The Founder

Director John Lee Hancock and Michael Keaton’s new film, The Founder is the true story of how businessman Ray Kroc turned two brothers’ revolutionary fast-food restaurant, McDonald’s, into the fast-food empire that is today. The film contains strong themes of entrepreneurship, greed, and capitalism in America. It is widely speculated that The Founder should be shown and taught in business schools across the nation, as the film almost serves as a crash course into American capitalism and business.

It was a packed house at the press day for The Founder. The attendees included: Keaton, Hancock, Nick Offerman (“Dick McDonald”), John Carroll Lynch (“Mac McDonald”), Laura Dern (“Ethel Croc”), Jeremy Renner (producer), Don Handfield (producer), Robert Siegel (writer), and Jason & Corey French (McDonald brothers’ grandsons).

At the press day, ScreenPicks got to hear from the filmmakers, actors, and the real-life grandsons of the McDonald’s brothers on making the film and how they feel about capitalism and the McDonald’s corporation today in America. Here is what we learned about The Founder.

The producers on how the story of Ray Kroc found it’s way to them and what made them see it as movie:

Handfield: When I was a kid and I was in McDonald’s and I would see the sign that said “Ray Kroc: founder of McDonalds, and it just kind of stuck with me: How did Ray Kroc create McDonald’s? When Jeremy and I had started our company we had a conversation about it. I had read the book about Ray Kroc and so I called the publisher, and the publisher basically said, “Call McDonald’s.” So then, I tried to track down the original McDonald’s brothers and learned that they had started a chain of motels in Massachusetts. So I left a message with the night manager and he confirmed that the McDonald’s brothers did in fact own a part of this hotel chain. Then a day or two later Jason French called me back and said,” we’ve been waiting fifty years for someone to call and tell our story, and you were the first one’s who’s found us.” And he was just really excited and that really just unlocked the massive amounts of information that they had. They had letters and recorded phone calls from Ray Kroc talking to the brothers. It just kind of launched from there.

Renner: It was always enticing to me how the founder of McDonald’s name was Kroc. And that’s a question the movie obviously answers. To me it was a movie about America and capitalism. I thought, “This is kind of like Death of a Salesman with a very good ending.” It was world that we already know. It’s McDonald’s. I love stories where there is a lot of gray. In this story we have a hero that’s flawed, which I love. You have anti-heroes that you sympathize with and understand. It’s not just black and white. Also, not forcing any kind of moral onto the audience. We just kind of lay it out there, and the audience get to decide what they think about capitalism and morality. And it’s just sexy.

The McDonald brothers’ grandsons about not getting approached for several years and how involved they were in the filmmaking process:

Jason French: We had been approached by people who were interested in writing books, but no one that was interested in making a movie. So the thought of actually getting the real story of McDonald’s out on the big screen was extremely enticing. We did actually visit the set and just being involved in the filmmaking process was just something that we could never imagine.

Screenwriter Robert Siegel on how he came up with the pitch for the script from the perspective of Ray Kroc:

Siegel: I think most of the pitches that Don and Jeremy had heard were as the McDonald’s brothers as the lead characters. However, I just thought that Ray Kroc was our main character. I just thought he was far darker. When you look at movies like Citizen Kane, you look at Charles Foster Kane, it’s told from the perspective of the bad guy. And I just think that makes for a more interesting movie, that people who are kind, bright, and wonderful like Jason and Corey’s grandfather. Even after seeing the film six times and written I still don’t know quite how to feel about Ray Kroc. This movie was more about capitalism than fast food. And the McDonalds brothers represented sustainable capitalism, which is to have a great product, take care of your employee’s. Where as, Ray Kroc represented the other side of capitalism, which is cut down every tree in the forest and make as much money as you can and expand as far as possible. Then it broke down to an emotional conflict. The brothers were driven by love and Ray Kroc was driven by fear of not being a success. I feel these two things are battling in the soul of American capitalism. However, Ray Kroc won, and I think we see that throughout the fabric of our society today.

Director John Lee Hancock on what attracted him to this project:

Hancock: The thing that attracted me was Rob’s script. I thought it was different than other script I had read before because I was actively pulling for the protagonist in the first half then going to a feeling of ambivalence; I also though it was very clever. I thought it would make for a very difficult movie to make, but also a very exciting movie to make.

Michael Keaton on how he relates to the character Ray Kroc and does he share the “If your competitors drowning, you go stick a hose in his mouth” mentality? 

Keaton: I actually have stuck a hose in someone’s mouth (laughs). There is a lot to admire about a person like Ray Kroc and specifically the time in history when this occurred. What knock’s me out is that this guy did it back then in 1952. I am a fan of hard work and I don’t think there was a time in my life where my dad didn’t have two jobs. I am not a fan of sadistic greed and I don’t think I’m alone here. But, man, as an actor it sure is intriguing. But I couldn’t wait for the day where we shot that scene. Those words are out of Ray Kroc’s mouth by the way. And I thought, “Man, I hope I nail that. I can’t wait to do that scene.” Either I have severe problems, or I just like what I do for a living. It’s a weird job, where you look forward to that. I have to admit, the more I thought about it I was just more fascinated by it. But I just don’t have an interest in anything I do like that. Ray just wasn’t backing off. After hearing all these things, it even more interesting that when I was actually doing them.

John Carroll Lynch on what he knew about Ray Kroc, the McDonald brothers before the story:

Lynch: I knew Ray Kroc wasn’t the actual creator of McDonald’s. I also did not know that McDonald’s was a real estate company, and I never thought about anyone coming up with the idea. I just kind of thought it just was. But McDonald’s brothers really did take the concepts of Henry Ford’s assembly line and apply it to the food industry, and that was revolutionary. Even with the ramifications in the way in which we eat, you can’t help but admire them.

Laura Dern on the political implications and the piece of the story that interested her:

Dern: The question of the introduction of the filler, and I was fascinated that the film pointed it out. The question of how did it turn from real food to how we can make a fast buck and potentially poison people with that. Then the subversive question: Can capitalism hold compassion? That moved me so much. I got to see the film for the first time last night with my daughter who I just turning twelve. One of my favorite shots of film that always brings me to tears is when the brothers are holding each other watching the McDonalds sign being removed from their building. And on the way home, my daughter was like that’s how I felt after the presidents farewell address. Because we just don’t know what’s next. Also, this film shares the underlying theme of Martin Scorsese’s film Silence. It’s underlying question: is it enough for you to know that you are successful and what you have accomplished or do you need the world to know? And there’s that one scene in The Founder at the end where you see Michael’s character possibly have a bit of remorse. It’s one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen an actor do. It’s hysterical, and devastating at the same moment. And instead of the McDonald’s grandson’s suing and demanding their one percent as promised by Ray, their family knows that they came up with this amazing system.

Nick Offerman on how he felt about the story being an anti-fast food activist:

Offerman: I read a lot of Eric Schlosser author of “Fast Food Nation,” and I come from a faming background. So I am very interested in how fast food among other industries is destroying the small American farmer. So I knew the macro details of the story. But it was the personal story of the McDonald’s brothers that was an absolute revelation. As somebody who considers myself a fan of small agriculture, at first I was nervous when I got the script. I didn’t know if it was for the chicken factory or the little guy. And I was thrilled to discover the truth of the story. I was then very excited to get involved. I was always really impressed with how the brothers tried all these other businesses and then finally struck on this amazing idea. For me, it was the tennis court sequence. It suddenly was a Willy Wonka moment. Someone got up on a ladder and yelled “mustard.” However, on numerous occasions, I have called McDonald’s “the purveyors of the McSh*t Sandwich.”

The French brothers on how they relate to their grandfather:

Corey French: We learned a lot of great lessons from our grandfather, and one of them was hard work. Also, learned about running a small business and working as hard as we can to make our way through life. And that is one of the things that he purveyed to our father, which he passed down to us. We are happy that the movie shows all of that. They didn’t just show up and work nine-five. They were there until open to close. We now run our own real estate company.

Jason French: And they loved it too. They loved creating something that everyone could enjoy. I am overjoyed with the performance that brought that to light.