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What most people may not realize is that the bearded man you see on the packaging of Burt’s Bees products isn’t made up. Unlike Betty Crocker, he is real, and has become an icon. His name is Burt Shavitz.
Although we know his face, Burt Shavitz is still a mystery. Despite being the face of a billion dollar brand that he originally co-founded, he’s a man who likes to live modestly, in a small cabin on 37 acres of land in the back woods of Maine with no hot water and a wood-burning stove. Despite his love for seclusion, wherever he goes Burt fascinates people. And what makes him so interesting is that he sometimes lives like he knows it, and sometimes he doesn’t.
“One of the things I realized was that Burt obviously had a great story to tell and a great history and path to share with others,” says Shapiro on making the film. “But what I was really intrigued with was the fact that he had a great relationship with the company. Here is this guy that is still being used to promote this product— he’s like a living icon for the brand. And how many times in life do you actually get to see the face behind the printed mask on a label?”
In Burt’s Buzz, Shapiro takes us on a journey of a man who despite becoming an brand icon, refuses to get sucked in to the materialistic world—from his early years as a photojournalist in the ‘60s, to his solitary life as a beekeeper, to his status as a global brand ambassador to his personal betrayal in love and business with co-founder Roxanne Quimby.
After taking us through Burt’s history—and a glimpse of Burt in promotional action in Taiwan where he has an interesting rock star status—the film takes a more interesting turn about half-way through when we get to the business of Burt’s Bees, how it came to grow into one of the most popular natural product lines, and Burt’s departure from the company.
With the help of Burt’s then partner Roxanne, a single mother with two children, and her savvy marketing skills and ambition, the company grew into a multi-million dollar business, something Burt never imagined or strived towards.
This success, however, came at a price for Burt. Shapiro lightly touches upon the bad blood between Burt and Roxanne, who refused to be in the film, with Burt’s commentary on how he was leveraged out of the company by Roxanne, who later sold 80% of Burt’s Bees to the Clorox company, earning her a $177 million dollar pay check. For Burt, business-wise that meant losing out on millions (something he doesn’t seem to resent) but emotionally, the betrayal meant losing the only woman he trusted and loved.
“Burt is someone that has this rare quality that you don’t see in many people anymore,” Shapiro says. “He’s someone that stays exactly true to himself. And I thought there was something very endearing about that ability. One of the very first thing he said to me, is he claims to call himself an “evolutionary” not a “revolutionary.” And what he meant by that was that he’s not someone that ever wanted to change the world. He’s somebody that just lives in it day by day and evolves with it. And I thought that was such a remarkable outlook to have in spite of being someone who actually has changed the world in a significant way. I realized then that this could be a really captivating portrait of this real, authentic individual.”
Burt’s Buzz opens June 13 at the TIFF Lightbox.
—by Toni-Marie Ippolito