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“The Founder” Director Voices Concern About The “McDonaldization” Of Movies

As The Founder, a biopic of McDonald’s franchiser Ray Kroc, opens, director John Lee Hancock explains how films can be like Big Macs.

“The Founder” Director Voices Concern About The “McDonaldization” Of Movies
Director John Lee Hancock on the set of The Founder with Michael Keaton and Mike Pniewski.

The most prized element of the cuisine on hand at McDonald’s–aside from the fact that it’s there and you’re hungry and maybe a little buzzed–is its uniformity. The Big Macs in Tokyo taste the same as they do in Gwinnett County, Georgia, welcoming loyal consumers time and time again with its haunting familiarity.

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Sometimes going to the movies can feel that way as well.

“I mean, how many superhero movies can we have? It seems like there are 19 a week,” says filmmaker John Lee Hancock. “They’re making money, though, and people are going to see them. So I get it, I understand completely.”

The director behind hits such as The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks has been working in the film industry since the early ’90s, but he only just became intimately acquainted with McDonald’s, while making The Founder, which hits theaters today. The Founder is anything but an assembly line movie. It stars Michael Keaton in the title role as Ray Kroc, the flailing businessman who saw how liked how the McDonald brothers ran their restaurant so much, he turned it into a mass-produced global chain and forever changed the way food is sold. With international markets more important than ever, and studios seemingly risk-averse, some critics have bemoaned the McDonaldization of the film industry in recent years.

“We have the word ‘Mc’ attached to so many things now, like McMansions,” Hancock says. “It’s become part of our vernacular as something on steroids almost, just bigger and bigger. I think to a degree, studios have fallen prey to that as well.”

For every Taylor Sheridan or Denis Villeneuve, who can get complex, idiosyncratic movies into theaters, and turn them into hits, there are many other filmmakers for hire trying to make the movie that will please the most amount of people by being the least objectionable. John Lee Hancock understands, however, why the four-quadrant film is what so many studios are after.

“A corporation that is publicly traded, it has one goal: to make money, it doesn’t have a soul,” he says. “If it does have a soul, it comes from the people who run it. But if you’re a shareholder of McDonald’s or you’re a shareholder of either Universal or Warner Brothers, and they made decisions that weren’t in the best interests of the bottom line? You’d probably have a right for a shareholder’s suit. And you might win.”

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Although in the director’s new film, as in real life, Ray Kroc and McDonald’s do ultimately triumph, that doesn’t mean gourmet food no longer exists. The same way fine dining and organic produce serve as counterpoints to the McDonaldization of the world, artisanal filmmaking continues to prosper. And perhaps even stand out a bit more against some of the more paint-by-numbers offerings it’s up against.

“I just hope every now and then, the studios still slip one of my movies in,” Hancock says.

Have a look at our video interview with the director about the making of The Founder, and more, below.

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.

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