% of Americans or gun owners want the extensive background check”. — I leave you with this quote from Mark Twain In Ferriss’ 4 hour work week ” “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to the opposite (pause and reflect)”. https://twitter.com/tferriss/status/569999146700148736 – Spurlock didn’t do his homework on the subject.

    Like