Volume 2, Issue 4
The award-winning documentary filmmaker and rabble-rouser, who created 'Roger and Me' and, most recently, 'Bowling for Columbine,' joined the fray in 1999 by speaking to one about the state of advertising in America.
I actually like watching some commercials, the good ones. I think a lot of Nike commercials are great, like the early ones they ran about women and sports, with the theme that girls can do it. I think the whole slogan of 'Just Do It' was absolutely right: Just shut up and walk out the door and do something.
But you can't help but notice the irony of what Nike's trying to do. They want to sell $150 pairs of shoes in the U.S., which means they expect other corporations to stay here and pay workers a reasonable wage, so those people can afford to buy Nike. Meanwhile, they get to leave America and go to Indonesia and pay people less money. That's 'Nike-omics?' it's okay for us to do this, but not all you other companies.
I have turned down millions of dollars from ad agencies, wanting me to do the 'Roger & Me thing,' as they call it. I just won't appear in a commercial endorsing a product. Why do I want to spend my time stumping for a product? I look out my window and see a John and Yoko photo with 'Think Different' on it, or I see one with Cesar Chavez, and I get very sad that advertising has done this, even though Apple's a cool company. I think this melding of our culture, things that are important to us as a people, with advertising is just wrong. I would only direct a commercial if it was for something I believe in. Maybe something like a union, or a political candidate I want to support.
I didn't go to film school, I didn't go to Sundance. When I started, I didn't know anything about making a movie. I didn't even know what a slate was, the thing you use to sync it up, I shot the first 60 rolls of 'Roger & Me' with no slate. I came into it with a whole different set of motives. I was on unemployment at the time I made 'Roger & Me.' I made it because I was angry at what General Motors had done to my town. And I was going to do something about it.
Too many people compromise. They think if they take too hard a position, they'll get in trouble. I don't worry about that. But I also realize that if I'm doing a film or TV show, we have to serve the humor first. Otherwise the messages won't come through. People don't watch TV for a message. They want to be entertained.