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Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock Calls Penn State Scandal a Tragedy

by on March 19, 2012 9:10 PM

Morgan Spurlock, that guy who ate every meal at McDonald’s for a month, had watched with disbelief as Penn State figuratively burned to the ground last fall in wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

The filmmaker, best known for his documentary “Super Size Me,” grew up in Beckley, W. Va., about 350 miles south of State College, and applied to Penn State when deciding where to attend college.

Spurlock, 41, sheds light on social issues through his documentaries. “Super Size Me” revolutionized the fast food industry, and his latest movie, “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” focused on branding placement — Altoona received $25,000 to adopt the name of the film for 60 days.

As for how he would tell Penn State’s story?

“This is a story that affects so many people,” Spurlock said Monday night, before he spoke to a crowd at Schwab Auditorium as part of the Student Programming Association’s Distinguished Speaker Series.

“It affects so many students . . . I always had a real affinity to Penn State when it all happened. There’s so much tragedy around it. It’s such a tragic story. The more I heard, the more just shocked I was every single day with the whole thing.

"To tell that story, there’s so many pieces of it. There’s how students feel. There’s how administrators feel. There’s how fans feel. And there are the victims, who at the end of the day, those are the people who ultimately suffered the most.”

Spurlock said he comes up with a lot of his film ideas from newspaper articles and newscasts. Altoona, one of a handful of finalists, landed the movie on branding placement and thrust itself ahead of the pack when Sheetz said it would mass market it and hold an honorary day to re-name the town for two months.

Spurlock’s next film, scheduled for release later this year, focuses on the people who flock to Comic-Con, the world’s largest comic book convention, held in San Diego.

It’s been more than nine years since Spurlock set foot in a McDonald’s — let alone eat at one, he said. It took eight weeks for basic body levels like blood pressure and cholesterol to return to normal and 14 months of diet and exercise to return to a healthy weight, he said.

It was worth it, though. Spurlock needs to tell important stories, those dying in a 24/7 media world fixed on sound bytes.

“The whole idea of long-form journalism is going out of the window,” said Spurlock, dressed in a shirt, tie, black cardigan and slim fit jeans, a sleek look drastically different than when he stuffed his face with greasy burgers for 30 days.

“Everything is coming in 60-second clips. It’s all about what can be quoted on Twitter. It’s like people are basically reporting for 140 characters now.  Part of that is what has led to the popularity of documentaries. People are seeking out long-form, investigative journalism in a format that isn’t being explored right now. People are hungry for that knowledge.”

Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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