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Following The Meat
The production of FAST FOOD NATION began in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the beautiful mountain town that is home to soaring Pike's Peak and the United States Air Force Academy, and would stand in for the fictional Cody. Colorado Springs imbued the production with the quintessential Rocky Mountain atmosphere while its surrounding areas provided ample opportunity to capture the reality of the ranching and meat-packing worlds that figure so prominently in the story.

In nearby Fountain, Colorado, Richard Linklater and his long-time collaborator, cinematographer Lee Daniel, had the chance to shoot at a spectacular, sprawling ranch.

"The problems this family has faced trying to fight off eminent domain and keep a private corporation from putting a toll highway across their property are unbelievable,” says Kris Kristofferson, who filmed most of his scenes at the ranch. "These days, companies can do this. It doesn't even have to be for the public good anymore. It can just be to make money.”

After their powerful experience at the ranch, the production moved on to another eye-opening location -- the Mexican desert, where for two weeks under the unrelenting desert sun they shot scenes of Benny the coyote picking up migrants on their journey to America. The cast was deeply affected by the harsh truth of the experience. Catalina Sandino Moreno, who made another suspenseful journey to the U.S. in MARIA FULL OF GRACE, says: "It made our performances that much more real, because we were actually in the Mexican desert trying to cross it in these terrible conditions, just as people do every day.”

While in Mexico, Moreno also had a chance to talk to those who had made similarly hazardous trips across the border. "I remember one woman saying that she heard that the van is where a lot of people die because everyone is stuffed in there,” recalls Moreno. "She said there are sometimes three rows of five people on top of each other in a van, so the first one that gets in and is on the bottom usually dies.”

Says Luis Guzman of the desert shoot: "It was heavy. Being out there and doing these scenes of people walking across this terrain… you really understand that they feel it's the path to freedom.”

For some of the most gut-wrenching and unforgettable images in FAST FOOD NATION, the crew next filmed in a location that has rarely been seen on screen before: a fully operational slaughterhouse. Notorious for their myriad dangers, the slaughterhouse was rife with risk for the production. Everyone in the cast and crew had to be outfitted in the full protective gear that is governed by strict occupational safety rules – but nothing could protect them from the stark and gruesome reality of what happens inside these places.

Richard Linklater vividly remembers the mixed emotions he went through when he scouted the plant location. "I remember seeing cows getting ready to get whacked,” he says. "I found myself suppressing my empathy, feeling like the artist in me was dying and the technician in me was taking his place. I was very aware of that sensation. But in that environment, certain traits have to go away and certain other traits have to get stronger. It's just the way the human psyche works.”

The cast had a variety of reactions to the unusual experience. "To be in the slaughterhouse when they were killing a cow, with the blood and the awful smell—I was not prepared for that,” admits Catalina Sandino Moreno. "But I'm glad we filmed in a real slaughterhouse and not a studio. When it's real intestines that you are touching, it makes it feel incredibly real.”

Other actors found themselves getting surprisingly used to the machinations of the meat-packing factory. "It's weird, but once you're there and you're working, it's almost like an office job,” says Ana Claudia Talancón. "It's not about the smell<


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