Interview sponsored by Warpaint Films.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is renowned for having his finger on the pulse of the documentary world. When Spurlock created Warpaint with commercial EP Shannon Lords, he sought to break new ground in branded filmmaking. Empowering a select cadre of notable directors, the company has worked for major national brands to create advertising and entertainment experiences across every platform.

When did you first realize that you wanted to get into the advertising business?

You know what’s funny? Without being too name-droppy, Tom Kuntz and I were friends in high school. He was a year ahead of me. We played in a rock band together. He was in an advertising program in Syracuse. He was the first one who was like hey, check this out. I think it was around then when he introduced me to it.

Who gave you your first shot?

My first shot was when I got out of school at this place called Lambesis in San Diego. At the time, one of their clients was Morey Bodyboards. Morey was doing some cool stuff. I had previously done a little bit of work for one of their pro riders named Mike Stewart. Mike introduced me to this guy named Chad Farmer who pretty much ran Lambesis. Chad manage the Morey Bodyboards account. So, Chad hired me at Lambesis, and that was my first job in San Diego.

What do you consider your first shoot as a creative director?

I think it was for Vitamin Water. The idea was about an office that was populated with humans and animals, and they all worked together in this office space. The offices were called “The Offices of Water Inc”. Mother Nature was the CEO, and she had been making water from the beginning of time. That was the basic idea. Mother Nature was pissed off, because she now had some real stiff competition from Vitamin Water, so she was berating her incompetent employees.

What was your first award-winning spot?

I think my first award-winning spot, my first Cannes Lion spot, was for Axe. It was way, way back in the beginning of Axe. The idea was for a product called Axe Essence, and the idea was that men are part good and part bad. So, you would see a scene play out, like a scene would happen with a girl in which a guy would be really nice, and then it would play backwards, and you would see a different side of the guy. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I would play Black Sabbath records backwards to get satanic messages. That’s sort of what we did, but on film.

Who directed that spot?

Jeffrey Fleisig, and it was done with zero money.

What has been the best part of your career so far?

Honestly, the best part of my career was the moment when I decided I had my own voice and that I didn’t need to copy. There was that aha moment where I thought okay, I actually kind of know what I’m doing. I think my best years in advertising were probably at BBH. I think that’s probably when I did my best work in my career, but I’m young, so the best it yet to come.

Is there a lesson that you learned early in your career that you still carry with you today?

I think there is a certain degree of humility and confidence, and you need to find the balance. There had been times when I really didn’t trust my gut and went with the prevailing push. There was a situation where I really wanted Kuntz & Maguire for something when they were together, and I got pushed into using someone else. It might have been one of the biggest letdowns of my career, because it could’ve turned out to be a really great spot, and it turned out to be everything but that. It actually turned out to be one of my least favorite spots I’ve ever done. That taught me to really trust my gut on the things that matter and to fight the battles that are worth fighting.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the advertising business?

Right now, I think with the expanding amount of work and diminishing timelines, it’s been sort of clear to me that the real casualty of the current state is craft. That’s not to say there is no craft out there. It’s just that it’s not valued in the same way it used to be.

 Do you feel that we’re near critical mass with the amount of content we’re consuming?

You could argue that we’re already there. There’s so much online, but I think it’s just like in any other business. You’re not going to break through. Our brains shut down long ago. When it comes to just sheer amount, you always had to do things in order to break through. It’s always been about that. It has always been about doing it differently so that it stands out, and I think we’re still in that situation. It has just been amplified.

Some of our readers are up-and-coming directors who just got out of film school and want to get into commercials. How would they get on your radar?

You know, it’s funny. It’s less about my radar now and more about the guys making the stuff. I mean, I hate to say it, but I’m kind of management now. The producers and the guys making the stuff are the crucial radar to be on. Obviously, if I see something that blows me away I’ll check out that director, but I’m not doing this 24/7. I’m hiring and doing other things now. This has always been something that’s perplexed me a little bit. We have to show the highest person in an agency all of these up-and-comers and get that person to sort of buy into a director, when really these up-and-comers need to get in front of the ones who are in the trenches and are actively doing this shit and making it.

When you were a creative director, where did you look to find talent? I don’t think Vimeo existed yet.

Vimeo wasn’t out at that time. I remember my first experience with Youtube. We had this idea for a film for Smirnoff Raw Tea, and I remember the account guy was like hey, we can put it on Youtube. I was like, I don’t know what that is, but whatever. If it allows us to make a film, then I don’t care. It was basically like that. I was like, this thing is going to be a wank piece of shit anyway. At least we’ll get something for our reel. Then it blew up. So, that was the irony of that. It exploded and got all of these views. Then I was acutely aware of what Youtube was, but that was around 2006. Before that, I would just look at reels or shots and see who was doing the interesting stuff. It was about getting those reels under our noses and trying to expose ourselves to as much film as possible. At the time, you would have to sometimes just go see movies and seek shit out.

Do you have any favorite blogs that you read? Where do you waste the most time?

I’m a total fucking The Onion addict. Honestly, I kind of waste too much of my time on politics online, like I get in wars and stuff.

Let’s talk about your clients and what’s coming up at TWBA.

I think there are massive amounts of opportunities here, and I think this is a place that’s proven itself to be, not only the best agency in the TWBA network at the time, but also the best agency in New York for a while. Its high points are definitely high, so the potential is really good. When the stars align for this place, things go really well. It happened with John Hunt and with Gerry Graf. Those guys really made this place phenomenal. I would never compare myself to either one of those two guys, but when I was approached with the offer and the prospect of running this place, that was my first thought – I want to make this place great, too.

Do you have a favorite commercial of all time?

If I had to pick just one, I’d have to say my favorite is the Miller High Life campaign that Wieden+Kennedy did. They are just beautifully written spots about when men lose their Miller time. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like that since.


Matt Ian

Place of Birth

Brooklyn, NY


Executive Creative Director / TWBA / Chiat / Day