[06/03/08 - 01:33 AM]
Interview: "30 Days" Creator Morgan Spurlock
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

There's something naturally accessible about Morgan Spurlock whether you're seeing him in his films (Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, Supersize Me), documentary series ("30 Days") or even talking with him via phone. Speaking with Spurlock about the 3rd season of FX's acclaimed "30 Days" (which premieres June 3rd at 10pm), one cannot help but feel as if it's an old buddy and you're catching up on what he's been doing with his time. In this situation, this old buddy (Spurlock) is busy producing some of the most compelling television on the landscape today.

If you're not familiar with the concept, "30 Days" places someone in an unfamiliar environment for a total of "30 Days" and documents his or her experience to often emotional and surprising outcomes. The first two seasons brought us episodes where Spurlock and his then-fianc� Alex lived on minimum wage for "30 Days" as well as shifting focus onto religion, binge drinking Moms and being straight in the gay world. Needless to say, "30 Days" is human drama in the truest sense in that Spurlock and crew not only zero in on issues both big and small issues but also take every opportunity to give all sides a chance to be heard. The new season of six episodes, like all of Spurlock's word, does not disappoint.

In the season opener, "Working in a Coal Mine", Spurlock takes on a month working as a coal miner in his native West Virginia. While he admits nobody in his family ever worked the mines, he quickly pointed out that coal mining is something that affects everyone in this age of electronic excess. "It's a profession that none of us really know much about or know what goes on and we really take it for granted. These are people who are putting their lives on the line every single day to basically go underground and mine a resource that essentially enables you and I to turn on a light bulb every day. Fifty percent of our electricity comes from the work these guys do, and I don't think anybody thinks about that."

It's obvious that Spurlock cannot help but get emotionally connected to those around him over the course of the 30 days. While working in a coal mine and learning about the constant awareness of impending danger, Spurlock also lived with the mine's foremen, Dale, and his wife, Sandy to get the personal side of being and living with a coal miner. In regards to the couple, he says, "I love those guys. [They] are just two incredibly beautiful people and she loves him. But how do you tell the guy that you love that can't do what he loves to do? How do you tell this guy that he can't go work in a coal mine because that's his life?" When Spurlock shows the viewer the loving notes that Dale leaves for his wife every single morning before he goes to work (since it may be the last thing he communicates with her), you will be hard pressed to not feel your own heart pangs.

Though Spurlock brings his own enthusiasm and likeability to the show when he's the participant, he usually only introduces the episode and/or provides narration and lets others take on the challenge at hand. He pointed out that, "I think the episodes that I'm in and the episodes that other people do are very different because its me going through an experience and getting put into an environment that a lot of us don't think about or we kind of take for granted. And with these other people they're being put in to a situation where they really have to defend their beliefs and they have to defend what they think and how they feel and how they were raised and kind of things that are really personal to them." Spurlock also laughed when he explained that he didn't appear in every episode because he'd like to keep his marriage, "somewhat intact." However, Alex, who is now his wife, does appear from time to time to voice her own concerns for the job her husband is doing but, after the "Minimum Wage" episode in Season One, Alex drew a line in the sand. Spurlock recounts that after that episode, she said to him, "�You know what? This is your deal; this isn't mine.'"

Spurlock doesn't take center stage often, though, and lets the story tell itself. Several episodes in the new season reinforce the notion that the heart of the series lies in the emotional journey that many of the participants take during the 30 days. Spurlock cited the "Gun Nation" episode (which airs July 1st) as, "really fantastic." The participant, Pia, he explains, "is someone who's so against firearms and against guns and [to see her] fire a gun for the first time and how emotional that is for her and how overcome she is�I think there's a lot of power in that episode." Watching the "30 Days in a Wheelchair" episode, you see how much the life of former football star Ray Crockett is altered when he agrees to the challenge. While he has to learn to maneuver the chair around his house and deal with his wife's frustrations at having to help him in the car and move around the house, there's a point where he sits in his chair and sadly watches his two young sons play basketball in the backyard knowing he cannot join them. In the "Same-Sex Parenting" episode, Kati, a 41-yr old Orange County mother of two adopted children moves in with a gay couple who are raising four adopted children. Kati, not believing gays should be raising children, goes through an emotional rollercoaster while still vehemently defending the beliefs she's had her entire life.

After seeing Kati's breaking down after defending herself to a group of lesbians and, also, Spurlock's own trying time working the coal mines, its easy to wonder if participants ever bolt from the challenge prior to the end of 30 days. Spurlock stated that the participants are, "not contractually obligated to stay there for the 30 days. People can stop�if they want to." But, regardless of the outcome, Spurlock is nothing but supportive of the month-long journey these people go on. "These people are really courageous for sticking it out and for putting themselves in this environment where, think about it, think about something that's really important to you and you're surrounded by people who believe the exact opposite for a month. That's a difficult place to be mentally, emotionally, physically. I think it's very taxing."

While he stated that something happens around day 20 or 21 when people either "breakthrough or breakdown," he further explained that, "when people are like �I want to go home; I'm unhappy' you kind of talk people off the ledge and you say, �Stick it out.' When Spurlock is the participant, like he is in the coal mining episode and "Life on an Indian Reservation (airing July 8th), he points out that sticking with the 30 day life experience is, "different for me because I can just talk about things that are happening around me in real time." He's quick to add, though, that, "it's more important for other people who are in a different situations who have agreed to do this but suddenly there are emotions that are coming out of them; there are things they haven't thought about."

While there are some episodes where the outcome may be somewhat predictable, Spurlock cites the "Animal Rights" episode as, "one of the best hours of television I've ever seen." In this episode, which airs June 17th, George is, "this hunter from North Carolina who goes and lives with this animal rights activist family in L.A. What happens over the course of that show is amazing."

"30 Days" is phenomenal in that it not only gives the viewer a glimpse into a life different from his/her own but also teaches them a certain degree of tolerance. The constant message of the series is that even if beliefs and views are, in the end, unchanged, at least the participant (and the viewers) have opened their eyes and had the opportunity to see how the other half � no matter how near or far � lives.

With the unflappable Morgan Spurlock at the helm, this is a series that should continue to be celebrated and allowed to explore different worlds without our world right here in America. At this time, Spurlock said that FX had not made a decision to renew the series for a fourth season but hopefully the ratings for season 3 will continue to be as strong as previous seasons so there will be many more worlds for Spurlock and his team to explore.

  [june 2008]  

· 30 DAYS (FX)

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