PASADENA — Documentarian Morgan Spurlock has focused his cameras on everything from the fast food industry to education. The new season of his CNN series, "Morgan Spurlock Inside Man," will deal with such broad topics as celebrity, futurism, pets in America, income inequality and college athletes.
Long before the public gets to see his work — told through a serious investigative look accented with his dry sense of humor — the process starts with an idea.
"When the show got greenlit for a second season, we already had a list of things that we wanted to talk about. It's stuff we pull out of the headlines, newspapers, news reports, magazines. You name it," Spurlock says. "We have a list of 10 to 12 ideas that we say to the network that they are the ones we are thinking about."
The network selects ideas they like. Then Spurlock and his team pick the ones they want to do. Once there's a general agreement, research starts to flesh out the ideas. The eight topics that show the most potential go into production.
He knows his stories will be seen around the world through the global news channel, but the one key element he keeps in mind when selecting topics is finding stories that primarily impact an American audience.
Many people told him that a story on immigration in the first season of the CNN series didn't affect most Americans, but he showed how it touches the country by looking at the food a person buys.
"What I wanted to do with this series is to get people to connect the dots to see how they are affected by these stories," Spurlock says.
It was 10 years ago that Spurlock made national news with his Oscar-nominated film "Super Size Me," a documentary about the ill effects he suffered eating a diet of only McDonald's fast food. His first TV series was as executive producer of the FX series "30 Days," where he embedded himself with his subjects for a month. Spurlock also directed the 3-D concert film "One Direction: This Is Us."
Once the ideas are in place — whether it be for film or TV — the final product almost always will be different than what was originally discussed.
"When I was making 'Super Size Me' years ago, a filmmaker friend of mine gave me some advice. He said if the movie that I end up with is the exact same movie you envisioned from the beginning, then you didn't listen to anybody along the way," Spurlock says. "Whenever we film an idea — in a perfect world if everyone had rainbows and unicorns — it would work out the most perfect way possible.
"Then you start shooting and everything gets thrown out the window because everything you have written down doesn't happen. Things go in a very different direction, so you have to go with the way the story takes you."
As an example, Spurlock points to the episode in the first season of "Inside Man," which dealt with elder care as seen through his grandmother.
He spent 10 days following her to show how at 91 she still was able to be very active and take care of herself. Two months after the filming was done, she was in the hospital and died three weeks later.
The story that started out as a focus on elder care became a story that also looked at end-of-life care.
Having to adapt and change causes headaches at the time, but Spurlock believes his stories work because they are like a living organism that keeps growing and changing as he is filming.
To understand more about his process, CNN has published the Flipboard "Morgan Spurlock Inside Man." Go to http://flip.it/SpurlockCNN to follow the host/producer's social media feeds and to find out more about the topics and people featured in Season Two.
“Morgan Spurlock Inside Man," 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 13, on CNN
Season 2 topics
“Celebrity” (April 13): Spurlock becomes a paparazzo to explore firsthand America’s obsession with celebrity and sensationalism.
“Futurism” (April 20): The filmmaker enters the world of extreme life extension from harvesting 3-D printed replacement parts to cryogenically freezing genome.
“Pets in America” (April 27): A humorous and poignant look at America’s cultural obsession with pets.
“Cyber Spying/Big Data” (May 4): How easy is it to track someone online?
“The Book of Morgan” (May 11): Spurlock travels to Nashville to become a guest preacher at an atheist church.
“UFO’s” (May 18): An examination of the history, theories and photographic evidence of UFO sightings.
“Income Inequality” (June 1): After moving into one of the most exclusive and ostentatious properties in America, Spurlock splits his time living with both America’s 1% and the other 99%.
“College Athletes” (June 8): Spurlock imbeds in some of the top college sports programs in the U.S. to see firsthand what it takes to be a top-level college athlete.