You wouldn’t expect a big 3D concert movie to be an introspective experience, but Morgan Spurlock has decided to take on the challenge. While there have been other big pop-star concert films, with Spurlock’s One Direction: This Is Us, the director seeks to make a “docbuseter” that delivers the bombastic concert experience while also delving into the more personal side of the band. It’s easy to forget that that outside of the bright lights and boy band hysteria, One Direction is made up of five normal boys thrust into a life that is anything but. Spurlock wanted to make a film that leaves all of the rumors, scandal, and relationship drama on the cutting room floor and present a portrait of the boys as at its most simple and its most personal. Morgan is trying not only to document the phenomenon but to understand it and explain it to the uninitiated. But why would a documentary filmmaker as celebrated as Spurlock take on a project like the One Direction movie? Something that is, admittedly, pretty far outside of his wheelhouse. Spurlock told fans at a press conference for the film, “I was thrilled to get to make this movie. It’s not often that you get the chance to make a ‘docbuster.’ When we made The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, we said the goal of that movie was to make a documentary blockbuster film that would go outside the realm of the typical documentary. And this is a docbuster. This is the closest thing to a big budget blockbuster film that you can make that is actually a true story, so as a documentary filmmaker, things like this are really few and far between. To get to have access to a story like this with a fan base that is already so passionate and dedicated, with a studio, with technology you wouldn’t normally get to use. It was a dream come true.”
Spurlock wanted to create a portrait of the band, but in order to do that, he had to confront his own preconcieved notions of the boys first. He says, “The biggest thing is that when you look at a band like this, you can’t help but think that one of them has got to be a diva. These guys, they’ve had so much happen to them so quickly, they’ve got to take it for granted. What I was pleasantly shocked and surprised by was how completely normal these guys were. These are five ordinary guys who were thrust into a massively extraordinary situation and have continued to keep their wits about them. They’ve stayed normal. They’ve stayed the same guys that they were when it all began, and a lot of that is for a couple reasons. One is, I think, that these five guys have each other. Each of these guys has four other people who knows exactly what it’s like to be in this band every single day. They have somebody who they can vent to, someone they can talk to, someone they can talk about the pressure, the strain, that they can deal with this collectively. They have four other guys who are there to knock them down a peg.”
The director continues: “Somebody who’s there to keep them in check. Those checks and balances in a band like this is irreplaceable versus being a solo artist. The biggest thing also is, one of the things that I loved in the movie is when we got to go home and visit their families because these guys come from great families. They come from great homes. That’s one of those things you can’t change, the humility that was instilled in them by their parents and where they come form, the humblest of humble beginnings I think made them who they ultimately are today.”
Once he had a better understanding of his subject, Spurlock needed to figure out how you find intamcy in a room filled with boom mics and camera men. The filmmaker decided that in order to get the truest picture of these boys and this band, he needed to be a fly on the wall and document the group with as little intrusion as possible. “The goal for me was to have as small of an impact on their lives while we were shooting most of the behind the scenes doc footage as possible so that it would be intimate. You would get the real sense of access. There were times when we were filming where it was literally just me holding a camera. There was nobody else in the room or around, and I think those types of moments are really important because it does create a one to one relationship that you feel in the audience. You really get a sense of that. In this movie, unlike a lot of the other films that have come before it, I think you really do feel like you have access to these five guys. You have really intimate moments where you really get a sense of that honesty coming through. I think it comes from this minimal impact we have.”
Spurlock not only wished to understand the band, but to understand its fans as well. The kind of sheer fandom that follows One Direction has earned mockery from those not involved in the culture. It’s easy to look upon the droves of teenaged fans and dismiss their obssesions as immature, but Spurlock defends the millions of One Direction devotees and rejects the stereotypes that surround them. “Let’s put it in context. Let’s compare this to guys who love football teams. Let’s compare this to guys who love not just American football, but soccer. The same guys who will put on jerseys and get tattoos of the teams’ logos on their arms, who will paint their face and go to a football game on a Saturday and scream for Tom Brady. But these girls are [seen as] freaks,” says Spurlock. “Let’s just put this into context for a second as to what passionate fandom means.” It’s easy to distill all One Direction fandom into simple hormone-induced hysteria, but Spurlock insists that these fans are simply searching for a place to belong. “For me, it’s people who are really finding a tribe. They are finding a community in support and love of this thing. One Direction fans will lash out against people who don’t believe in the things that they love, as will Patriot fans talk s**t about Giants fans, or as a Charger fan, I will tell Raiders fans how ridiculous they are.”
Some fans also might be disappointed to hear that Spurlock has decided to leave much of the boys’ romantic life out of the film. When asked, Spurlock said that it was a personal choice and lined up with the kind of film he wanted to make. “When it came down to their personal relationships, I said we shouldn’t put their relationships with girlfriends in there, because they are 19 to 21 years old. What if one of them breaks up with a girlfriend in the middle of my story? Suddenly, I’ve got a hole that I can’t even wrap up. I can’t even close that door, so I chose not to put those relationships in there.” Spurlock then gives some insight into what he thinks the true nature of the story is courtesy of One Direction band member Liam Payne, “What Liam talks about in the film, to me, is the much better story to tell about their relationship. Liam says, ‘I want somebody to love me for me. I want somebody to love me for who I am, not all of this.’ These guys are multimillionaire, world famous pop-stars. The better story for me is, ‘How do I find somebody who loves me as a normal person? Not this guy that you see in the media or you see in this film.’ That’s the story. The better story is, how do you find valuable relationships with people who trust you?”
It’s an odd thing to search for authenticity in something like a 3D concert movie. The very idea of a concert movie, and one 3D is the very definition of glitzy overproduction, but Spurlock sought to pair intimacy with spectacle outside of the concert scenes. He’s taking an auteur’s approach to the pop star concert film, and he’s hoping to show the humanity within the spectacle.