There’s a good chance that you know the Burt’s Bees line of skincare products. But did you know that “Burt” was a real person and that he really had bees?
In the incredible documentary, Burt’s Buzz, now streaming for free on Entrepreneur TV, viewers meet Burt Shavitz, a reclusive, bee-loving man who built a billion-dollar company without intending to. “I had no desire to be an upward mobile rising yuppy with a trophy wife, a trophy house, a trophy car,” Burt explains in the doc. “It wasn’t as if I’d summoned these bees down or gone looking for them. It was an act of God, I mean, it was a no-brainer.”
Related: Burt Shavitz, the Bearded Hippie Co-Founder and Face of Burt’s Bees, Dies at 80
Brad Gage, Director of Entrepreneur Studio, sat down with the film’s director and producer, Jody Shapiro, to discuss the lessons entrepreneurs can pull from the film, as well as give content creators insights on what it takes to create and distribute films in an ever-changing media landscape.
Watch the entire conversation above, and see highlights of their chat below, which have been edited for length and clarity.
Brad Gage: Great to have you here, Jody. And so, it’s been a long journey with this film.
Jody Shapiro: Yes, it came out a little bit ago and, before that it took a good couple of years between shooting and editing and getting it out. So yeah, it’s been a long journey and I’m happy to see it get to see it find its way to new platforms.
Brad Gage: Burt Shavitz is such an incredible character and Burt’s Bees has such an enduring legacy. First things first, how did you get involved with making this documentary?
Jody Shapiro: It’s kind of a long story, but I’ll try to simplify it. Acor and director Isabella Rossellini and I worked together for a number of years. I helped her out with a series of films called Green Porno that there are these little short films about the sex lives of insects where she plays the insects. They’re done in a very cartoony way. Somebody from the Burt’s Bees contacted us to do something similar for a little kind of advertising thing that they were looking at doing. Isabella said, sure, I’d be interested in doing that. At this point, I didn’t realize that Bert was a real person — none of us did. So we went to go meet him and we went to his little cabin out in Maine and met with him and he was the most fascinating person we had ever met. After speaking with the company, everyone knew that Bert is getting older, he’s got such a fascinating history with the company, so it would be great to just film interviews with him to archive. After a few days of interviewing him, we knew that there was something bigger here.
Brad Gage: I think there’s something that’s very appealing about Burt’s lifestyle — that living off the grid type of thing. Did his philosophy rub off on you at all?
Jody Shapiro: I can’t wait to get off the grid. I’m counting down the days. I’m a city boy, but over the years, I have grown to have a great appreciation for nature, foraging and wild foods. You know, it’s March 10th and all I can think about is, getting up to the maple trees that we have on the property and getting maple syrup going.
Brad Gage: Tell us about your business, Antler Kitchen.
Jody Shapiro: This Burt’s Bees project stretched over so many years, and while we were editing it, I really had to do something to get my head out of it, to reset myself. So I ended up enrolling in a cooking school, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Just the process, the immediacy of it, working with ingredients and putting it together much like storytelling. At the same time, a good friend of mine who’s now my business partner — who’s actually a real trained chef — did a lot of work with wild foods and forging and nature, and I started going forging with them. And we started, I started taking pictures and we started documenting things for a cookbook that we wanted to do. And one thing led to another and seven years ago we opened the Antler Kitchen & Bar in Toronto.
Brad Gage: Do you have a favorite memory of Burt?
Jody Shapiro: I mean, there are many things that I kind of really cherished about him. One of the things that really kind of spoke to me about the person who he was when I saw him light a fire in his stove. I was so taken by it that I decided I wanted to end the film with him doing this methodical ritual that he did. The way he fanned it, the way he cut the wood, the way he piled it up, the way he just had this kind of way about him, this routine about him that just spoke volumes. And Burt was also a man of contrast. Everyone wanted to try and define him in some way. And I just felt like he was a person that was impossible to define. He loved being alone and in nature, but he also loved staying at a five-star hotel. He didn’t want fans or anybody coming up to his property, but he’d be more than happy to spend two hours signing autographs to people when he was in Taiwan. And he was an entrepreneur as well. I mean, he started making something like 16 bucks a week selling honey by the side of the road and 15 years later, he makes millions of dollars.
Brad Gage: That’s kind of the dream.
Jody Shapiro: It’s just funny. For so many people, I’m sure that’s what they’d want to happen. But for those of you who haven’t seen the film, doesn’t go quite as Burt would’ve liked.
Burt’s Buzz is now streaming for free on Entrepreneur TV.
In Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger’s documentary, “Burt’s Buzz,” the film’s subject, Burt Shavitz, speaks candidly and entertainingly about his life as an accidental entrepreneur and reluctant business genius. Sharing details of his beginnings as a beekeeper in Maine, to the unexpected worldwide popularity of Burt’s Bees, the film paints a portrait of a man whose values, perspective, and demands for authenticity and quality blazed the way for green-oriented products that now populate health-food stores, supermarkets, and malls.
Director Seth Kramer provides an intimate insight into Shavitz’s life and complex personality, a life that can only be described as extraordinary. Crafting an engaging and intimate film takes a great deal of thoughtfulness and care, and Kramer is no exception. Here, we learn what Kramer, along with producers Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger, tirelessly put into making this film, but more importantly we learn what the trio got out of it.
Kramer first became interested in Shavitz’s story after reading about the bus he leased and converted into a business office that allowed him to audit the beekeeping sales of Burt’s Bees. Immediately inspired by the unique tale and business philosophy, he quickly set to work on creating the documentary. He made sure that the film explored Shavitz’s many hypocrisies and sharp wit, which created a complex portrait that had to be handled with intent. Kramer wanted to ensure the story not just be taken from the press, but from Shavitz himself.
Throughout the making of the film, Kramer, Newberger and Miller uncovered lessons about what it means to be an entrepreneur, but also the importance of integrity, staying true to yourself, and just how difficult it can be to navigate the complexities of success. What comes through the film is a narrative of a man who was far ahead of his time, determined to keep his integrity in the face of fame and acclaim. Ultimately, “Burt’s Buzz” has become a story of resilience and humor that while surprising, indeed, leaves us with a sense of awe.
This particular look at Shavitz’s life has taught Kramer and his partners innumerable lessons, but most notably that by staying true to his values, Burt Shavitz inspired a new way of doing business and a lifestyle that eschewed traditionalism. For the Director, this message has remained near and dear to his work.