Documentary Covers Protest, Boycott of a New England Grocery Chain
Michael Chiklis narrates 'We the People,' the story of how 25,000 employees and 2 million customers preserved a New England institution.
The rush is on to complete We the People: The Market Basket Effect, a documentary about a boycott of a New England supermarket chain this past summer that involved suppliers, 2 million customers and 25,000 nonunion employees who protested management changes in the family-run business.
Six weeks of picketing, a boycott and bad PR led to the sale of the company and the restoration of the original longtime manager.
"I saw this unfolding and was blown away by what was happening," said Nick Buzzell, the executive producer of the film. "We quickly assembled a team of filmmakers and a SWAT team on the ground and started shooting even before we had investors. We were able to capture in real time all the various elements of the story."
It is the story of the Demoulas family, Greek immigrants who built the company over 40 years from one store into a chain known for its loyal employees, generosity to the community and reasonable prices. When there was a split in the family, the longtime CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was forced out, which ignited a protest and led him to do a leveraged buyout.
The use of social media played a key role in the protest, which started with employees and grew to include customers who were contacted through Facebook, Twitter, a dedicated website and other social media.
The boycott and protests ended when Demoulas led a $1.5 billion buyout of the company, which operates about 75 supermarkets in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The money was raised from private investors and through bank loans.
Nick Buzzell, who is an executive producer along with his brother Mike Buzzell, brought in Robert "Bobby" Friedman and Todd Hoffman of Bungalow Media + Entertainment. He also attached as producer high-profile businessman Ted Leonsis, the founder of SnagFilms, who grew up in nearby Lowell, Mass. Leonsis won an Emmy as producer of the 2007 documentary Nanking.
The documentary was directed by Tommy Reid, who did documentaries including Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman (which was also made into the 2011 movie To Kill the Irishman) and I Know That Voice. It is written by Jeff Pinilla, and Paul Nero is a producer.
Nick Buzzell led efforts to raise around $1 million for the production. The money came from private investors, mostly high net-worth individuals, who all live in the area and have a personal interest in the story.
None of the investors put up more than $150,000. "They all have their own small businesses," said Friedman, "and know the struggles of a small or medium-size business. So they all rallied around this."
Friedman was already working with Michael Chiklis (American Horror Story, The Shield) on a movie project. Chiklis, who narrated the documentary, is also a native of Lowell and comes from a similar Greek background.
"It just made sense to reach out to him to be the voice of this film," said Buzzell, "and he jumped on the opportunity. He had heard about the story and thought it was remarkable."
Buzzell said they are hurrying to complete editing on the nearly finished project while it is still fresh in the minds of many New Englanders who watched the battle and sale play out last July, August and September.
Friedman said they are in negotiations for theatrical distribution but are also exploring innovative ways to exploit it, especially in the areas where it took place. For instance, he said they might four-wall (rent) local theaters for showings and may do a special TV deal with local channels.
However, Friedman emphasized that the story of a local company nearly torn apart by a family and the corporate battle that followed speaks to what is happening all over America, so he believes it's a project that will appeal to a wide audience.
He calls the story "a watershed moment in global business, demonstrating the persuasive power of the people."
Just as social media played a key role, Buzzell and Friedman expect to use social media for the promotion. "It's not just a movie," said Friedman. "It's a discussion."
Nick and Mike Buzzell operate NBTV Studios, which creates branded video for products, as well as doing music videos, TV and film. In recent years, they have done documentaries on living with schizophrenia and hepatitis C.
Bungalow was founded nearly two years ago by Friedman, who has held executive positions at New Line Cinema, MTV, AOL and elsewhere as well as being a producer. Bungalow has recently wrapped production on a feature, The Confirmation, starring Clive Owens and directed by Bob Nelson (who wrote Nebraska).
Bungalow is currently shooting reality shows for Travel Channel, the Pop Network (formerly TV Guide) and Cooking Channel.