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John Wells Talks Company Men, Downsizing Economy and Hollywood Dramas

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 14, 2010 at 9:15AM

John Wells makes his directorial debut with Company Men, a smart, angry, sad movie about the state of things in recession-era America that is based on first-hand research. Wells, a veteran of such TV series as E.R. and The West Wing, developed this for years and wrote compelling characters we want to spend time with. He raised overseas financing with stars Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, all strong as three men laid off from their shipping company. Kevin Costner is terrific as the brother of Affleck's wife Rosemary DeWitt (left off the poster, boo), who is the best thing in this straight-on, no frills, naturalistic character drama.
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Thompson on Hollywood

John Wells makes his directorial debut with Company Men, a smart, angry, sad movie about the state of things in recession-era America that is based on first-hand research. Wells, a veteran of such TV series as E.R. and The West Wing, developed this for years and wrote compelling characters we want to spend time with. He raised overseas financing with stars Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, all strong as three men laid off from their shipping company. Kevin Costner is terrific as the brother of Affleck's wife Rosemary DeWitt (left off the poster, boo), who is the best thing in this straight-on, no frills, naturalistic character drama.

In the three-part flip-cam interview below, Wells talks about what he learned and what he wanted to say with this old-fashioned message movie about the way we live now, the kind that doesn't get made much any more. Unfortunately, the $18 million movie (shot by Roger Deakins) which Weinstein Co. will open wide in January, will wind up playing to art-house audiences, although I'd like to see it reach working class Americans as well. The title is a misnomer, actually--it's not just about the corporate class.

The movie is about what many of us have already experienced--the downsizing of America. And Wells talks about the downsizing of specialty dramas, as well. Trying to make this movie now would be much harder and would require much lower budget levels, he said.

Part One: How Wells researched and wrote and decided to make his directorial debut on Company Men:

Part Two: What he learned in his research.

Part Three: Financing, casting the film. How the production climate has changed.

This article is related to: Headliners, Independents, Video, Interviews , Ben Affleck, Weinsteins


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.