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Australia's population is forecast to pass the 35 million mark by 2049; that many people in the United States alone suffer from chronic insomnia. In 2008 the video rental house Netflix decided to slap them all in the face with a Movie Watching World Championship, "a showcase for die-hard movie buffs who possess incredible focus and discipline." Essentially it would be self-inflicted sleep deprivation, for the glory of an entry in the hallowed Guinness Book of World Records. The category: Continuous Movie Watching.
Competitors, who were vying for a trophy, a $10,000 purse, and lifetime subscription to Netflix, would consist of an international cast of invitees: The Indian who had set the then-standing record; the German woman who had held it previously; a Sri Lankan from Canada with dozens of bizarre endurance records under his belt; a woman from Portland who set the 2003 record for movie watching; a Texan man who appeared on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" the year before; a competitive eating champion from New York.
There would be rules: "Medical professionals will monitor the contestants' conditions throughout the event and assess if contestants are truly 'watching' or are simply staring blankly at the screen," assured Netflix. Basically, you couldn't look away, for five days straight, and you couldn't just smoke a bowl and veg out for a week. Mothers everywhere would be horrified at the thought of the "brain rotting" potential of so many hours in front of the tube.
Plans for the event came about during the brief time when Netflix was flirting with film distribution and production, so the company contracted Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice magazine and curator of Street Carnage, and director Jason Goldwatch from the media development company Decon to host and film the production. The angle was essentially to create a documentary, something halfway between Super Size Me and Talk Soup's heyday with Greg Kinnear; not only would McInnes conduct interviews and provide color commentary, he'd do it on the same schedule as the contestants. Which meant no sleep for five days.
For what could potentially be a yawn-inducing Netflix infomercial, McInnes, who appears interesting and entertaining even when exhausted and delirious (there are a number of clips scattered about the web), seems to pull it off with little grace but plenty of fanfare. He has that look--with the inked skin, tousled coif and throwback moustache that say I might wrestle a tiger to the ground in the next thirty seconds that makes you want to keep your eye on him--and a certain degree of charm that was just right for Netflix's project. I think industry types might call it presence, or maybe gravitas.
|What time is it? "I was going to say it's a million in the morning."|
While McInnes did don a tuxedo for the undertaking, a major rub came when A Million In the Morning turned out to be his and Goldwatch's project, not Netflix's. The company might have been thinking Regis Philbin, but what they got was Patton Oswalt's wit and Johnny Knoxville's demeanor. While the various outtakes and feature snippets floating around YouTube attest to his ability to keep a modicum of momentum at all times, the idea of wholesome documentary just didn't materialize. "We told the sponsor, Netflix, we'd do it on one condition: No notes," McInnes explained upon the DVD release of the film. "We were going to do it our way and they could only see it when the final product was done. That's it. That's how we roll." Sans corporate guidance, McInnes and Goldwatch put together a film that was more Spike TV than PBS.
Yes, McInnes does the master of ceremonies routine for Netflix, interviewing the contestants before, during and after the event, but as time wears on and being awake turns into being a zombie, the production is less about the Netflix/Guiness publicity stunt and more about McInnes. His warped sense of humor and comedic flow, pressed within the constraints of vanilla situations (eight people on a couch watching movies) but spiced up by the absurdity of not sleeping for nearly a week, took over and ran roughshod. The title of the film comes from McInnes's confusion when, reporting from a back room stockpile of port-a-potty materials, he stares blankly at the display of his analog watch; his brain fried from lack of sleep, McInnes gives the bleary-eyed response that "I was going to say it's a million in the morning."
At another point, when Richard Simmons shows up to invigorate the contestants with a round of jazzercise, McInnes, complete with black and white face paint, plays it as if he's meeting Gene Simmons. Later, he's all over the place, talking about nothing and everything in particular. He plans to form a "two-syllable gang" with the Decon production crew. He muses on the merits of drinking for each of the sexes ("Obviously you don't want to be so shit-faced that you can't run from a sabertooth tiger, but the instinct to fuck yourself up once in a while is a crucial part of being a man"). He has plenty of delirious asides and hilarious anecdotes in the middle of Times Square.
"Day 4.3. I have drastically underestimated the kind of internal strength it requires to stay awake this long," McInnes reports as the competition enters the home stretch. "I would classify this mission as 'fail' because I no longer have the will to be a participant. The game had taken over my body and I was now a spectator, watching myself from afar."
Netflix, it turns out, wasn't to thrilled with the angle McInnes and Goldwatch took, though one wonders what they were expecting when they hired the author of The Vice Guide to Eating Pussy and The Vice Guide to Anal Sex for their documentary. The company balked at releasing the footage, but McInnes and Goldwatch decided that what Netflix deemed "terrible" was too far along, so they set about distributing it themselves, pitching it as "a documentary about a Movie Watching World Championship wherein Richard Simmons was abused, a guy hallucinated a beagle crawling up a plant, a bunny head was used as a weapon 78 times, and the guys who made it got fired." False advertisers they are not.
TRAILER: www.youtube.com/user/deconmedia#p/u/5/bndEd5lPo6I SEE ALSO: www.amillioninthemorning.com
SEE ALSO: www.netflix.com
SEE ALSO: www.guinnessworldrecords.com
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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