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Exclusive: EP Isabella Rossellini, director Jody Shapiro talk film 'Burt's Buzz'

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On May 29, 2014 Examiner.com was invited to the New York premiere of Filmbuff's "Burt’s Buzz" at The Crosby Street Hotel. The documentary is a riveting and humorous portrait of the dichotomous life of Burt Shavitz— an allusive beekeeper who reluctantly became one of the world’s most recognizable brand identities. From the film: Burt’s Bees co-founder Burt Shavitz, director Jody Shapiro and executive producer Isabella Rossellini all walked the carpet.

Read our exclusive interview with Isabella Rossellini below:

How did you come to executive produce this project?

IR: So I was contacted by the company, Burt’s Bees, to make funny films about bees because I make these films about animals. So I went to North Carolina, and when I met them - I mean I knew about the company, but the story of Burt is quite fascinating and very unusual, and even the way the product got promoted with an old man instead with a hot young girl. It works, and it became such an enormous company. I was talking to the executive and I said, “Well there are two things here to be done. One about the behavior of bees, but the other one is really a serious documentary about Burt, and we have to do it because it’s an unusual way to create an empire and you can’t not document it, if he dies then you do not have any documentation. So that’s how it came about. Then I suggested Jody Shapiro because we worked on many productions. I knew he was the right personality for it. He’s very kind. Burt is quite old, it would win him over. He’s quite a recluse, and I thought Jody would understand all that and help him to come out and tell his story.

Tell me about your first meeting with Burt. What was that like?

IR: Well, we went with Jody and when the company said, “Yeah, maybe there is film here or a documentary or even just for your archive to have it.” But I said let me go out with Jody and we can tell you by meeting him if it could be made a film. We didn’t know. We thought that the story was fascinating, but we didn’t know if Burt was going to collaborate, if he was going to open up. So it took some relationship ... It’s not like he was an actor or somebody in the industry and they know how to talk to the press. So we went once and thought it’s going to work, and then I went a second time and Jody did the rest.

Tell me about what most surprised you about this story.

IR: Well, generally, cosmetic companies don’t come out of a recluse man that works with bees. I mean, of course his girlfriend, at the time, was probably the business mind, the one who saw the potential ... So I think it was also in our society, the need for organic cosmetics, things that you know where it comes from. So it was the perfect time, what they were doing corresponded to the exact need the consumer had.

We also spoke with the film's director Jody Shapiro.

So tell me how you came to direct this film?

Jody Shapiro: I met Burt through Isabella, who is the executive producer. She was asked to do another project, a short film, about colony collapse disorder, the state of bees. And she was going to actually play Burt in that film, so she wanted to go meet with him, just a little short. So I went with her. I’ve worked with her on a number of projects, and when I met Burt I just thought he was this fascinating character, this really interesting, authentic guy, somebody who is sort of very true to himself, and you don’t see that very often in people anymore. Yeah, two really great stories: one, the creation of Burt’s Bees and also, his life as a photojournalist for Time-Life Magazine. He was a photojournalist in the 60’s and 70’s in New York City; there are some photos around here actually. So here’s a guy that lives off the grid - no email, no internet, no TV, no hot water, and has had this really great influence over a lot of things, and I just thought he had a really great story to tell.

What most surprised you about the whole process?

JS: Just getting to know somebody, getting into someone’s world and realizing how every individual has a really interesting story to tell. Getting to know Burt, there’s nobody else like that. He doesn’t own an alarm clock. He wakes up when the sun comes up. His whole day is - Somebody asked and said, “What’s a typical day?”, and he said, “Well, depends upon the day, depends upon the weather.” Just getting to know somebody who has that philosophy in life made him really interesting.

What do you think the secret to this company’s success is after profiling him?

JS: Well, the film is more Burt’s story than Burt’s Bees’ story. I talk about the creation of the company, but I don’t really get into the company itself. But I really think the marketing had to do a lot with that. It was a very natural product, it came out at a time when there wasn’t many of these products. Burt, the icon, the face, that was used on this product led the way to very successful sales saying exactly what they wanted the product to be. It’s kind of what the film is about, it’s about Burt, “the man” versus Burt, “the icon”, who are these two people?

What do you hope people take away from this film?

Just that there are ways to be true to who you are and still do what you want.

Tell me about collaborating with Isabella, the executive producer.

JS: Well, I’ve worked with Isabella probably for about ten years now. She did a series of projects called Green Porno: three minute short films on the internet about the sex lives of insects. She’s great, she’s somebody who has so much knowledge in media and telling stories and marketing. So being able to go to her with questions about making the film was really helpful.

And what’s next for you?

JS: Well, we’re releasing this film right now. Isabella has a live Green Porno show that she’s doing. One woman show. We’re thinking about doing a film version of it, so we’re hoping to make that next.

We spoke with Burt briefly.

How did the project come about?

BS: Beats me. All the pins just fell in place.

What was it like having the cameras following you around?

BS: I barely noticed it.

Speak about collaborating with Jody, the director.

BS: Oh, smooth! Real smooth.

Speak about the journey of creating Burt's Bees.

BS: Well, it [Burt’s Bees] was kind of burdensome, there were a lot of snags along the way. People leave, they showed up or didn’t show up, or people who would never work or didn't wanna work and they just came and stared at their fingers.

Additional celebrity guests included Elettra Wiedemann, designers Gilles Mendel and Rachel Antonoff, Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, Wesley Taylor, Amy Hargreaves, documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple, model Elena Foley, Lilly Hartley. Following the screening, guests snacked on wine and canapés while Burt Shavitz made the rounds, posing for pictures and signing autographs. Everyone left with gift bags filled with Burt’s Bees products as well as “beardanas,” bandanas with beards painted on them in homage to Burt.

The film's run time is 87 minutes and it hits theaters June 6, 2014 and will be available on Video On Demand June 5, 2014.

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