August 31, 2006

Supermax Me! Spurlock Does '30 Days' Again

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock behind bars, for the next of his '30 Days' series on F/X

Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days returns to F/X on Wednesday, July 26 with a premiere episode that focuses on the US prison system. Spurlock once again volunteers himself as a human guinea pig and is locked up in Henrico County Jail in Richmond, Virgina for 30 days, along the way experiencing lack of privacy, solitary confinement, limited access to visitors and work in the prison kitchen. "I was in with people who were facing anywhere from 10 years to upwards of 30 years," says Spurlock. "You hear all the time that these are ‘bad people' who we need be ‘protected' from. It was a tremendous experience just to finally put faces on them because you start to realize, ‘These people aren't all bad people.' These are people who made mistakes, who made errors in judgment, who because of these errors in judgment are now going to be locked up for years and years."

Subsequent episodes of 30 Days will tackle such hot-button issues as outsourcing, atheism/Christianity, immigration and abortion. Each season begins with the F/X network and the principals involved--executive producers Spurlock, Actual Reality's R.J. Cutler, and Reveille's Ben Silverman and Howard Owens--creating lists of ideas for potential episodes. They find inspiration on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, as well as on the evening news. Once the list has been narrowed down, the production team then attempts to cast the episodes.

"The thing is, you can't cast this American Idol style," Spurlock explains. "You want somebody who really has a viewpoint on whatever we're talking about in the show, but not so much of a viewpoint that they're closed off to discussion with somebody else; the ultimate goal of the show is that you walk a mile in someone else's shoes. You see the world through someone else's eyes."

When not putting in time on 30 Days, Spurlock is prepping his next feature documentary based on the book The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney. The New York Times best-seller looks at how the US government's extreme right wing positions on such issues as stem cell research and climate change fly in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus. "I think that scientists are still rock stars and we've kind of forgotten that," notes Spurlock. "These people, who have incredible brains and tremendous insight into the world around us, are suddenly being relegated to the back of the bus on some level."

The prep process is complicated, involving gaining clearances to shoot in labs and juggling the schedules of top scientists around the globe. Spurlock plans on employing a mix of his trademark humor and straight talk from the scientists to make the topic palatable and enjoyable for audiences. Spurlock is producing the doc through his production company Warrior Poets and hopes to be shooting by the end of the year.

 

Tamara Krinsky is associate editor of Documentary magazine.

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