Fast Food Nation
Food for thought
Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser and filmmaker Richard Linklater talk to Miles Fielder about how they turned a non-fiction novel into a dramatic feature film.
Eric Schlosser touched a nerve with the public when he exposed the unethical and unhygienic practices of America’s junk food industry in his book Fast Food Nation. It swiftly became an international bestseller and required reading for anyone concerned about what they eat. Six years on, the book has been adapted for the big screen by Richard Linklater. The Texan filmmaker worked closely with Schlosser to create what is being billed as 'a fictional interpretation'.
Given the success of the book - and our appetite for healthy food coupled with concerns about obesity rates - it is surprising that it has taken so long for the film to materialise.
But Schlosser, a tall, stringy New Yorker, explains that he was determined to get it right. He says, ‘Many, many people approached me about making a documentary based on the book, but I didn’t trust the movie studios or the television networks making the offers. I thought the movie would become a sellout, because the material was so highly charged.’
Indeed it is. Among other startling revelations, Schlosser exposes the illegal Mexican labour force working in America’s meat packing plants, the abysmal conditions in abattoirs and what makes it into the millions of burgers sold by McDonald’s and other grease and sugar-based franchises. The film shows all that in unflinching detail (the climactic scene, shot on a real ‘kill floor’, might make you throw up), but it also adds a human dimension to the book’s meticulously researched facts.
Schlosser, 47, met Linklater during a book tour, and they immediately hit it off and began chewing over the fat, as it were, working out how Fast Food Nation might be made into a film. ‘Our idea,’ says Linklater, a stocky 46-year-old vegetarian with a keen interest in worker’s rights, ‘was that the movie wouldn’t be a documentary, but instead a character study of the lives behind the facts and figures of the fast food industry. It’s interesting both from a socio-economic and an anthropological viewpoint.’
Schlosser adds: ‘We wanted to include people who were representative of the different parts of the fast food industry: the kids working in the restaurants, the migrant workers in the meat packing plants, and also a fast food executive who represents the corporate angle.’
To flesh out those parts (and others, including a cattle farmer, a human trafficker and a group of animal rights activists) Schlosser and Linklater assembled an impressive ensemble cast. The structure of the film calls for what amounts to a series of cameo roles, and so it’s a testament to the impact of Schlosser’s book that they managed to round up high profile actors such as Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Kris Kristofferson and an uncredited Bruce Willis, who appears in a single but memorable scene as the middle man between a meat packing plant and a fast food corporation.
Such a strong cast is going to help get the film seen. Linklater says, ‘ You can be on any side of the political spectrum and still find your way into this movie. We didn’t want to shove the message down the audience’s throat.’