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Update: The documentary will premiere at 10 p.m. on Friday, November 12. Streaming information is not yet available.
If Marie Siravo had named her lawn care business differently, the Trump campaign would likely still have held their infamous press conference there.
That’s one of the teachings of “Four Seasons Total Documentary,” which gives an inside track on one of the most bizarre political rallies in US history – and the American Dream success story for the woman-owned business in the city where the nation was founded.
“What if it’s called Marie’s Total Landscaping?” Someone asks in the 30-minute film, which debuted Sunday night on MSNBC, exactly one year after the original event.
If he hadn’t shared a name with the posh Four Seasons Hotel in Center City, however, the year that followed would have been very different for the family business, which went from a struggling operation to a brand. internationally acclaimed who has seen over $ 1.5 million in t-shirt sales and is very successful on social media.
That’s what attracted director Chris Stoudt, an Los Angeles-based filmmaker who started working on the project less than a month after the international hype.
“I wanted to give Four Seasons the opportunity to tell their own story from their perspective and highlight that these are good people,” Stoudt said in an interview. “They were honest people who were just trying to do their civic duty.”
Campaign agents chose the Northeast Philly business next to an adult bookstore and across from a crematorium because of its physical location, the documentary says.
Sean Middleton, sales manager at Total Landscaping, was in a Bible study class that fateful Saturday, according to the film. At around 8:45 am, his phone kept ringing, so he took the call. It was Donald Trump’s campaign staff.
“Why not?” Middleton says he remembers thinking, and by 9.45am the deal was done. “We would have done it for either party,” he later adds. “We were just trying to help.”
The Four Seasons Total Landscaping parking lot was considered one of the few spaces with good access to I-95 that could be quickly secured, secure enough for Rudy Giuliani to deliver a speech in front of the international media crowd who had come down to Philadelphia as ballots. continued to be counted in the 2020 presidential race.
It was also free, as Olivia Nuzzi, a political reporter who is the Washington correspondent for New York Magazine, pointed out. “The Trump campaign blew up $ 1.5 billion… they were out of money,” Nuzzi says in the film.
Money was also a concern for the people at Total Landscaping.
“We were fighting [before this]”says Mike Siravo, son of founder Marie Siravo and managing director of the company, in the movie.” Almost living paycheck to paycheck. “
Now things are a little different, Middleton told Billy Penn. In addition to the Merchandise Hustle – a joint venture with Philly Drinkers, another small local business, which allowed the team to donate around $ 50,000 to charity – Total Landscaping won three new landscaping clients due to the reputation.
And he’s looking up. “Everyone is optimistic that the name Four Seasons Total Landscaping and the folklore associated with it continues to grow,” said Middleton.
It hardly happened that way. At first, the vitriol that characterized the 2020 election threatened to swallow up 28 years of hard work the Siravo team had put into building the business.
They have received literally thousands of hateful voicemail messages. Yelp reviews have gone crazy. “I put my house up for the mortgage on this place,” Marie says in the doc. “We risked losing both.
Then Middleton and young Siravo changed things. Longtime friends who had grown up together, they decided to embrace the craziness and “let people know we were in on the joke.” Within one day, Sean took to Twitter and Mike took to Instagram. Memes started flying and merch started selling.
From there it was off to the races. A Berlin artist sculpted a diorama of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. A punk rock concert held there sold out in seconds. Marie and the company starred in a Super Bowl commercial.
As director Stoudt said on Sunday, before the film debuted: “Everyone wanted to make this documentary.”
How did he get the job? First, he had an internal connection: he was friends with Kevin Middleton, younger brother of Sean Middleton, the sales manager of Total Landscaping. (“He and Chris are good friends and both play guitar in the La Lenguas groupSean explained.)
Second, Stoudt wanted to focus on people. “It was a little classist,” said the filmmaker. “All of these outlets are talking about this working class landscaping company, Salt of the Earth. I wanted to push it off. “
That was the selling point. “We had so many outlets reaching out to us… it was exploitation,” Middleton said. “I knew immediately that we could work with Christopher and his heart was in the right place. When Glen Zipper and Sean Stuart agreed to produce, we all knew it was a great decision.
Stoudt, who rose through the ranks to director from his debut as a production assistant on “The Apprentice” – he never met Trump, but found the offices they worked in at Trump Tower surprisingly “dark” “- said he knew Zipper because the Los Angeles documentary scene is relatively small and thought it would fit.
Zipper, whose previous work includes acclaimed high school football doc “Undefeated” and “What’s My Name: Emmy-winner Muhammad Ali,” immediately joined us, Stoudt said. He sent an email with the subject “Four Seasons Total Documentaries”, and the project was born.
When Stoudt spent eight days in Philadelphia shooting scenes, he was treated to the full family embrace.
Steve’s Prince of Steaks cheesesteaks were memorable, but not nearly as memorable as Marie’s homemade dishes, who by her usual demeanor fed everyone with meatballs and roast pork sandwiches with provolone and broccoli rabe. .
“Literally every day was a different Italian feast for lunch,” Stoudt said. “I ate very well.
During their time together, the filmmaker worked to convince his subjects that their story would resonate. “Is this what people want to hear about? Marie asks incredulously at one point, after talking about how difficult it was to get into landscaping when potential clients didn’t take her seriously because she was a woman.
Yes, Stoudt says with his film, that’s exactly the story he wanted to tell.
“My career goal is to tell great stories that challenge people’s perspectives and bring people together,” he said. “I like that people judge a book by its cover and force them to confront any commonalities they might have with the topic they have judged.”
A native of New Orleans who often passed through Philadelphia to visit relatives in Reading, Pa., Stoudt described the city as “honest and straightforward,” with a population that “doesn’t hold back.”
“I just saw so many people fighting for democracy,” Stoudt said. “I gained a new sense of respect for Philadelphia.”