When you think of artisans and food, chances are the first thing you think about is not the ice cream brand Haagen-Dazs, a brand licensed to Nestle by General Mills in the U.S. and Canada. The brand has always said its goal was to “find the purest and finest ingredients in the world…and craft them into the best ice cream,” and its latest marketing effort appears to be at least a valiant effort to associate with those who produce products at a more handmade, smaller scale than, say, a global food corporation.
But instead of trying to create a less-than-authentic image of itself or awkwardly slap its logo all over a story not its own, Haagen-Dazs decided to take the low-profile approach. Basically, it asked filmmaker Morgan Spurlock to make a documentary about artisans.
“That was it,” says Spurlock. “That was their whole pitch in about eight words–‘‘We want to make a movie about artisans.’ We said, ‘Great, this is how we want to make it.’ And they just let us make the movie we wanted to make.”
The 25-minute film Crafted, which premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival this week, profiles three food-related artisans, Georgia knife makers Bloodroot Blades, San Francisco restaurant Bar Tartine, and Nagatani pottery in Japan.
For Spurlock, who has a variety of documentary shows and projects on the go, including on Morgan Spurlock Inside Man on CNN, Connected on AOL, American Takedown on A&E, and two online series for Maker.tv, working with brands is just another way to tell a story. He says that Haagen-Dazs agency Ketchum got in touch with him through CAA and he jumped at the opportunity, something he never imagined while making The Greatest Movie Ever Sold in 2010.
“Five years ago when I was making Greatest Movie Ever Sold, it took me 100 phone calls to get two brands to say yes,” says Spurlock. “Out of the 900 brands I called, I got 18. It was a very different time and now there has been a sea change, and brands see there is value in working with creators, a real upside to producing smart content that doesn’t have to sell you a widget or ice cream. That ultimately you can create something that reinforces a brand ideology or identity that can transcend to a consumer base in a way that is still entertainment.”
It’s not the first time Spurlock has worked with a global brand, creating short films with both GE and Toyota in the last couple of years. His rules of engagement with brands are pretty simple. The first is to know what projects fit which potential partners. Second, both parties need to work as partners.
“Depending on what the project is, these people are paying hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of dollars to make it with you and it is a partnership,” he says. “You need to have an open dialogue with partners and let them know that they have a voice. You want a partner to know they’re being listened to and their comments are being heard. At the end of the day, you still want to make what you want to make, if someone is spending all kinds of money on it, they’re also going to want to have some input and I’m okay with that. You have to be open to that process, especially if you’re going to build, grow, and scale a business. We’ve been very fortunate in our ability to adapt and work with a wide range of people and partners.”
Spurlock doesn’t see much of a difference between working with a brand or a major studio. Both are investing in the creative process. “If a brand was looking to shove brand messaging, identity and product down my throat, that’s a very different story,” he says. “But if it’s a brand who’s giving a filmmaker the ability to tell a story they want to tell, I don’t see the difference between getting the money from a brand or getting the money from Paramount Pictures. As long as I’m getting the chance to tell a story I want to tell.”
Watch the full Crafted film on Amazon Instant Video.