Morgan Spurlock & Alex Jamieson - Edutainment 101

What could you discover about yourself, the world or life’s mysteries in 43,000 seconds? In one month could you totally delve into a world unlike your own in order to learn about it and ultimately understand it? What changes could be brought about in yourself and in your daily life in just 30 days? These are just some of the questions answered in Morgan Spurlock’s new F/X original documentary series called, what else, but 30 Days.

You might remember Spurlock and his fiancée Alex Jamieson from last year’s surprise hit, Super Size Me, in which he took it upon himself to eat McDonald’s for 30 days straight in order to uncover the effects of America’s newfound reliance on Fast Food. His efforts made him 25 lbs. heavier. It also allowed him to tip the scales of the film world to his favor, earning him an Academy Award Nomination for Outstanding Documentary Feature.

With 30 Days, Spurlock conducts experiments in everyday society, which are both captivating and alarming to the average person. He follows one mom as she embarks on a month of binge drinking in order to prove a point to her daughter about the dangers of alcohol. Then he takes a completely different route by placing David Stacy, a Christian from West Virginia, with a Muslim family and charging him to not only live their life, but to learn from it as well. To take the experiment to another level, Spurlock and Jamieson also become test subjects for the very first episode.

The success of Super Size Me also afforded the couple an opportunity to put their pens to paper. Earlier this year, Spurlock released Don’t Eat This Book, an extended look into the subject of his documentary, while Jamieson—a trained vegan Chef—penned The Great American Detox Diet, which shares the secrets she used to transform Spurlock back into himself after his fast food binge.

Together, Spurlock and Jamieson have elevated public education through documentary entertainment. But the main reason why we are sitting with the couple at their borrowed abode in Hollywood (they normally call New York City their home) is because of where Spurlock chose to kick off his series: You guessed it, Columbus, Ohio.

For the premiere episode, entitled “Minimum Wage”, the two attempted to survive on the bare minimum while living in “The Bottoms” section of our city. Spurlock earned his bread working temporary construction jobs, as well as a full-time gig at Plank’s Bier Garten in German Village. Jamieson walked to work every morning and scrubbed pots and pans at downtown’s Café Brioso. Together, they barely earned enough to survive. In the end, they learned more about themselves and others than ever imagined. In turn, they found truth in altruism.

30 Days In C Town

How did you select Columbus as your location for your episode “Minimum Wage” for 30 Days?
Morgan Spurlock: When we were thinking about cities to go to, we wanted to find one that had public transportation for one…and we were thinking Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio and Iowa. We wanted something that was Midwest and everybody could relate to, and was kind of representative of every town. Then we scouted Columbus and found it has a city mentality, it has a fantastic cityscape and it also is a test market of the world…I think the icing on the cake for us when we started talking about it was when someone said, “That’s what decided the election: Ohio.” We said, “Done, that’s where we are going.”

What was your first thought of the city when you first got there and were looking for apartments and your minimum wage jobs?
Spurlock: It’s cold. Man, is it cold. I did not expect it to be that cold in March and it was bitter cold.
Alex Jamieson: I’m so happy that we thought to bring our long underwear, because I literally did not take them off for the first two weeks. I slept in them and I worked in them. In New York you can rush from one place to the next, but in Columbus you can stand and wait for a bus for a good half an hour with no shelter.
Spurlock: It’s great that they have public transportation there, but it is not quick. And on Sunday nights, it apparently stops running at six. What is somebody supposed to do if they work?
Jamieson: That was something that kept me from getting a second job, because I was applying at different bars so I could work during the night and during the day. But, if it’s going to cost me $15 to get home, what’s the point?
Spurlock: When I was working at Plank’s, I would work a double and I would get home at midnight or 1 a.m., and I would walk home. It wasn’t that far from “The Bottoms.” It was about a 20-minute walk. We were straight down Broad Street, behind Mt. Carmel West Hospital. People would give me rides home, too, because it was so close.

You have to come to rely on your friends when you are in that kind of position.
Spurlock: You do, and the people at Plank’s were great. That was probably my favorite place to work of everywhere. They are good people.

What was your reasoning behind signing up to do this with Morgan?
Jamieson: I’m very passionate about the issues discussed, and I also didn’t want to be away from him for a month. That was probably the main reason. But out of all the issues that we have been talking about since the movie, and especially in my line of work, is that people say, “Oh, it’s so expensive to eat healthy” or “Fast Food is so cheap.” I thought this was a chance to put my money where my mouth is and prove that you can eat healthy for very little money. So that was kind of a personal challenge I set for myself. I was excited to try that.

How did you come up with the various topics that are presented in each episode?
Spurlock: It was from the headlines of the news you read every day. When we sold the show to F/X we had a list of things we wanted to try and deal with and from there we narrowed it down to the six that we actually produced in this first series run. They are all issues that I think are very pertinent to the issues in today’s society. They are hot button issues that continue to be debated, whether it’s in the local communities or in the government.

As a viewer, the people featured in this series engage you, but you also finish with a deeper understanding of the topic presented; especially with the man who lived with the Muslim family.
Spurlock: That’s one of the things I really love about the show is that, while he is immersed in this experience, you become immersed as well. You are living vicariously through him for 30 days and getting to see the world through another’s eyes. That’s the whole goal for me.
Jamieson: It’s “edutainment.”

Did you ever think you would be in a situation to educate the public the way you have with Super Size Me and 30 Days?
Spurlock: I’ve always been one who loves movies and television shows that not only make me feel and evoke emotion but that I take something away from. For me those are the things I’ve always aspired to make. When I was at the Critic’s Choice Awards, Alexander Payne, who directed Sideways, said one of the greatest things when I was talking to him. He said, “Why can’t we make films that cost $5 million that deal with serious issues and are entertaining.” I told him he was preaching to the choir. I felt the same way. I love to be entertained, but I think you can strike a balance.

You can walk away inspired and educated…
Spurlock: And motivated. We live in this incredible world of complacency where we think that the problems are so insurmountable that we are so lost and so small compared to the mountain of a problem. What people need to realize is that change begins with one person and with one idea. Hopefully a show like this will begin to plant those seeds.

Super-sizing Humor

Spurlock and Jamieson are obviously two well-rounded, extremely intelligent individuals who are very much interested in the serious issues that face our society today. Yet, this does not mean they lack any sense of humor. (Did you see Super Size Me? We rest our case.) For this reason, we decided to throw just a few questions their way that still fell under that “edutainment” rubric, but were a bit more lighthearted.
Would you prefer a double-double with fresh-cut fries from In and Out, or a damn good Dagwood with a pint of Warsteiner from Plank’s?
Spurlock: I’d rather have the Dagwood, but I’d rather have a pint of Guinness with it.

Who wins in a bare-knuckle match? Ronald or The King?
Spurlock: The King as in Burger or Elvis Presley, because I think Elvis would kick the shit out of Ronald McDonald.
Prince, Barney and Grimace. What’s with the Purple?
Jamieson: They are all short and weird?
Spurlock: I don’t know. Barney’s not that small. Grimace isn’t short, either. He’s almost as tall as he is round. He’s almost like a perfect thing. Almost like a perfect circle, although he’s a little oblong. I don’t know. I think that’s a good question for Prince, Barney and Grimace.

Would you vote for Mayor McCheese?
Spurlock: I think the word “impeach” comes to mind, for some reason.

What do you think of our 30 Days show ideas? Piloting a Jumbo Jet, Driving a Monster Truck, Running The Jumbo Tron or Lecturing on Moby Dick.
Spurlock: Don’t call us. We’ll call you.
Alex, what is you favorite name of a food? Our is pomegranite, no, wait, Munchos.
Jamieson: Mine is actually French for grapefruit, which is pamplemousse.

What do you consider the worst product you could eat?
Jamieson: Marshmallow Fluff. What is that stuff?
Spurlock: My mother always has Marshmallow Fluff in the cabinet, because when we were growing up she would put that in our hot chocolate. Every year, when I go home for Christmas, I get a spoon and go into the cabinet and get a huge spoonful of Marshmallow Fluff. One big spoonful a year.
Jamieson: Shoestring Potatoes too. I also used to love the shredded beef jerky that came in a can. That’s awful. Diet sodas should not be legal, either, because the artificial sweeteners are terrible.

Wonder Twin Powers Activate…

Spurlock and Jamieson shoot from the hip. They speak their hearts and minds openly, but are never lacking in facts to back up their ideas and opinions. Together, they are a powerful team. Although it’s easily seen on camera, it’s even more evident in person.

You two seem to compliment each other very well and you can see it on film even before we met you in person.
Spurlock: I’m the steak and she’s the vegetables. That’s what I like to call it.
Jamieson: The hippie and the redneck.

Alex. After working at Café Brioso, what is the going rate for a double, skinny, half-caff in Columbus?
Jamieson: I don’t even know. I’m sure it’s over $2.00…or at least $3.00, which is still cheaper than New York and Los Angeles.

After working for minimum wage, how do you feel about the fact that you were not even making enough to buy that cup of coffee?
Jamieson: There is no way that anyone working minimum wage can afford to go to Starbucks. It’s incredible what we take for granted when we are making anywhere from $30 grand or more a year. The people serving you cannot even afford the stuff they are serving you. The Model T was invented so that the person making the Model T could afford it at some point. But we do not have that attitude any longer.

You mentioned during the Minimum Wage episode that kindness is sometimes overlooked, especially when times are hard. What do you think is the kindest thing people can do for each other?
Spurlock: I think the biggest thing is that we don’t listen to people. We don’t take the time. We don’t listen. We ignore people. One of greatest things you can do is stop and listen to somebody. How often are you at a party or at the office and you are talking to someone, and you are looking over their shoulder and looking to who else you have to talk to? You just have to stop and pay attention.

30 Days airs on F/X Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. Check local listings for dates and times the shows repeat, too!