Interviewed By Susan Gerhard
The book Fast Food Nation - a richly reported and thickly described literary investigation into the bowels of your everyday burger - was initially an article in Rolling Stone before it became a bestseller, spawned a children's book, instigated a movement, and morphed into a movie by Richard Linklater. If it didn't feel so wrong, you could almost say that it has, by now, become franchised. As the collaborative Eric Schlosser-Richard Linklater incarnation of the catch phrase gets its theatrical release, it's clear that Fast Food Nation is not just a title, but also, clearly, a zeitgeist.
Linklater taps it by melding slow food philosophy with Slacker-era introspection. He and Schlosser have decided to personalize the project and run the issues through the lives of characters who populate a small strip-malled town overtaken by corporate logos: immigrants being exploited in a meat-processing plant, teens working the local franchise of the multinational burger joint, a family coping on a single mom's chain-retail-job budget, and a marketer visiting from the big city to find out why the meat seems to be infected with, well, shit.
I got a chance to speak with an eloquent and alert Eric Schlosser at 8 am at the Ritz Carlton on a recent visit to San Francisco about the ambitions of his screenplay, the inception of the book, and the new attacks against him.
How did this film get made?
When the book came out in 2001, I was approached by a number of filmmakers who wanted to make a documentary based on the book. And I was very eager for there to be documentary based on the book. It seemed like a logical thing to do. I met with a number of filmmakers and I liked them a lot. But there was something about each one of the options that made me uneasy. This was before Bowling for Columbine had shown that documentaries could get a wide theatrical release. So all these filmmakers were being represented by different networks, cable, or whatever. I just didn't feel confidant that the film that would be made would be true to the book. So I never signed on the dotted line. In my own mind, I said to myself that I would prefer that no film be made based on the book than a film be made that I thought was a compromise or a sellout.
So about a year, year and a half after the book came out, I was approached by Jeremy Thomas, who is a British film producer who really does interesting films, and he works entirely outside the system. He raises all the money for his films without a distributor. He produces all of Bertolucci's films and a wide variety of really interesting, mainly European, directors. And he had been given a copy of the book by Malcolm McLaren, who was the impresario behind the Sex Pistols.
So these were very interesting people, and I really enjoyed meeting with them and talking about it, but it wasn't entirely clear what a fictional film based on the book would be. And I was on a book tour in Austin, Texas, and I met with Rick Linklater and we talked about it. It wasn't clear whether this was a good idea or a terrible idea, but the idea was to root it in some lives in a small town. It seemed like the only way to do this would be to take the title of the book, the spirit of the book, and put aside the book. Not go near trying to do a literal anything.
Rick and I just got together over the course of the next year, year and a half. I didn't sign over the rights to my book. It was just something I thought about. When it was clear this was something he wanted to do, and it was clear that he would have total creative control over it, and that all the money would be raised outside the studio system, so there would be no pressures from above, that's when I signed over the rights to Rick.
There are a handful of directors in this country at the moment, who I think are amazing, my contemporaries, and he's one of them. Paul Thomas Anderson is another. Alexander Payne is another. So I was just eager to see a film by Richard Linklater on the subject matter. But I wound up getting much more involved than I had planned to. I made clear to him that I would be helpful and useful, and I wound up writing the screenplay with him, taking him around Colorado, showing him around. So that's how it came to be.
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