Morgan Spurlock & Adam Davidson On ‘We The Economy’ [VIDEO EXCLUSIVE]
Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker at the helm of Super Size Me and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, is shaking things up again with his new digital series We The Economy: 20 Short Films You Can’t Afford To Miss. The series, which is a collaboration between Spurlock’s production company Cinelan and Paul Allen’s Vulcan, aims to educate Americans about the economy in ways that are accessible and entertaining.
Spurlock and advisor Adam Davidson explained to uInterview how We The Economy, which offers collaborations between with actors, leading directors and economists, seeks to break through the clutter. “We have 20 A-list actors, we are working with 10 brilliant economic minds, to tell stories that we should all understand a little bit better and that we should want to embrace,” Spurlock told uInterview.
One short film Davidson worked on, The Unbelievable Sweet Alpacas, a cartoon that confronts income inequality and features the voices of comics Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. “They basically make it in a way where not only someone like me can understand. I think teachers will be able to these in classrooms. I think that friends will be able to send them to other friends when they are debating about what something truly is. I think there will be a long tail that to these movies will be really exciting in terms if the information they provide,” Spurlock said.
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MORGAN SPURLOCK: The genesis of the project was Paul Allen’s production company, Vulcan Productions, got wind that I was developing a film around money - explaining how it has value, how that value changes, how it varies from country to country. They said Paul was really interested in the economy and wanted to demystify the economy. So we got together and we cooked up this whole concept of We the Economy: 20 Short Films You Can’t Afford to Miss. We have 20 A-list actors, we are working with 10 brilliant economic minds, to tell stories that we should all understand a little bit better and that we should want to embrace.
MS: Well, Adam oversaw a bunch of different films, so he was working as an advisor and as a consultant to a few different films. My film is about the birth of the market system. We basically go back to cave men times, where, John Steele Gordon, whose one of the advisors on we the economy, he said to me, 'I imagine that in the beginning it all started with two cavemen. One was a good hunter and one who made great spears and one guy who said, 'I would be an even better hunter if I had one of your spears, so they made the trade and out of that was born the first market system. I was like that’s a great idea for a movie so that was the inspiration for my film “Caveonomics.” Adam was an advisor on my film but he oversaw and advised a bunch of filmmakers.
ADAM DAVIDSON: Probably the most exciting thing for me was I got to co-write two of the films cause I’ve never done anything like that. I normally try to make the accessible but really serious fact-based economic reporting. I got to partner with Adam McKay and be the co writer of two of them. One of them is a cartoon about three sweet little alpacas who are played by Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph are confronted with income inequality. It was an awesome way to take this very important complicated issue, it made my brain do things I’ve never done before but Adam McKay is such a genius that it was easy and turn it into a really fun cartoon with good jokes and a plot line and all of that. With Chris Henchy we took a fairly complex and subtle argument about to how properly measure the economy. What does GDP represent? Is GDP the right measure? Chris Henchy’s great idea was to make it in the form of wrestlers. Two wrestlers, then it turned out to be four wrestlers, battling it out over how to measure GDP. I think that was pretty much a model for how these films worked. Where you took creative minds, and I don’t want to say economic folks aren’t creative but let’s just say, a little more serious, a little more nerdy and force us together. You got your peanut butter and my chocolate kind of moment. We were able to create something that really couldn’t have existed in any other way.
AD: I think about this an awful lot. I think part of it is, if you look at most of the 20th century our economy just functioned incredibly well. Obviously there was the Great Depression, and there was the occasional recession. But overall it really was the American century. We just had dramatic, healthy growth, sort of unprecedented in human history. So we built all of our institutions, including our educational institutions, our media institutions around this idea that the economy just works. It functions well and is something we don’t have to really worry about it. The rest of the world knew that economics was a really important thing to understand. People used to know that before the American century, but I think we got a little lazy. Maybe we earned some of the laziness from having such a healthy constantly growing economy. Obviously our economy is not growing in the same way, it's not growing as healthily and there’s every reason to think that’s a permanent change. That we are going to be dealing with economic volatility for the rest of our lives. I think now is the time. This is a key moment for Americans to realize - hey we have to understand this stuff. What I love about this series is that we were able to not just say, ok this is serious so here’s a textbook and here’s a bunch of really complicated math equations. We were able to meet the audience where they are. We were able of offer them genuinely entertained, engaging, enjoyable movies but about this crucial substance.
MS: Finally having someone break down how the Federal Reserve actually works and functions was great. I think having someone very coherently explain debt and deficit I thought was a great piece of this project. But I think the greatest thing that I learned is that there is a way to make it accessible to a large number of people. I think that’s what the films do a great job of doing. They basically make it in a way where not only someone like me can understand. I think teachers will be able to use these in classrooms. I think that friends will be able to send them to other friends when they are debating about what something truly is. I think there will be a long tail that to these movies will be really exciting in terms if the information they provide. How about you, did you learn anything?
AD: I already knew everything. No, no, I think what I learned that was truly valuable is there is a whole other level of engaging a broad audience. I work for NPR and The New York Times, and so I have some experience reaching a broad audience of millions of people but they tend to be a self-selected group who really already want to engage big complex issues. So this was an exercise for me in reaching an even broader audience, maybe an audience that would find NPR and The New York Times a little boring or a little off-putting and learning you can really do it. You really can, especially when you do this thing of partnering the creative minds behind Anchorman and couple that with an economics brain and seeing what can come out on the other side.
AD: I tell you the single biggest one. It’s that it is some separate thing. That it is discreet from your day-to-day life. Economics impacts where you live, how you live, who you marry, how many kids you have, what you do for a living, how you spend your leisure time, what kind of stuff you have in your house, what you eat. It is embedded intimately in every component of your life. I certainly don’t believe everybody needs to go out and be an economist, but I do think the world will be better off if people understand there’s this powerful force impacting all of their choices everything about their life. I think that’s the fundamental misunderstanding.
MS: Oh, you go first.
AD: Well, I think right now we are facing a far to sluggish recovery from a very deep, deep, deep recession and financial crisis. We are in uncharted territory. I think that they way that the government kind of unwinds and releases the economy back into the wild after it's been on life support for so long is exciting and scary and really, really, important. I think the broader biggest issue so, that’s a kind of this year/next year issue. I think the kind of generational issue is what I was talking about earlier. I think we are moving into an age where every American will have to hustle to make a living. Where the economy is going to be less forgiving, it’s going to offer less and we’re each going to have to work harder to establish our value in the marketplace. That may be good for some people, its definitely bad for some people, but it just is.
MS: I think the hardest thing is like, how do you prepare kids right now for the future. I have a seven year old, and this film series really made kind of look at what I’m teaching him and what I’m educating him and what he’s learning in school. How do you really start to educate kids and prepare them for this hustle? How do you educate them and prepare them for a future where at one point everyone likes computers! That’s the answer! You need to know computers. Robots! That’s the answer. You need to speak Chinese. That’s the answer. So what are the things we need to be instilling in our children and preparing them for so that they can not only comprehend but also succeed in the future.