Genre: Biopic
Premise: Follows the story of McDonald’s “founder,” Ray Kroc, as he revolutionizes the fast food industry and creates a dynasty.
About: The Weinstein Company picked this up after it appeared on last year’s Black List. The film will be directed by John Lee Hancock and headlined by the rejuvenated Michael Keaton. The script was written by Robert Siegel, who rejuvenated another actor’s career (Mickey Rourke), with his script The Wrestler. Siegel started out his career writing comedy scripts before he realized he wasn’t very funny. Once he switched to drama, everything took off.  (Useless fact – Ray Kroc was born in my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois!)
Writer: Robert Siegel
Details: 113 pages (April 4, 2014 draft)

635488881348030002-KEATON-BIRDMAN-jy-3313-

A few years back, I was driving out of Los Angeles and within a few hours, I was starving. I stopped at a gas station to fuel up and asked a gnarly-looking local there if he knew of any good places to eat. “You bet,” he replied, “Del Taco.”

I mentally shook my head, saddened by this reality. Del Taco? The bad Taco Bell ripoff that used ketchup with a spritz of lemon as its taco “sauce.” This is what America had become?  Where the average person thought “Del Taco” was food?

The man must’ve been reading my mind because he smiled and said. “Oh no, I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t that. These are real authentic tacos. The kind that make you think of ballerinas on a summer day.” I wasn’t quite sure what the ballerina comment was about, and was still skeptical, but I was also hungry. So even though I had to take some convoluted route that included memorizing a dozen turns, I found the Del Taco, ordered up these “authentic” tacos, and was promptly blown away.

They were DELICIOUS.

I even ordered a few more for the road. And for the next hour, I contemplated this strange occurrence. How was it, I wondered, that the Del Taco I’d always known served thin pasty processed garbage, yet this Del Taco, which existed in the exact same state, was a cornucopia of quality ingredients mixed into the motherload of deliciousness. Well, after reading The Founder, I found my answer.

SpeedeeSpeedey!  The original McDonald’s mascot!

In 1954, Dick and Mac McDonald were running the best fast food stop in California. Unlike the drive-up food joints that were popular at the time, the McDonald brothers revolutionized food in a way no one had thought to before. They actually made food FAST. And in case you were thinking, “Yeah, at the expense of quality,” you’re wrong. The original McDonald’s guys desperately cared about quality. In fact, it was half the secret to their success. It wasn’t until Ray Kroc came around that all that changed.

Kroc was a late bloomer, a 52 year old desperate salesman who travelled the U.S. selling mixing machines. Kroc was one of those “get rich quick” guys, always looking for the million dollar idea. He found it in 1954. He just didn’t know it yet. After Kroc shockingly received his McDonald’s burger 15 seconds after ordering it, he demanded to get a tour of the McDonald’s store from the brothers.

Kroc was amazed at the efficiency of the operation and wanted in. He convinced the guys to let him start franchising back in his home state, Illinois. Kroc made a mistake though. He didn’t read the contract! As such, he only found out later that he’d received just 1.4% of profits from each franchise. That wasn’t even enough to RUN the franchises.

Kroc complained to the brothers but they stood strong on the percentage, pointing to their ironclad contract that guaranteed the brothers total control over everything that had to do with the stores. Then everything changed. Kroc met a businessman named Harry Sonneborn, who suggested to Kroc that a way to circumvent the contract was to buy up land and force the franchisees to build their McDonald’s on that land. This genius idea meant that Kroc would OWN the land the franchises ran on, giving him a constant stream of income. This is the moment that changed McDonald’s, the moment that allowed Ray Kroc to take over the world.

Once Kroc got filthy rich from the real estate side of the business, he decided to simply STOP HONORING the contract he made with the McDonald’s brothers. Just stopped! He openly said to them, “Sue me.” And they knew he knew they couldn’t do anything about it. They were a mom and pop stand. He was a superpower. Seeing no other option, they sold the company to him. This lead to one of the saddest things I’ve ever read. Kroc had his lawyers force the brothers to change the name of their original McDonald’s because it now infringed on his copyright. To add insult to injury, he would then open a McDonald’s across the street from them, which eventually drove the original McDonald’s out of business. May the Big Mac live forever more.

del-taco-restaurant

So back to my Del Taco story. Had you eaten at any McDonald’s in, say, 1965, you may have had some mass-produced garbage burger. But had you gone to that original McDonald’s, before Ray destroyed it, you would’ve had the best burger in town. Maybe the best way to understand what McDonald’s should’ve become is to look at In and Out. They still live by that same mantra McDonald’s started with. Tiny menu so you ensure great quality and fast service.

As a screenplay, The Founder plays out like a lot of biopics, which is to say the structure is fast and loose. There are no clear act turns. The structure is dictated less by plot beats than by where the real life story took the people. There isn’t even any conflict until 45 pages into the screenplay. That’s the first moment Kroc disagrees with the McDonald brothers.

What’s surprisingly about this script though is how dialogue-driven it is. These 113 pages go by in an hour because it’s dialogue dialogue dialogue. And it’s not “screenplay” dialogue. By that I mean it’s not forced conflict dialogue. Rather, it’s revelation-based. Each new conversation seems to introduce a fascinating component to the story. When Sonneborn comes in, for example, with his real estate idea, it’s this game-changer where you know not just the relationship between Kroc and the McDonalds is going to change… but that the whole WORLD is going to change.

First_McDonalds,_San_Bernardino,_CaliforniaThe very first McDonald’s is now a museum.

As with every biopic, you need a fascinating main character, and Kroc is exactly that. I want you guys to pay attention here because when you’re commissioned to tackle a subject, figuring out whose point of view you’re going to tackle it from is a key component to making the story work. If somebody told you to write a story about McDonald’s, you just as well could’ve told it from the point of view of Mac or Dick McDonald. Those were the original creators. The thing is, those guys seemed to be as wholesome as apple pie. You’re not going to get nearly as much drama out of them.

Kroc is the way more interesting character. He’s the salesman. He’s the guy who starts off with good intentions but gets lost in his obsession to expand at all costs. Those are the characters you want to follow – the ones who compromise their morals. They’re way more interesting than the good guy. I mean, Kroc has the gall, at the end of the script, to call himself “The Founder.” How evil is that?

Siegel adds a final genius touch to the script. He builds this storyline out of Kroc wanting to switch the milk shakes to milk shake mix in order to save money on refrigeration costs in all his stores. He fights the McDonalds tooth and nail on it, who refuse to compromise quality (“We’re not making milkshakes without milk, Ray!”). In the very end, when he takes over the company, Ray finally makes the change, and it’s the harbinger, of course, of the direction McDonald’s would take from that point forward, compromising just about everything for profits.  It’s the reason why, these days, our Big Macs come to us courtesy of 10 minutes under a heat lamp.

The last time I read something like this was The Social Network. It’s not quite as good as that script, but it’s still a tasty read. And most of you should have it if you got a hold of that Blacklist folder. Check it out!

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Robert Siegel’s success once he changed from writing comedy to writing drama reminded me how important it is to write in the genre you’re actually GOOD AT. This may sound obvious, but I see a lot of writers lured to another genre by a good idea despite being weak in that genre. They figure, “Well, it’s a good idea, so I should write it.” The results of this approach are almost always bad. Most writers know what genres they’re best in. My advice would be to stay inside those genres.

  • LostAndConfused

    No wonder my burgers always tasted like blood and deceit.

    Long live Dick and Mac and In N’ Out.

  • Zadora

    Write what you’re good at…

    I love writing horrors and thrillers, but every time I’ve won or placed high in a comp, it’s been with a drama. I hate writing dramas. I don’t want to change my writing. Lol!

    • Malibo Jackk

      Write what you hate.

  • leitskev

    I’ll have to check this script out. I have one biopic script written, it did well at Nicholls, but a big problem and challenge was the time leaps. That’s not a problem in a story like Braveheart, but in some stories, and it seems like Founder might be one such story, that would be an issue.

    I have another real life story I want to do but have been sitting on for a reason Carson touched on: the main character in real life just didn’t have any flaws. The guy was a true American hero for his whole life. Giving him a flaw doesn’t seem right. I could change to a fictional character using him as a model, but that doesn’t feel right either. So I sit on the idea for now.

    • ArabyChic

      This brings up a good point. A flaw doesn’t have to be intrinsically negative — in most cases it is, true, but the most important part of a flaw is that it holds the character back from achieving their goal. My favorite Biopics are usually ones where the flaw itself is a focused but morally ambiguous entity — both negative and positive.

      • leitskev

        Yes, and sometimes a better word for flaw is some kind of need that requires growth or a new outlook to overcome. I agree with your point.

        The problem with the historical character I am looking at is that the story WOULD improve dramatically if I gave him a flaw, and it would be easy to in the period and place that he is in. But the real man just seemed to have no flaw. Everything you would want in a man, a father, a husband, a politician, a soldier, and a man who stood courageously up for what was right. And he’s not well known outside his state. I just stumbled on his character in research.

        • ArabyChic

          Hmm. That is difficult. Perhaps in standing up for what was right he is putting himself and his family in harm’s way, creating conflict with his wife, kids, friends, etc. This can make others (and the audience) question what he is willing to sacrifice for what he believes is right… ?

          Perhaps in the end family and (some) friends come around to his POV, and after much deliberating and questioning himself he returns to his original POV, but the arc of almost folding to pressure and then standing strong for his beliefs remains. So he is a non-changing main character who changes others. Biopics that do this, usually where the character is a martyr, like Ghandi, manage to cram a mini-arc into the first act to show how the main character came to have their unique POV before setting out to change how others saw it.

          • leitskev

            Thanks for brain storming. Yeah, there is a lot of good stuff in his story. As a returning soldier, he stood up with other returning soldiers to fight against the Jim Crow Democrats of the deep South. The Jim Crow pols were aligned with gangsters from New York, so there’s plenty of antagonistic force. His first wife died in labor while was in WWII. He was an amazing guy.

    • fragglewriter

      I read an article for the movie Selma. They interviewed the director, and she said that instead of the movie revolving around Martin Luther King Jr., she decided to have the movie center around the event.

      Can you do that instead?

      • leitskev

        No, but thanks. No, it’s the life that is interesting. The key is usually to pick a few key periods, but broken narrative is risky.

  • Logline_Villain

    I resisted reading The Founder for the very reason that it was about McDonald’s. But an “impressive” from Carson will force me to brush the dust off the computer screen and see whether The Founder is in a zip code anywhere near The Social Network…

  • pabloamigo

    Just finished reading this. Great script. I had a glint of begrudging admiration for Kroc and all that he achieved by he time we faded out.

    • Bob Bradley

      That was part of the struggle reading this. You want to root for the American success story. And Ray Krok is it. But you keep having to realize what he did. And you have to hate him for it. There’s the tricky conflict all the way through. It’s in us.
      Great read.

  • Randy Williams

    I read some of this when we first got the list. I pictured Tom Hanks the whole time as Kroc.
    I think when the reader pictures Tom Hanks as your main character, you have a winner.

    • Jarman Alexander

      Is there any chance I could get this script from you Randy?
      J dot Jarman dot alexander at gmail dot com.

      • Randy Williams

        Sent you the link.

  • Buddy

    sounds really cool…

  • ximan

    You won’t know what genre you’re good at until you’ve written in several genres. Just some food for thought. Happy writing! :)

  • walker

    There is decent momentum in the first act as Ray Kroc stumbles on the McDonald brothers, but I notice numerous instances where the writer draws unfilmable conclusions in the description instead of dramatizing it. In fact it seems to be his main way of ending a scene. Now Ray arrives home and immediately gets into an appallingly on-the-nose and unconvincing argument with his wife that is like something out of a telenovela. Then he goes to see Magnificent Obsession. Then it repeats a few more beats, ending the scenes with unfilmable conclusions. How on earth is this “impressive”?

    • mulesandmud

      I’m with you that the argument between Ray and Ethel reads like an explosion at the subtext factory, but I’ve got no idea where you’re coming from with the ‘unfilmable conclusions’ complaint.

      If you’re talking about unfilmables in general, well, this script is as lean as they come, and cheats less than just about anything I’ve read in recent memory.

      If you’re talking about actual concluding moments of scenes, I was specifically impressed by how this script springboards from one beat to the next, including in that argument scene (“I MARRIED SISYPHUS!” is the best line by a long shot), so I’m not sure what’s irking you there either.

      Throw down some examples if you can, I’m curious.

      • walker

        p2: Ray is not only the oldest customer but “seemingly the only one with anywhere to be”
        p7: Ray hears on a long distance call “the sounds of an insanely busy– and efficient– kitchen” He hears the efficiency?
        p9: Looking at the map. “A single unbroken line running from where he is now to that mysterious city out in Southern California.”
        p9: Alone in a car: “His heart swells with possibility. The vastness excites his brain.” I know this is just setting up a small gag, but the gag is even smaller without the writer guiding us through it.
        p11: “This is all bizarre to him.”
        p25: “Does Kroc detect a rift between the brothers on this issue?”
        p25: “He takes an impulsive detour.”
        p27-30: the four page argument/exposition dump. These are supposed to be people who have been married for years, and this is supposed to be the 1950s. I feel like it is both on the nose and anachronistic.

        • walker

          She says “I married Sisyphus” and then he trudges off to see Magnificent Obsession? Come on man. Are you saying that’s not just a bit heavy-handed? Does an Amateur Friday script get away with that crap? (Using the word advisedly there.)

          • mulesandmud

            The line is fitting without being clumsy, histrionic but with more personality than her other battle-axe barbs, and unlike the rest of Ethel’s ham-fisted dialogue, which I make no apology for, that button line makes her sound like a smart person.

            I’m sure both amateurs and pros have been skewered for similar lines on this site, but that’s because we’re all a bunch opinionated bastards here. It’s a solid line.

            As for the movie title, it’s a sledgehammer, no question, but it’s also tongue-in-cheek. This script flirts with a satirical tone at times, which I suspect it would benefit from pushing even further.

            Little touches like that Sirk title give help nail Krok’s outsized ambition in a fun, ED WOOD type way. It’s also a spot-on period reference, which I appreciate.

            As for your unfilmables, I think you’ve got a point about those efficient kitchen sounds and that impulsive detour. The rest range from fair to good, and are all perfectly filmable.

          • walker

            They basically restate the beat of the scene explicitly in a short epigraph. And a couple of them (the efficiency, the hint of a rift) are major thematic beats. They seem redundant at best. They do seem like maybe they are the answers to producer notes. I see producers telling writers to pound story beats a lot. But your defense of them as running the gamut from fair to good does bring me back to my original question of how this thing gets an “impressive”. And even my subtext of how development and A-list attachments act as a sort of secret sauce that makes us excuse shortcomings in a pro script that we would not tolerate from an amateur.

          • mulesandmud

            Call me a hack, but I think that kind of beat-pounding, when done with taste and tact, is far from a shortcoming. At best, it’s a great way to smuggle extra layers of intention and clarity into a script while allowing the parts that will actually make it to the final film (action and dialogue) to remain less explicit and more nuanced, which opens the door for directors and actors to apply the same level of subtlety to their own work, and thereby make the final film stronger overall.

            I don’t care how good of a writer you are, if you’re trying to tell a story with layers of commentary above and below the plot, your action lines are going to have to editorialize at times. That’s a good thing when done well, just like melodrama or voiceover or teaser openings or any other hotly debated piece of craft.

            And if this all comes back to that old am-pro double standard complaint, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I’ve never been on board with that one; it’s a total paper tiger, and misunderstands the different between review and feedback.

          • walker

            It’s not a paper tiger, it’s an old saw. And I am the hack here, so in my hands it is a hacksaw. But because of your mulishness I went ahead and read the whole thing. It is a nondescript biopic, lightweight and warmed-over, of negligible nutritional value. The beats are familiar and conveniently located. I would give it a “worth the read” for sure. Seriously question the “impressive”.

          • S_P_1

            I’ve noticed Carson has given scripts more [x] impressive rankings this year. I’m a little skeptical myself.

          • klmn

            The Sisyphus line is smart, but I think it will be too smart for the audience. And it sounds out of place for the wife of a shake machine salesman.

            But while we’re on the subject, here’s an animation I saw years ago, maybe an old Sixty Minutes broadcast.

          • Malibo Jackk

            “efficient kitchen sounds” — Let the sound guy figure that out.
            “impulsive detour” — David Fincher would love it. Maybe some other directors as well.

        • Somersby

          They may be literal unfilmables, but don’t forget that all these lines and moments help inform the overall story.

          Actors take clues from “His heart swells with possibilities”, “It’s all bizarre to him” , “impulsive detour” etc. I don’t have a problem with any of that if it helps with the tone of the story and enriches everyone’s (actors, director, crew, etc.) on what the scene is about.

          • walker

            If the scene is written well they would be redundant, and in most of those cases, they are. It is just a cheapo way of reinforcing the beat.

  • Fistacuffs

    Really enjoyed reading this script.

  • carsonreeves1

    He seems to view his time at the Onion as a bit of a sham though, from his interviews. Like he felt forced into writing comedy scripts because he worked at the Onion, even though he was never completely comfortable doing so.

  • Paul Clarke

    It’s remarkable how many similarities there are between the origin of McDonalds and Coca-Cola.

    Shows that big business is all about the marketing, and not the product – *COUGH* Apple *COUGH*

  • klmn

    Started to read, now I want a burger.

    Done reading, time for eating.

  • Linkthis83

    Ray Kroc is the original Hamburglar.

    • Linkthis83

      • Bluedust

        That joke made me Grimace.

  • Dan B

    There Will Be Burgers! I mean Daniel Day Lewis’ milkshake speech is in te WRONG MOVIE!!

  • Kirk Diggler

    I think there is no better time for this script to made then right now, considering how much market share McDonald’s is losing here in the U.S. It’s like the story of McDonald’s is coming full circle.

    • Kirk Diggler

      I like the first page. it’s a nice set up, showing the world of your main character failing before he has his eureka moment. But I can’t help but think how many people would say “Uhh, dude, you need to break up that big block of dialogue. I don’t care how you do it. Have him sneeze or slip in an inconsequential action line.”

      I hate that kind of thinking. I co-wrote a script and put it on peer review sites, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that a big block of dialogue needs to be broken up. None were as big as the block of dialogue that opens The Founder, but I hear it time and time again, like people think there is a rule about how long a character can speak before it needs to be interrupted with action or another character speaking.

      • ChadStuart

        Well, that’s the problem sometimes with amateurs giving notes. They don’t quite know enough about the bigger screenwriting picture yet to give substantive notes, so they fall back on mechanics and pointing out the one or two typos that exist and feel that it’s expert advice.

        Objectives are easy to point out, subjectives are much, much harder. They don’t know enough yet to realize that the “rules” of screenwriting are more guidelines than hard and fast rules (nod to Barbossa, there).

        I’ve had a lot of producers read my scripts, and consequently been turned down a lot. Never has it been because of mechanics. More often than not it’s the concept wasn’t realized enough for them. After that it’s because of market or budget concerns. Once a manager turned me down because I didn’t live in L.A. (that one hurt, since he otherwise loved my body of work). But, I’ve never gotten a professional note that said, “break up this dialogue” or “scenes shouldn’t be more than two pages”.

        Don’t sweat those types of notes. If you’re in the ballpark, you’re in the game. It’s not about how pretty your swing is, it’s all about how many times you can knock it out of the park (it’s spring so it’s time to drop football metaphors for baseball ones).

  • carsonreeves1

    The way they explained it, Kroc could’ve bankrupted them with court and legal fees alone. However, you’d think that a huge lawyer would’ve worked the case for free for the potential payoff. Would love to know the specifics of how that went down.

  • leitskev

    It’s a possibility. Might be hard because of the time leaps. But maybe with a duel protag?

  • Citizen M
  • S_P_1

    SIDE TOPIC

    Links pertaining to screenwriting.

    http://www.scriptmag.com/features/script-notes-can-protagonist-antagonist?et_mid=733527&rid=240497399

    http://www.scriptmag.com/features/writers-on-writing-on-the-set-red-eye?et_mid=733527&rid=240497399

    http://www.scriptmag.com/features/career-features/alt-script-digital-filmmaking-destroyed-screenwriting?et_mid=733527&rid=240497399

    The last link resonated with me the most. It’s interesting how cheaper technology changed the distribution method for independent film. Even though a lower price point has increased participation it hasn’t increased quality.
    This article mentions forming groups of writer-producers. I’ll take it a step further. Screenwriters need to petition the same level of respectability book authors are granted by default. When I come to this site the continuing trend I notice is the diminishing toolkit we have to work from.
    DON’T
    1)direct from the page
    2)include camera shots
    3)include parentheticals
    4)include ellipses
    5)write using passive adverbs
    6)cheat margins
    7)write more than X number of pages
    8)write unfilmables
    9)use Intellectual Properties
    10)start writing before you perfected your logline and outlined your script completely
    11)talk to much. Always show a dialogue exchange.
    12)use FLASHBACKS, FLASHFORWARD, SERIES OF SHOTS, MONTAGE, ect
    13)write Historical Dramas, Dramas, Westerns, Space Operas, tent pole budgets, Found Footage, Spandex Films, Animated Features, Cop / Medical / Law Procedurals, ect
    DO
    1)re-Write this amazing script.
    No other artistic medium has the amount of restrictions on every level (creativity, financial, employment opportunities, gender / race bias, format, ect.). Screenwriters work within the greatest confines but their recognition is the least with compensation to match.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Know of at least two professional screenwriters who disagree with these rules.
      They specifically referred to many of them in a podcast two weeks ago.
      They also specifically mentioned scriptmag and pointed out that these people
      are being PAID to write these types of articles.

      They do, however, suggest that you write an amazing script.

      • S_P_1

        If you get a chance can you post a link to the podcast? Thanks in advance. I think I have mild case of analysis-paralysis.

        • davejc

          No. Better not post a link.

        • Malibo Jackk

          Shoot Linkthis83 an email.
          He’s posted partial transcripts from the podcasts before.
          He can give you a link.

          • S_P_1

            Done.

      • Dan B

        Are you referring to scriptnotes?

    • davejc

      That last article was really depressing. And more so because the author’s solution invited the same disaster that the digital revolution created.

      But i liked Carl’s article a lot (the second one).

      Thanks for sharing.

      • S_P_1

        I’ve benefited from a lower price point. I don’t have a top of the line DSLR but I do have mid-grade quality Fuji camera. Also the greatest deals to be had are purchasing equipment 1 or 2 generations behind. I bought a significantly discounted NIB GoPro Hero 2.

  • drifting in space

    I really enjoyed this script. Keaton is perfect for the role. Can’t say enough good things about this.

  • drifting in space

    This is what I was going to suggest.

  • James Lion

    Hence the phrase, “What a Kroc.”

  • fragglewriter

    I think it’s interesting as to how the writer got noticed. I love comedy and took a comedy class so that I can sharpen my skills. Tried writing a comedy based on what I’ve learned, but for some reason, I have trouble translating that on the page. Now I like drama from back in the day due to the fact they combine comedy and drama, so I decided drama was the way to go. It just seems to have clicked and now my writing is easier and not forced.

    • Dan B

      What did you take for a comedy class? Writing? Improv? Stand up?

      • fragglewriter

        It was a comedy class where the instructor asked us about who inspires us, a comic’s style, jokes, delivery and tips of performing. It was really informative.

  • S_P_1

    Spandex Film = Super Hero genre

    I recently heard the podcast on “The Rules”. I know better now.

  • Lucid Walk

    If anyone has a copy, please email to sde91@hotmail.com