TORONTO — Morgan Spurlock went to a convention in San Diego two years ago and found his people — geeks and fanboys, reflections of himself.
The director of "Super Size Me" found Comic-Con such a mecca for fans of comic books, superheroes and other aspects of geek culture that he felt compelled to make a movie about the place.
"Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope," playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a love song to the fans who journey every year to mix with their kind, and those who continually tell themselves that next year, they'll make it there themselves.
Spurlock, who grew up reading comics and idolizing Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee, first went to the four-day convention in summer 2009 to recruit fans of "The Simpsons" for a 20th anniversary special he was making about the animated TV series.
Drawing 130,000 people a year — many in elaborate costumes as favorite superheroes, movie idols and video-game characters — Comic-Con is THE place for fans to buy rare comic books, get the newest action figures, preview footage of Hollywood's next blockbusters and just hang with their peers.
"I'm there watching this, going, 'This is the greatest thing I've ever seen. This is amazing. This is a movie,'" Spurlock said in an interview at the weekend after the Toronto festival premiere of "Comic-Con." ''Later on that night is when I met Stan Lee at a party and kind of just gushed to Stan, telling him how much he changed my life as a kid. And he said, 'We should make a movie together. We should make a documentary about Comic-Con.'"
Standing nearby was an agent who also thought it was a great idea, telling Spurlock he should meet with a client he had coming to town a day later. Spurlock was having breakfast the next morning with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon, and in a perfect storm of geekdom, their documentary was off and running.
Lee and Whedon signed on as executive producers, and they joined dozens of filmmakers, writers, actors and artists to offer on-camera observations about the value of Comic-Con, among them Kevin Smith, Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen and Seth Green.
Shooting before and during the 2010 convention, Spurlock also had film crews following Comic-Con commoners. The cast includes a team creating elaborate costumes to compete in the event's annual masquerade; a comic vendor with a deep vault of rare books to sell; artists hoping to break into comics; and a fan who met his girlfriend there a year earlier and staged an endearing marriage proposal in front of thousands of cheering fans.
Spurlock had to sell his idea a bit to Comic-Con organizers. His Academy Award-nominated debut documentary "Super Size Me" did a number on the fast-food industry as Spurlock chronicled his physical and emotional downturn living on nothing but McDonald's food for a month.
Comic-Con overseers, who had never before allowed anyone to make a documentary about the event, worried he might do the same to them, opening convention fans up to the ridicule they face in everyday life because of their passion for geeky things.
"We are incredibly protective of those people, so that Comic-Con can be a safe environment for people to talk about their passions, their love. And he said he really wanted to focus on that," said Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer. "He sold us on it. We said yes, kind of closed our eyes, and hoped for the best. ... And Morgan did a great job in showing it for what it is. I think Morgan was able to show an insider's view of Comic-Con that's never been shown before."
Since Spurlock shot to fame with "Super Size Me," he's been unable to attend events such as Comic-Con without being mobbed by fans himself. He did manage to go undercover for a bit at Comic-Con this past July, though, thanks to a suggestion from his 4-year-old son.
After Spurlock decided to take his son along to the convention, he showed the boy a Comic-Con book he had created as a companion to the documentary. His son looked over the pictures of fans in costumes and told his dad that he wanted to dress up as Batman.
"And then he goes, 'No, you could be Batman, and I could be Bat Boy,'" Spurlock said. "There I was the next day buying costumes online, and then here we are at Comic-Con in our Batman costumes, going around the floor. It was awesome. It was a very proud moment as a dad."
Toronto International Film Festival: http://tiff.net