Ray Kroc [Michael Keaton] hears of and checks out a popular burger place that developed its own Speedee System for producing the food. This was post-war America when people were time-strapped and clamoring for speed...
Although the franchising operations are successful, Kroc is under personal financial pressure because of his small cut. A finance expert advises him to see it as a real estate business, buying land for future sites and leasing them to franchisees, which would bypass the brothers...
Set Decorator Benjamin reveals, “In the course of creating their house, I decided Ethel would have carefully arranged her space to mimic the House and Garden magazines that were popular at the time...”
Feeling neglected while Ray [Michael Keaton] spends most of his time on the road in his manic drive to succeed, Ethel [Laura Dern] wants to have a more normal life, attending the weekly country club dinners together...
Set Decorator of THE FOUNDER, Susan Benjamin SDSA, ponders the interconnection with the dynamic period of post-war America when people were time-strapped and clamoring for speed...the ethics and politics of then and now... *
I loved working on THE FOUNDER. Besides the joy and ease of collaborating with a team that I admire and have worked with on previous projects, the story propelled me into a new exploration of thought about American values and history.
It is a timeless story and one that keeps revealing new layers as current events seem to mimic the questions raised in the film. The story is about how Ray Kroc burrowed his way into the McDonald brothers’ business and eventually bought their name and ideas, to create the fast food empire we know today. I can't help wondering after this past election, if Kroc were still alive, would he have run for president?
During the filming of the project, I was asked to be a guest speaker at a Graduate class for Brand Marketing at The New School of Social Research in New York.
One of the class team's projects was rebranding McDonalds after a slew of scandals had dampened their profits and image. The research boards they had compiled in written time lines looked similar to the historical facts our film team had collected through photographs.
McDonalds had recently changed their menu to include sustainably farmed, non-hormone-injected chicken. The students were searching for another tactic that would maintain the company’s place in the marketplace among the more "conscious" consumers. I noticed they had omitted the famous "Royal with Cheese" that Samuel Jackson had popularized in Quentin Tarantino's film PULP FICTION.
Other than that, I personally, had no suggestions and was clearly not the consumer they were looking to reach. The closest I get to eating fast food is the takeout sushi from the supermarket and the vegetarian sub from Subways in times of desperation.
But I do have memories of McDonalds from when I was growing up that I think about every time I pass the Golden Arches. One in particular was during a summer camp in New Hampshire. We were on a camping trip that took us into the wilderness for a whole 3 days. We were dirty and grubby and longing for a hot shower and food to eat that did not come out of a can and that we did not have to prepare. As the van progressed down the highway out of the mountains, I remember a cheer of elation as we all saw the Golden Arches emerge through the sea of evergreen trees. "Civilization!" We all exclaimed. A burger and fries never tasted so good.
My generation grew up with McDonalds. We saw the progression of design changes on the various restaurants, the addition of the Ronald McDonald character, the outdoor playground, “Happy Meals”, and the million-to-billion number of people served on the outdoor sign.
Research is my favorite part of my job as a Set Decorator. It was easy to find images of McDonalds, but not so easy to re-create the actual operating Speedee System inside the restaurant.
Yes, the 1950's motels and restaurants were fun to decorate. But the more interesting challenge was decorating the inside of Ray and EthelKroc's home. Ethel, his wife of 39 years, was a housewife who was content with what she had, so long as she could go out to the country club dinners on weekends. She did not understand her husbands burning ambition.
In the course of creating their house, I decided Ethel would have carefully arranged her space to mimic the House and Garden magazines that were popular at the time. It occurred to me how easy it was to criticize Ray's cutting ambition and craving for success at all costs, while accepting the more insidious suggestions of "good American living" advertised in these magazines. Like the McDonald brothers, Ethel was clinging to the gentler simpler mores of the past while Ray was plunging full steam in to the more aggressive future.
Other fast food restaurants have emerged since it's inception, but collectively McDonalds holds the place of the true iconic fast food restaurant in our hearts. Whether or not you eat at McDonalds, you accept its presence as much as you do the ubiquitous flag on a public building, as Ray envisioned.
In a time when we are challenging our institutions, it will be interesting to see what old ones fall into the nostalgia of the past and what will remain or emerge in the future.
In terms of the film and television industry, which has become more geographically widespread, Benjamin points out, “It's great to know that our business members offer support to all of us Set Decorators, wherever we may be filming! Because we filmed in Atlanta, we shopped in antique stores and thrift shops around town and relied on:
· Made to Measure Design and Upholstery helped with all furnishings and drapes throughout the entire film. Gail Blackwell is amazing!
Made the headboard and bedspreads in the Kroc house even though they were kind of ugly and she did not understand I wasn’t looking for the best looking stuff!!!! Also made ALL of our drapes throughout the movie and reupholstered sofas and chairs for us...
· Practical Props sent us period lighting for the McDonald Brothers office and Kroc office all the way from LA to Atlanta...