Wes Anderson: An Exception to the Rule of Hollywood

An exploration into how Wes Anderson made indie mainstream

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After the Oscars ceremony fiasco overshadowed the deserved victory of Moonlight, it became all the more relevant to investigate the rise of independent filmmakers in Hollywood’s domination of mainstream cinema. The independent film directed by Barry Jenkins and its triumph illustrate the increasing popularity of non-mainstream content, or what is often referred to as ‘indie’ cinema. In order to understand the process leading up to the respect we attribute to film auteurs, I will be using filmmaker Wes Anderson as a case study. Simultaneously an independent and ‘indie’ filmmaker, his successful career illustrates just how much he has been able to transgress Hollywood filmmaking norms, but also how in some ways he meets the criteria of a Hollywood director.

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When discussing filmmaking and ‘indie’ films, we must make the careful distinction between independent and ‘indie’ cinema. Media reception studies professor Janet Staiger defined independent film by the way those films were financed and distributed, in the sense that they were not affiliated with a major studio, such as Paramount Motion Pictures or Walt Disney Studios. As she understands it, ‘an independent production firm was a small company with no corporate relationship to a distribution firm’. The confusion is frequently made that calling a film ‘independent’ implies that it possesses textual qualities of an ‘indie’ film. These textual qualities can be identified as a particular variety of emotional storylines, uncommon or unusual characters and aesthetically intricate settings – all contributing factors to what makes a filmmaker an auteur.

It is no secret that traditional filmmaking favours a pre-determined method that splits the narrative into three parts. The first, introduces the main protagonists and the goals they will attempt to achieve throughout the film. In the second part, the protagonist attempts to achieve goal, but will be stopped by an antagonist, ending this part with the ‘low point’. The third and final part consists of the final dramatic conflict where the main protagonist fights to achieve their goal, either succeeding or failing horribly. This method has persisted as it is what seems to “sell”, which makes producers hesitant to stray from the formula. ‘Indie’ film tends to be more playful and creative, unlike the mindless succession of events that occur in traditional film.

This is one of the main ways Anderson transgresses classical Hollywood filmmaking norms, as he always breaks up his films into episodic chapters that necessitates the viewer to make connections that they typically wouldn’t with a mainstream Hollywood film. Made to be widely and easily consumed by a large mass, a great deal of Hollywood films and other products of the entertainment industry are stillborn and easily forgotten. Their formula installs within the audience unconscious automatic expectations for a clear linear progression of events with some heated fights, amusing jokes, romantic interests, or stereotypically the rise and fall and rise again of the main character, overcoming fears and facing their problems. Wes Anderson doesn’t follow this formula, instead creating complex, fast-paced stories that revolve around an atypically detailed plot. For example, his latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel has a cast of thirty roles that each add to the narrative, twelve of which were already well-established actors, such as Ralph Fiennes or Léa Seydoux.

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The core cast group of amateur actors he began with are now equally mainstream, especially when considering The Grand Budapest Hotel’s cast, as much of the marketing centred on the long selection of eminent actors. Before this, with the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox using the voices of already renowned actors George Clooney and Meryl Streep, Anderson’s film cast were positively ‘indie’. Since The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson fans will have an expectation for notorious actors in his films, resembling Hollywood directors dependable safety net of basing much of their film’s marketing on the weight of the actors’ names in the industry.

Where most traditional Hollywood productions are focussed on appealing to a particular demographic such as the Twilight Saga (2008-2012) that had a mainly female teenage audience, Anderson’s following consists of a wide array of demographics. Particularly his films Moonrise Kingdom of which the main protagonists are children, and Fantastic Mr. Fox that is based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book of the same title. The relationship between the two children in Moonrise Kingdom is of a surprising maturity, as they both understand the adult world around them and have an uncharacteristic cynicism about them that is gripping whether the viewers are children, teenagers or adults.

Concerning Fantastic Mr. Fox, children will most probably enjoy the different style of animation to what else is on the market, as the detail and work that has so blatantly gone into the creation of this stop-motion feature is all the more appreciable by adults. Anderson’s talent for scriptwriting is also a major key to the positive reception of a story intended for children, with popular culture author and expert Bob Batchelor asserting that ‘Anderson excels at pulling together the threads of what transforms a film into an object of cult affection. [..] as a writer/director, he creates a narrative that appeals to the audience’s intelligence and aesthetic sensibility.’

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Prior to The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s films marketing process was what is considered as independent. Hollywood films tend to have large funds with an equally large marketing budget to match. Going through ‘Indiewood’ studios, such as Sony Pictures for Bottle Rocket in 1996 or Fox Searchlight Pictures for The Darjeeling Limited in 2007, the funds supplied for his films were a direct result of the uncertainty of the ‘indie’ content. With no reassuring backing on best-selling novels, major film studios would not feel comfortable spending copious amounts of money on the marketing of an already low-budget movie. Film critic Dwight Macdonald noted that scholars of the Frankfurt School Adorno and Horkheimer pinpointed the reason Hollywood was dying lay in the fact that ‘The machine rotates on the same spot. While determining consumption it excludes the untried as a risk. The movie-makers distrust any manuscript which is not reassuringly backed by a best-seller’.

This explains the foundations of ‘Indiewood’, which is in fact an amalgam of the acquisitions of arthouse studios by Hollywood conglomerates, as a profitable plan in sight of taking over the independent film industry and consequently creating independent studios of their own. The one film so far of his that was distributed by a major film studio was Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009. Destined to be a stop-motion picture, the budget required was quite large compared to his other creations, due to the amount of detail and work that goes into stop-motion productions.

Since Anderson has increased his following and audience, he has gained a more mainstream status as a director. For The Grand Budapest Hotel, his already-established ‘world’ of ornately detailed settings and elaborate dialogue and accumulated consecutive box office success was enough to justify the film’s distributor Fox Searchlight, owned by conglomerate 21st Century Fox to advertise the film a great deal more than Anderson’s older films. In addition to this, The Grand Budapest Hotel generated a significant level of fascination and desire to acquire the memorabilia of this world created by Anderson, such as copies of The Society of the Crossed Keys, a selection of Stefan Zweig’s writings which inspired the film.

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The key narrative in most Hollywood film is the protagonist’s attempt of achieving various goals, most commonly being finding love, becoming rich, or saving the world. It is impossible to find one film by Wes Anderson that copies that particular formula of pursuit of happiness. Anderson’s characters seem to roam around in their own unique world of complex problems and unusual scenarios, often involving disappearances, theft, and dysfunctional families. Whilst Fantastic Mr Fox is perhaps the most simplistic of Anderson’s films, Fatherhood is the main theme. It explores how it is only after becoming middle-aged that the character of Mr. Fox only begins to appreciate his role as a father to Ash, now a teenager, along with some life-changing realisations that his actions have an effect on the well-being and security of his family. With a more specific attention to a dysfunctional family dynamic, The Darjeeling Limited follows three brothers who rekindle their relationship ensuing the death of their father. Moonrise Kingdom features Billy Murray as an emotionally detached father figure who realises how much he cares about his daughter when she goes missing.

As a part of Hollywood’s formula for films, an almost consistent element is the often-unnecessary sexualisation of women’s and men’s relationships, which Anderson diverges from in Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel especially. The rare times romance is seen during his films is face paced and adds to the building of the character. Moonrise Kingdom features a scene of both children on the beach where actress Kara Hayward has few clothes on but it comes across as completely non-sexual. The relationship between Zero the lobby boy and Agatha the patisserie maker in The Grand Budapest Hotel is also portrayed from a purely sentimental angle. Traditional Hollywood film has installed within the audience an instinctive anticipation for the protagonist to have a romantic pursuit or a general goal of happiness, to the extent that it is often forced into a narrative that does nothing to further the plot. Anderson avoids this by concentrating on family dynamics more than romantic ones, or even exclusively in The Darjeeling limited for example.

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On a more technical note, Anderson is known for his unconventional camera-work, with every shot seeming to silently add meaning to the narrative. In this respect, Hollywood editing is relatively predictable, an amount of footage often feeling redundant. This is ironic as Major production studios encourage films to avoid what they consider as unnecessary detail that detracts from the main point of the scene. Often, the result is that the film is more inclined to be forgotten due to its soporific production for the masses. Once again Anderson is the opposite. As has been stated previously, each plot device and shot is purposeful with no time to waste on such needless endeavours. Not having the budget to spend on special effects, Anderson takes care to avoid artificial, computer-generated effects and prefers to make use of practical effects to create a realistic, believable world, in order to fully immerse his audience. Furthermore, he takes more risks than the average director with some trademarks of his being stationary pans where the camera moves from left-to-right between two people, drastic zooms, and a great deal of non-diegetic sound, or sound that doesn’t belong in the character’s world. These elements add a vintage aspect reminiscent to the sixties era of New Hollywood. The patterns of the progression of his stories may be the same, however the content of each is extremely diverse and unique strengthening his status as an auteur.

Any director that has found mainstream success will struggle to remain a purely independent auteur. Initially ‘indie’ films were an unpopular genre, Anderson lacked the cult following that he has today allowing his creations to stand out as unusual, or even experimental. As this type of film became a trend, the last decade has seen ‘indie’ films develop a following significant enough to attract big studios and Hollywood conglomerates. Anderson has remained loyal to his filmmaking roots and continues to control his creations, yet releasing his films through major distributors.

The greatest benefit Hollywood permits for ‘indie’ directors is the distribution upon a far larger audience that was previously possible. This, in essence, is the reason Anderson’s career has flourished.

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Jury Select Panel

An honest insight into the inner workings of a film festival

Away from all the incredible feature-length and short films on display, there is a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at how Manchester Film Festival is organised and ran. The Jury Select Panel offered a unique insight for filmmakers and cinema goers alike and was chaired by film critic Tom Percival and featured festival co-ordinator Al Bailey as well as several of the jurors.

How do you decide which films go into the program? The key word is objectivity. We are trying to attract a wide range of people for all demographics. Something for everyone. There is a team of 6 who watch all the films to choose which will make it to the festival. It’s a very long process but we feel it is necessary to give every film a chance.

How do you plan the opening night? We want the people who come here to know they are in Manchester and know what we are all about so all the films have a North-West (of England) theme. A divisive set of films is key too, we want to start debate.

How do you go about selecting jurors? I absolutely hate the word alumni but I guess it’s the right word here. People who have come before and entered films are generally the right type of people. We want people that will get involved. The idea is to get a range of film industry roles such as writers, casting directors, actors etc. For each category we want jurors who have strengths in that area, animators in the animating category for example.

How many jurors are there and what is the process in choosing the winner of each category? There are 18 jurors altogether that are split into teams of 3, with each team getting the same set of 3. Each juror has their own method of critiquing. Some for example use a points system, breaking the films down into categories such as writing, structure, characters, direction, editing etc. We usually advise each film be watched more than once as different moods when watching can provoke a different reaction. Then when the individuals have voted we pool the results together to decide the winner.

What happens in the event of a tie? If a tie occurs then Gareth (head juror) would ultimately decide.

Is there any ‘X-Factor’ qualities you look for in the films? Usually we (jurors) have a gut instinct on the film within the first 10-15 minutes. From that we usually gather whether it will hold our full interest. There are 2 main factors that go into making a great film: script and performance. The best actors in the world can’t make a bad script good, and conversely the best script in the world won’t make bad actors good. More often that not a film will just do one well, or both mediocrely. A great film nails both. You also want to get immersed into the film, that’s a sign of quality.

Is there a difference between watching the films on a laptop where judging and on the big screen here? Oh definitely, this a major reason why we strike to have the jurors present at the festival rather than just watching them remotely. A film is always better on the big screen. The indie film scene is incredibly tough at the moment and getting distribution is so hard. So to see a small film on the big screen is really a big gift.

What is the run time limit on the short films? This question has been a bit of an issue for us over the past couple of years. This year the rule is anything under an hour but previously we weren’t sure how long was too long. A prime example of this was a 32 minute short that we received in year one. In the end we decided to include it and it was a great decision looking back as it ended up being nominated for an Oscar.

How many films are submitted? In year 1 we had 650, year 2 just under 1000. This year is over 1500 with around 75% of those being shorts. From May to November we wind down that number to the 92 you see in the festival.

How much does it cost to enter a film? There is an early bird which is around £30 and the last possible entry is around £100. As each filmmaker is paying considerable money to enter we make sure to watch every single film. From speaking to people at other film festivals I learned that they don’t watch all the films that the receive, opting to watch ones featuring acclaimed actors or directors. This is a completely dishonest way of running a film festival as some of the best films we see are by first time directors. For example we have an incredible debut student film that just wouldn’t have been watched let alone considered at other film festivals. At the Manchester Film Festival we try to be as transparent and honest as possible, something that we feel sets us apart from others.

In summary this was a surprisingly honest look at the inner workings of the the festival. Co-ordinator Al Bailey emphasised the need for transparency in what he called ‘the murky world of film festivals’. There was no doubt that everyone involved was driven by the intense passion that they shared for films and filmmaking, something that was conveyed not just at this panel but throughout the whole of the festival. It was a genuine pleasure to be involved with such a wonderful event and there was not a single negative moment to mention.

If you enjoyed this article click here for another on the Screenwriting Panel

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Screenwriting Panel

Elan Mastai charms the audience with his experiences as a screenwriter

The Manchester Film Festival is finally underway at the ODEON Cinema in The Printworks and one of the more anticipated non-film events is the Screenwriting Panel with Elan Mastai. Mastai, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for ‘The F Word’ at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards, evidently brought his effortless charisma with him, entertaining the audience through several minor technical difficulties.

As he began talking it quickly became evident that this would be far more than a traditional lecture type panel. Mastai was committed to making sure those who came received the most out of it that they possibly could, whether that be the writing side or the business side of the job. There were many interesting anecdotes and behind-the-scenes tidbits that were said and i’ll share some of those with you now.

One of the more striking points he made was in regard to studio interest on a screenplay, that not all interest is necessarily good interest. In particular this related to a couple of his earlier films. When starting out there was great eagerness to collaborate with any studio that came knocking, so much so that some of the ‘obvious red flags’ were missed. This resulted in a film that didn’t meet his initial vision. He described the process of turning his screenplay into a movie as ‘like walking through your own dreams’ but this was more akin to a nightmare. Even though he wasn’t personally proud of the end product, it was a learning process into the inner workings of the studio system and allowed him to be a bit more assertive in subsequent projects.

It was this assertion which gave Mastai the opportunity to be more than just the screenwriter for his films. When signing later movie deals he added a clause stating that he also had to be given the role of producer. This meant that only the studios that were truly committed to making his film would make offers and also that it gave him more creative input during the production period.

The interesting topic of screenplay rights versus novel rights was brought up during the Q&A session. For a screenplay, the writers ownership ends at the moment he, or she, signs the movie deal. When the movie is released, although he wrote the screenplay, it is for all intents and purposes not his. This is contrasted heavily with a novel. For his debut novel, Mastai retains the full rights and the publishing company simply licences it. This allows the author to retain the rights to the film unless they choose to sell the rights giving more control over their intellectual property.

While here mostly to talk about screenwriting, he did also discuss his debut novel ‘All Our Wrong Todays’. An interesting take on science fiction, it is set in 2016. A different 2016. One that people in the 1950’s expected us to have, with flying cars, robot maids and teleportation. The protagonist, through the use of an experimental time machine, ends up in our 2016. What we think is totally normal seems dystopian for him. The book follows this mishap and his journey trying to get back to his universe.

Overall this was a wonderful event for the festival with Mastai charming the crowd with his stories and jokes.

2017 Film Challenge – February

Another month, another recap

Improvements were seen all round in February, both in the amount of films watched but also in the number of first viewings, a total of 27 films were seen including 14 new. This puts me ahead of the pace towards my 250 film target with an impressive 50 films after two months. If the current rate continues I should reach my goal by the end of September which would be an immense personal achievement. I will write this post in the same general structure as last month with the complete list of the films followed next by my thoughts and finally a top 5. As the months pass I will add additional sections as needed.

Films Watched:

  • Hacksaw Ridge (2017)
  • Gold (2017)
  • Sully (2016)
  • Fargo (1996)
  • Dodgeball (2004)
  • Manchester by the Sea (2016)
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • Night at the Museum (2006)
  • The Departed (2006)
  • Hidden Figures (2017)
  • Dr Strange (2016)
  • Superbad (2007)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
  • Patriots Day (2017)
  • Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
  • The Founder (2017)
  • Whiplash (Short) (2013)
  • Allied (2016)
  • Passengers (2016)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
  • The Nice Guys (2016)
  • Taxi Driver (1976)
  • Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • The Big Year (2011)
  • The Internship (2013)
  • Tropic Thunder (2008) x2

There is a wide range in the type and genre of films here with older classics such as Tarantino and Scorsese’s Palme d’Or winners Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver contrasted with cult classics such as Superbad and Dodgeball. Some guilty pleasures such as the dependable charm of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson seeped through too in 2013’s feature length google advert that was The Interview. A major surprise for me was Shane Black’s The Nice Guys. After going into it blind hearing great things I was blown away by both Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe’s performances in this fantastic crime thriller.

If there are highs there must also be lows and Passengers takes the bacon. A futurist titanic set in the stars it had potential, especially featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in the lead roles. Unfortunately their chemistry could not overcome the flawed story leading to a rather bad film.

Here is my Top 5 for February

  1. Manchester by the Sea
  2. Pulp Fiction
  3. The Nice Guys
  4. The Founder
  5. Dodgeball

Special mention goes to Fargo, The Departed and Dr Strange

The Rise of Damien Chazelle

The Oscars are over and it’s time to reflect on Chazelle’s journey to the top

Now the dust has settled from the 89th Academy Awards we can begin to truly appreciate Damien Chazelle’s meteoric rise to Hollywood’s front page. At the ripe old age of 32, he has become the youngest person in history to win the coveted Academy Award for Best Director. Three films is all it took to reach this incredible milestone, with each achieving dramatically more success than the one before it.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island to Celia and Bernard Chazelle (professors of history and computer science respectively) he was always drawn to filmmaking and as a child constantly wrote scripts. That was not his only passion however as whilst studying at Princeton High School he attempted to be a drummer in Princeton’s prestigious jazz program. An intense music teacher (the inspiration being JK Simmons’ character in Whiplash) and a self attributed lack of talent meant that keeping up was a constant struggle. By the end of high school a fork-in-the-road situation arose: attend a vocational music school and properly dedicate himself towards the art, or concede and follow another path. This other path was his old passion of film and he described music as ‘a detour, almost.’

After finishing high school, Chazelle went on to Harvard University to study for a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies. Throughout this time he attended as many film classes as possible culminating in his first film, ‘Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench’, released in 2009. A completely improvised jazz musical, directed, written, produced, shot and co-edited by Chazelle. Originally planned as his thesis film, he ultimately left Harvard temporarily in order to focus on finishing the film. It set the tone projects to come, from it’s jazz based plot, to the musical collaboration with Justin Hurwitz. Shot completely in black and white 16mm film, this debut feature made just $35,556 at the box office but was met with wide acclaim scoring 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and 84 out of 100 on Metacritic.

The next few years were not too comfortable for Chazelle as he was forced to become a ‘writer for hire’ to pay the bills. This resulted in several writing credits in films such as ‘The Last Exorcism Part II’ and ‘Grand Piano’. Although continuing to create his own screenplays, none ever materialised into film and he cited this as a low point in his career, ‘I’d pour my blood, sweat and tears into them, and no one would like them’. One particular script caused him much frustration, mainly due to various aspects of the film that made it impractical, such as a dance sequence on a freeway. Unable to get the project off the ground he channeled his frustration into another script, one that drew on his past experiences with jazz drumming, titled ‘Whiplash’.

Initially he found difficulty showing the script to others as it felt too personal, but eventually ‘Whiplash’ gained interest from several producers, including Helen Estabrook (Labour Day) who suggested JK Simmons for the conductor role. Chazelle’s problems didn’t end there as no investors could initially be found, with the script featuring on a top 10 list of unmade films for 2012. To overcome this a proof-of-concept short was made, with JK Simmons in the role Estabrook proposed, and submitted to the 2013 Sundance Film Festival where it won the short film prize. The following year ‘Whiplash’ was released to universal praise, 94% Rotten Tomatoes and 88 out of 100 on Metacritic, a notable improvement from his first directorial effort also achieving $49 million in box office sales.

When award season came around it was hardly surprising that Chazelle’s second project got nominated for several Oscars, five in total including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for JK Simmons. There was some controversy surrounding one of his nominations in particular. Critics widely suggested that Whiplash was a sure winner of the Best Original Screenplay category but when the nominations were released the film was placed in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. The reasoning behind this seemingly bizarre decision was to do with the concept short made a year prior. The Academy deemed the short film the original screenplay thus making the subsequent feature length film adapted. Any anger was short-lived as Whiplash took home three Oscars, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons.

Riding the wave of success Chazelle decided to revisit an old script that gave him frustration previously, La La Land. The idea was ‘to take the old music but ground it in real life where things don’t always exactly work out’. The casting decisions almost led to a very different film with Miles Teller (who also starred in Whiplash) and Emma Watson in the lead roles. Both ended up departing from the project due to long contract negotiations and a commitment to 2017’s Beauty and the Beast respectively. As a result small adjustments were made to the script, making the leads older, struggling to achieve their dreams rather than just starting out. Chazelle immediately cast Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone after Summit Entertainment bought the rights to the film calling them ‘the closest thing that we have right now to an old Hollywood couple’.

Multiple aspects of the production caused trouble for those involved with the film. Firstly, Gosling didn’t know how to play the piano, at all. For three months during pre-production his job was to become adept at the piano and he called it ‘one of the most fulfilling pre-production periods I’ve ever had’. From the beginning of the film Chazelle pushed for the musical numbers to be filmed in a single take to emulate his inspirations Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. The consequence of this is several of the scenes took several days to shoot. One specifically, the six-minute long Prius scene had a one hour window each night to be filmed, called the magic or golden hour where the sunlight is softer and redder than normal. After eight takes the pair finally nailed it and ‘everybody just exploded’.

To get the tone of the film just right, Chazelle and Tom Cross spent nearly a year editing and that time was obviously well spent as when ‘La La Land’ was rolled out at the end of 2016 it received worldwide acclaim, with 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and 93 out of 100 on Metacritic. At the 74th Golden Globes, usually used as an indicator for Oscar performance, it won every category it was up for, a record-breaking seven. All eyes then turned to the Academy, and when the nominations were released ‘La La Land’ equalled the record of fourteen with 1997’s ‘Titanic’ and 1950’s ‘All About Eve’. Sadly, Chazelle faired the same as ‘All About Eve’ winning six rather than the eleven won by ‘Titanic’. Those six wins included Best Director for Chazelle, Best Actress for Emma Stone and two for former roommate and long time collaborator Justin Hurwitz for Best Original Score and Best Original Song ( for ‘City of Stars’).

It seems that Chazelle is not content to stop now as his fourth feature film is already in the works. Titled ‘First Man’, this biopic will follow the life of astronaut Neil Armstrong. Adapted from the book of the same name by Josh Singer (Spotlight) there will undoubtedly be high expectations from a director who has produced nothing less than excellence throughout his career. With Ryan Gosling already announced in the lead role this will not be a film to miss.

Review: The Founder

An overnight sensation 30 years in the making

The idea that John Lee Hancock’s latest film was probably just another narrative about making it in America meant that my anticipation for it was rather low. But as the film unfolded I was caught off guard by its surprising density.

The Founder, which has interesting ironic undertones, explores the conceptual origins of fast-food and the empire of the food-chain McDonald’s. It is 1954 when we are introduced to the insatiable salesman Ray Kroc (convincingly played by Michael Keaton). Struggling and fast-paced, he is the embodiment of the free market system and good old American capitalism. Unsuccessfully attempting to sell milkshake makers to diners, an order of eight from a San Bernardino burger stand piques his interest. What distinguishes this thriving restaurant from the ones that he struggles to sell a single one to? He drives all the way from Illinois to find out.

The stand, of course, is the original McDonald’s. The whole concept of the busy place confuses Kroc, he can’t seem to grasp that his food is presented to him almost instantaneously after ordering it, or that no crockery is required, or he can eat it where ever he pleases. The movie addresses the shift of fast food and the initial learning curve consumers experienced in the next sequence superbly, and will also be our first encounter with the McDonald brothers. Featuring terrific performances by John Caroll Lynch (The Zodiac) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson) as Mac and Dick, they manage to convey a down-to-earth pair who simply strive to have their own piece of the American Dream after years of persistence and hard work. Except they came up with a notion that would revolutionise America and they didn’t even know it.

Over a particularly well shot scene of dinner between our three main interests, a fascinated Kroc listens to the brothers recount their long and arduous process to coming up with their unique system. Hancock unfolds the brothers’ past through a series of flashbacks of their thirty-year struggle. The story rises to an electric climax as they calmly come to explain their Eureka moment by pinpointing the weaknesses of competitors, such as poor quality food and slow service that attracts undesired clientele (here it is teenagers that are the problem). It is Dick who localises where they are losing and could potentially save time and money. From past experience, he assesses that certain items are guaranteed to sell, and by pure logic decides to strip the menu down to the basics such as hamburgers, fries and milkshakes. The next point is a stroke of genius, simultaneously in the filmmaking and in real life, as the scene shows Dick arbitrating his staff around a mock-up chalk kitchen, manoeuvring it over and over in order to create their pioneering time-effective system. This is the stuff capitalist dreams are made of.

Concise, minimal and easy to keep cleanliness and quality in check, the McDonald brothers are perfectly content with their creation. But Kroc thinks differently, and has the gut feeling he has stumbled upon a rare opportunity. His love for business immediately latches onto the fact that the McDonald’s structure can be endlessly replicated, urging the brothers to “franchise it”. Here the direction puts the viewer in a conflicted spot, aware of the potential Kroc sees, yet faced with the brothers’ sincere attachment to their creation and high-quality standards. Soon enough, Kroc comes up with just the right hook to reel them in— American values. Each town he drives by has two things: a church and a court house. Both places where the American Family congregate, both with symbols associated to these common values: The Cross and the American flag. Kroc insists that the “Golden Arches” of McDonalds could be of the same meaning, a place where “decent, wholesome people come together”.

After a tug-of-war business relationship between the three, Kroc’s hunger for more pushes him to cease all decency and figures out how he can pull the business from under the McDonald’s brothers’ feet through real estate trickery. In a poignant, and for the audience, uncomfortable phone call between the brothers and “The Founder”, Kroc hits them with the disheartening truth: “I’m national. You’re local”, succinctly addressing the at times chilling American capitalist drive.