Morgan Spurlock is no stranger to danger. He ate solely McDonald’s food for 30 days for his acclaimed documentary Super Size Me. He went hunting for the then-in-hiding Al Qaeda leader in Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden? He even braved legions of geeks for Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope, an insider’s peek into the famous San Diego comic convention. But nothing will ever quite match attending his first One Direction concert.
The gig took place in June 2012, at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Spurlock went to watch Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Harry Styles, Liam Payne and Zayn Malik – arguably the most famous young lads on the planet right now. “As I was walking into the arena, one of the security guards opens his hands,” recalls Spurlock, “and in his hands he’s got earplugs. I say: ‘Am I gonna need those?’ He goes: ‘Oh, yeah.’ To this day I’m very thankful … because it is just a constant two hours of screaming.”
The British five-piece have become a global sensation since finding fame on the talent show The X Factor in 2010 – with number-crunchers estimating record sales and tour receipts could turn them into the first-ever billion-dollar boy band. “It’s phenomenal. And it is a phenomenon. I’ve definitely never seen anything like it,” says Spurlock, entrusted with the task of documenting the band for the new film One Direction – 1D: This Is Us. “It’s been a really unique experience to be in this window of their lives.”
Charting the band’s rise from their humble roots to playing massive arenas such as London’s 02, Spurlock got to see up close just what makes the band behind such songs as What Makes You Beautiful and Live While We’re Young tick. Does he have any handle on why they’re so popular now? “That’s part of what we want to talk about [in the film],” he says. “They do come from a long line of these young male stars. You go back to Frank Sinatra, all the way up to these guys today … it’s not new.”
While that’s true, the intensity of One Direction’s popularity, says Spurlock, sets them far apart from the likes of other all-male pop acts such as New Kids on the Block, Westlife and Take That. “They’re the anti-boy-band boy band,” he says. “They don’t wear costumes together; they don’t dance.” They didn’t even win The X Factor when they appeared on it, finishing third (the band only formed after all five members initially entered the competition as solo acts).
The way Spurlock sees it, One Direction are the first social media-created band in the world, their fame spreading on Twitter and Facebook. “People were tweeting about them and talking about them, and they didn’t even have an album out. The next thing you know, they go to Europe for the first time and there are 5,000 people at the airport. They literally didn’t have a record. They have these videos up on YouTube, they had people talking about them and that was it.”
Now it’s different, with the release of two albums, 2011’s debut Up All Night and 2012’s follow-up Take Me Home – selling more than 10 million copies between them. They even became the first-ever British band to see their debut album hit No 1 in the US. But Spurlock didn’t just want to regurgitate stats and churn out a glorified record company promo. “There are so many fantastic, intimate moments,” he says. “I think people are really going to like the film.”
Arguably, One Direction fans would probably be quite content to just watch the boys read from the phone directory. Instead, what they’ll get is a backstage pass to their lives – all in 3-D, a format Spurlock concedes is “somewhat expected” for concert movies these days. “You will have a much more immersive experience,” he promises, noting that he brought on board the cinematographer Tom Krueger, who previously filmed Bono and the boys in U2:3D, to help shoot the film.
Spurlock is a former stand-up performer who was born in West Virginia and his attraction to documenting One Direction might seem strange. But then he frequently gets drawn to popular culture – from Comic-Con to the increasing trend of male grooming, which he dealt with in 2012’s Mansome. Spurlock says he’s been most impressed by the fact that the boys are “still incredibly grateful”.
“They still take the time to talk to fans, spend time with their families. You hear these stories and wonder if they’ve been corrupted by the system, but they haven’t.”
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