Magazine article Newsweek

Film Series Explaining Economy Makes Cotton Candy out of Spinach; Morgan Spurlock Wants You to Watch 20 Short Films about the Economy, for Fun

Magazine article Newsweek

Film Series Explaining Economy Makes Cotton Candy out of Spinach; Morgan Spurlock Wants You to Watch 20 Short Films about the Economy, for Fun

Article excerpt

Byline: Stav Ziv

Morgan Spurlock is best known for surviving--barely--on McDonald's burgers for a month in his documentary Super Size Me.

His latest challenge may be tougher still: making economics interesting. "We kind of tune out because we feel like it is so large and consuming and overwhelming and that we don't understand it enough, but we don't want to admit that because we don't want to seem like idiots," he says.

In an age of growing inequality, Spurlock is convinced that financial ignorance is not bliss. So the filmmaker recruited a bunch of big-name directors, actors and comedians to make 20 short films that tackle questions like: How does government regulate the economy? What do banks do with our deposits? Why do we have budget deficits and a national debt? Is China's boom good for our economy? Why is health care so expensive?

Would you like fries with your options swaps?

"I think that one of the keys to reaching a younger audience is not giving [them] medicine," says Spurlock. "I've sort of made a career making spinach taste like cotton candy. I think that this film series does a really great job of making cotton candy."

Spurlock's production company, Cinelan, and Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Productions unveiled the series We the Economy: 20 Short Films You Can't Afford to Miss at free screenings in 20 theaters across the country on October 20. The next day, We the Economy launched a website and mobile apps--which include the films, quizzes and other supplementary materials--and released the films through a long list of partners, from Hulu to YouTube.

Cinelan and Vulcan started just under a year ago with a team of financial advisers--professors from Columbia, Stanford and MIT; experts from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Brookings Institution and the Environmental Defense Fund; politicians and CEOs; and journalists, editor, and authors whose work has focused on economics--from whom they culled suggestions and whittled down a list of the 20 most important questions to tackle. The questions fall under five chapters: economy, money, role of government, globalization and inequality.

They then recruited 20 directors, including Bob Balaban (co-producer of Gosford Park), Adrian Grenier of Entourage, Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight and James Schamus of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and paired them with advisers to ensure the films' accuracy. Given a question and no more restrictions than a time limit for the videos, a deadline and a budget, the directors were off to the races.

Spurlock's own film, Cave-o-nomics, explains how the economy got started and how the first markets emerged through the story of two cavemen who decided to trade well-crafted spears for hunted animals, and others who followed suit to sell tools, stone wheels and caribou suits. Spurlock appears as a caveman in the film, as do his advisers, business and financial historian John Steele Gordon and Adam Davidson, the co-founder and co-host of NPR's Planet Money.

Adam McKay, a former head writer for Saturday Night Live who has partnered with Will Ferrell to make films like Anchorman and Talladega Nights, went the animated route with The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas!, his answer to "Is inequality growing?" He cast comediennes Sarah Silverman, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler as the voices of Happy, Giggles and Sunshine, who represent the top 1 percent, the top 20 percent and the bottom 80 percent of earners, respectively, as they get placed in different jobs at a lollipop factory.

"Whether it was being ripped off on credit card rates or not knowing my rights when it came to paying back student loans or even what the Federal Reserve is, I've always marveled at how the one subject we all should know, economics, is the subject most of us are completely illiterate about," McKay wrote in a director's statement. …

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