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Chewing On The Material
As it turned out, morphing the provoking facts and figures of Fast Food Nation into a complex fictional world was much easier to casually chat about than to actually accomplish on the page. It took Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser a couple of years to turn the book's real life tales of global workers, go-getting corporations and unassuming consumers into entertaining big-screen characters who could embody the material's most controversial themes.

In addition to using Schlosser's book, the duo turned for inspiration to a classic novel – Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, which tells the story of America through the lives of characters in one small town at the end of the 19th Century. The novel gave them an idea for a foundational structure for the story: they would base most of it inside one prototypical, Middle American town indelibly linked to multiple aspects of bringing burgers-and-fries to the world. Thus was born the imaginary locale of Cody, Colorado, with its besieged ranching community, economically vital but dangerous meat-packing plants and ever-proliferating fast food counters.

"We wanted to forge a town that had that kind of very American, fast food-like, strip mall sameness,” says Linklater. Colorado came to the fore because it's a state that has traditionally been at the forefront of American agriculture and the meat industry. After a research trip there while writing the script, Linklater was convinced it was the perfect location. "In Colorado, we met with ranchers, went to a number of meat-packing plants and talked with a lot of people to hear their stories,” Linklater explains. "It was a pretty crazy, eye-opening trip and just being there really helped me to focus on what this movie was going to be.”

With fictional Cody turning into a fully fleshed-out world, Schlosser and Linklater next invented their own national fast food restaurant chain, the enthusiastic but e.coli-spreading Mickey's. They also created UMP, a fictional meat-packing plant that resides on the outskirts of Cody, employing a largely immigrant crew. Then, they began to flesh out the very heart of FAST FOOD NATION – its linked web of characters, made up of the workers, bosses and customers who all have a hand in making "The Big One.”

Explains Schlosser: "The characters each represent different parts of the fast food industry in Cody: the minimum-wage workers in the fast food restaurant, the Mexican immigrants who work the conveyer belts in the meat packing plants and the ranching community which is rapidly disappearing into subdivision. Then there's Don, the fast food executive, who starts the story and represents the corporate angle. But with all of the characters, we weren't just trying to carve symbols but to create real, living, breathing people you can relate to on a human level.”

For Schlosser, an award-winning correspondent for Atlantic Monthly, writing the script with Linklater, an Academy Award® nominee for his screenplay for BEFORE SUNSET, was an exciting opportunity to switch gears. "I had been doing so much investigative reporting – which always requires fact checking, footnoting, and legal review – that it was an enormous pleasure to be able to make things up,” he remarks. "I started out as a playwright and a novelist and a screenwriter before I became a journalist, so it was also a lot of fun to go back to those roots.”

As the story of FAST FOOD NATION began to come together, Linklater and Schlosser made another bold decision – to tell part of the story, which interweaves the lives of the illegal immigrants who are so central to the fast food industry into the mix, in Spanish. Later, Spanish-speaking actors Bobby Cannavale, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Wilmer Valderrama and Ana Claudia Talancón would bring their characters to life in their natural language.

"After reading the script,<

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