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The Company Men Producer John Wells Interview

The Company Men: Unemployment Brought to the Big Screen

There's a reason why so many people can relate to our series of postings by an anonymous job hunter: with nine percent of America unemployed, it is real life. Producer John Wells brought this harsh reality to the big screen with The Company Men, and it shows how being laid off brings out the best and worst in people. It's the raw emotions — the crushing shame, stubborn denial, and humbled beginnings — which will strike a chord with you. The movie opens this Friday, so grab your popcorn and watch your life unfold.

SavvySugar: How will this film resonate with America?

John Wells: The perfect example of that is, as we tested the film, and the first question we have (in front of about 300 people), will be, "Who here has been affected by this personally or had it happen to someone in their immediate family or maybe a close personal friend?," and every single hand will go up every time. It is a situation that a lot of people are going through, and the film is trying to give some hope to and at the same time dramatize the tremendous pressures that families and individuals are having to go through and dignify that experience.

Many people feel that it's a very singular experience. Even though a lot of people go through it, there's a lot of shame and sense of being alone, and the film is trying to say that no this is something a lot of people have to go through, and when you take a look at it, you'll see your own life shown, honored, and respected.

To find out about how corporate America is changing and how that affects you, read more.

SS: How did you connect personally with the film?

JW: I've been very fortunate, but I'm in a business in which I'm still a freelancer. Every time a job ends, it's the end of what I'm doing. So I'm very used to living in a kind of "What am I gonna do next?" [mentality]. With the risks that I take, I've been well rewarded for. But a lot of people don’t really have that experience, and they work at one or two jobs for their whole entire careers. And now with this whole reordering of the economy where many companies don't feel much responsibilities toward their own employees. It's a generalization, but [cutting staff] is the first place they turn to, rather than trying to protect their employees. I think that there is something that's going on in the workforce, the way people interact with their jobs and their employers is changing and changing forever, I don't think it's going to come back to the way it was before, and I try to get at that in the film.

SS: In what ways are the workforce dynamics changing?

JW: There was a time, and it's not that long ago, when there was a bit of a pact between an employer and employee. If you were working for a company and you put in your loyalty and hard work, and you work for them for many years, you knew that something could happen, but you thought that the company was going to look after your interest, that you did your part and they are going to do their part. In the last 10 years, but particularly in the last three or four, I don't think people feel that their employers are looking out for them anymore, and that they have to look after their own interest.

SS: What effect would this have?

JW: I think that it can also be very detrimental to American business and productivity because you're assuming that your employer is not going to be looking out for you, so you're always looking for your next best opportunity. And we're already seeing this. The Harvard Business Review recently talked about this notion that companies have allowed this symptom to be pervasive in their workforce, and now their best people leave as soon as they have an opportunity to leave. That means that you're retraining and redoing all the time, and I think that's going to be very difficult for productivity.

SS: How much of this film is real life and how much of it is Hollywood?

JW: I can tell you that the initial story for it came from something that happened to my brother-in-law. It's not exactly what happened by any means, but it's what inspired me to start looking into it, and I started interviewing a lot of people. I went on some chat rooms and put a notice saying that I was a writer and wanted to write about this, and I received several thousand responses in the first week, and interviewed a couple hundred more people after that. Some of them I reached out to online or spoke to on the phone, others that I met with. I did a lot of research with CEOs, HR executives at various companies, so I'm trying to get at it in whatever way I could — the truth of what was happening to a whole lot of people.

The film is made up of the anecdotes and stories that people told me with a lot of humor, self-deprecation, integrity, and emotion, so I try to tell those stories that were told to me, and hopefully people will see themselves in those stories and what happened to these characters and don't perceive it to be a Hollywoodization of what's happening in real life.

Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

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