Harry, Niall, Liam, Louis and Zayn.
To millions of fans around the world, those five names are instantly recognized as belonging to the members of the English-Irish boy band One Direction. And for director Morgan Spurlock, who showcases their incredible story in the new documentary “One Direction: This Is Us,” those five names are a ticket to the greatest success of his career.
Best known for his Academy Award-nominated doc “Super Size Me,” Spurlock has never had a film show in more than 200 theaters simultaneously. And, as it turns out, the big leagues have been calling. During a recent interview, the 42-year-old confessed to turning down both the Katy Perry and Justin Bieber concert movies, but said the chance to tell 1D’s story was something he absolutely could not pass up.
“This is the closest thing I’ve seen in my lifetime to Beatlemania,” Spurlock told me. “For me, the opportunity to make a movie of this size and scope, as a documentary filmmaker, it doesn’t happen often.”
Starting with One Direction’s tour of Japan in January 2012, Spurlock spent six months with Harry Styles, Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik, and captured their lives on the road as they toured the world. Intertwined with live concert footage (in 3D!) from their O2 Arena performance in London, “This Is Us” recalls the boys’ rise to international superstardom, gives fans an intimate look at their personal lives and reveals what it’s like to be five of the most popular people on the planet.
Keep scrolling to check out more of my interview with Spurlock, in which he divulges even more details about One Direction and “This Is Us.”
David Onda: Pleasing One Direction fans is crucial to the success of “This Is Us.” How have you done that?
Morgan Spurlock: I wanted to make sure that this film was intimate. You should feel like you have access to them and their lives – their world outside of when they’re on stage. The minute they leave stage, it’s a whole other life for them, and it’s basically their normal lives. I wanted to make sure that we were injected into that and had access to that. The very first meeting I had with them… I said “What’s important to you guys about this film?” And they said, “The most important thing, for us, is that fans see us as we really are.” I think one of the things that happens with them is people think, “Oh, they’re in this pop band, they’re in this boy band – they don’t work for it.” And these guys work all the time.
Onda: 1D fans know every detail about these guys. Will this movie show them things they don’t know?
Spurlock: You always want to try and surprise fans, and I think the film does that through the conversations, through those intimate moments that we spend with them and their families – their moms, their dads. It’s Liam on the bus [saying] he wants a girl who will appreciate him for who he is. I think those are real, honest, beautiful emotional moments you just don’t get a lot of, and you don’t ever get to see. For me, it’s those things that are a bit eye-opening.
Onda: The guys get along so well. Is there something we aren’t seeing? Is there an Axl Rose in the group?
Spurlock: Here’s why I think it’s worked so much for them, and continues to work for them – it’s the fact that there’s five of them. There’s always four other guys to keep you in check. But the minute you start getting to a point where the other four feel like it’s not meshing, or it’s not working, or you’re not being a team player, then they have what they call a “band meeting,” and the five of them sit down and they talk about it and they straighten things out amongst themselves. They vote on everything. Anything that happens – are we gonna add more dates to the tour? Let’s take a vote. How many songs are we gonna put on the album? Let’s take a vote. Which songs are we gonna put on the album? Let’s take a vote. Are we gonna endorse this product? Let’s have a vote. Every single thing that’s happening around their career is chosen by them, so there’s not some Svengali pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Onda: I appreciated the spontaneity of the footage you included. At one point, there’s a scene were Niall stops talking to the camera and leaves the room to open a window to screaming fans.
Spurlock: He loves it. He loves being in the band. Each one of them has days where it’s hard – there’s something that is difficult or there’s something you may not wanna do, but the democracy has ruled and the other four have said, “No, we’re doing this,” and so, “Yeah, fine, I’ll do it.” That’s never Niall. Niall is the guy who, every single day, is the happiest guy.
Onda: What was the most insane thing you personally witnessed while following One Direction?
Spurlock: Mexico was amazing. When he opens the window, that’s in Mexico. When they look over the rooftop at the end, and you see three or four thousand people outside that hotel, who were just camping out the whole time we were there – it’s remarkable. I mean, I’m a fan. I love Metallica. I grew up loving Metallica, but I never camped out for a Metallica concert for days on end ever. I never was the guy who would chase after the band. It’s a different level of fandom – a passion and dedication to something. I’m in awe of the dedication of their fans.
Onda: You included a lot of footage of just the fans – singing along to the music, talking about the guys. I can’t imagine being those girls and seeing themselves in the movie.
Spurlock: I keep thinking about that. There’s so many of those girls – one of my favorites being the girl from Ireland, who’s like, “They’re not real! And we’re in the front row!” And you see her freaking out when she’s in the front row at the beginning of “One Thing.” I just wanna be in the theater when she sees the movie for the first time, because it’s gonna be the greatest thing ever.
Onda: The concert footage in this is really fantastic – and the stage set really lends itself well to what you ultimately did with the 3D effects.
Spurlock: Tom Krueger, who was our Director of Photography on this, who did “U2 3D” – he’s a genius. I said to him, in the beginning, “It’s really important to me that they don’t look like pop stars. They don’t play like pop stars, they don’t feel like pop stars. I want them to look and feel like rock stars.”
Onda: There is a great scene where the guys go camping out in the middle of nowhere. Is that something you asked them to do?
Spurlock: We talked about fun things that they could do, things that they’d like to do together. When they’re on the road, they want to explore and do things when they have time and they have a day off. I can’t remember if it was Louise or if it was Liam – it might have been Liam, because Liam is pretty much the Boy Scout of the group already – one of them said, “We should go camping!” And so what happened is, it was after the gig in Sweden, and after the gig every night, they leave in the bus and people chase the bus, cars chase the bus. We were like, “We can’t have them leave in the bus or they’ll be chased to where the campsite is and this whole thing will be ruined.” So the bus drove them to a helipad, where they got in a helicopter and choppered to where they were camping.
Onda: During that camping trip, the guys talk about life after the band, which was surprising – that they are thinking about a time when One Direction is not a thing.
Spurlock: That’s why they’re very mature. They’re very insightful into where they are, and the realities of the business and their careers and fame. I think they have the opportunity to stick around and do it for a long time, but most things don’t last forever – especially in the music business. They’ve been very smart with their money. They all bought homes, so nobody will be on the street someday. They bought their moms homes, which you see Zayn do in the movie. It’s beautiful. They’ve been doing the right thing, and I think that’s rare.
Onda: Do any of the five guys emerge as the leader of the group?
Spurlock: Not a leader, but there’s somebody who fights for things for the band, and that’s Louis. If they wanna do a photoshoot, but they wanna do it on this day, Louis is the guy that has the calendar, and Louis is like, “That’s a day off. You can’t do that. That’s our day off.” He’s the union leader. He’s the guy who’s fighting for the union rights of the band. “Here’s what we get! No, that’s a day off. You can’t infringe on a day off. Contractually, we get those days.” Your time becomes so precious when you’re in the situation that they’re in, that to have one day off after being on the road for six weeks means everything, it’s invaluable. He’s become the one who said, “I’ll take care of this, I’ll deal with it.”
Onda: What surprised you most about the band?
Spurlock: I’m surprised and impressed with how grounded and normal and humble they are in the midst of one of the most insane explosions of success in decades. They’ve gotten so big so fast, and it hasn’t gone to their heads. They are incredibly down to Earth, and have great families and have great moms and great dads who, I think, are part of the reason for that. It all starts there. It all came from really simple, humble beginnings. For me, I’m really incredibly thankful for where I grew up in West Virginia. It changed who I was and changed my life. And I think that’s what makes each one of them so unique and appreciative.
Onda: What are some of the little things you love about “This Is Us” that people might not notice?
Spurlock: There’s little reactions, little moments. I love when Zayn is so excited while we’re in Japan. Zayn is so excited when they’re in the café and he’s laughing at the girls. He’s so excited about playing robot soccer. He loved Japan. I love the irony of when Liam’s mom buy’s the [cardboard stand-up] and it’s actually in the house when Liam comes home. Things like that are some of my favorite moments.
Onda: Can you sell this movie to non-One Direction fans?
Spurlock: I would say it’s one of the most fun music movies you’ll ever see. If you like music – you may not be a fan of this band – but if you love music, you’ll like this film a lot. And you may even walk out loving this film. And you may even walk out going to buy a One Direction album.
Onda: Do you have to sell it to One Direction fans?
Spurlock: I think I had to sell myself to One Direction fans. When I first got the job, all these One Direction fans were hitting me up on Twitter going, “You better not super-size them, Spurlock! You better be good to my boys or I’m gonna come after you!” They’ll be vicious. But just hearing the response from the fans so far, I think they’re pleased.
“One Direction: This Is Us” is in theaters around the world now. Click here to order tickets through Fandango.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.