Director Christopher Stoudt was at home one year ago when his roommate’s brother, the director of sales at Four Seasons, a Philadelphia-based landscaping company, texted a picture of Donald Trump’s surrogate Rudy Giuliani sitting in a drab office behind a nameplate that read “Boss Lady.”
In a recent phone conversation with Salon, he said, “When it was happening, I just thought it was just one of the funniest things that I’ve ever seen.” That scene later became part of a farcical press conference that turned a tiny family-owned landscaping firm into a local icon and meme.
As a reminder, former President Donald Trump started the nonsense by tweeting, “Lawyers News Conference Four Seasons, Philadelphia. 11:00 a.m.” Then he posted a correction: “Big press conference today in Philadelphia at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. 11:30 am!” The well-known hotel brand was forced to respond by stating that it had no affiliation with the landscaping firm, which provides services to local companies in Philadelphia.
However, while subsequent coverage focused on the reasons for the Trump campaign’s odd choice for its final gasp – the election was called for Joe Biden mid-Giuliani meltdown – the Four Seasons staff and owner, Marie Siravo, were left to deal with a barrage of hateful voicemails and online harassment as a result of hosting the event.
MSNBC president Rashida Jones serves as an executive producer on “Four Seasons Total Documentary,” which is part of the network’s push towards long-form non-fiction. Don’t be fooled by the title; it’s a serious, though lighthearted, examination of how the news conference came to be and how it affected this locally-owned firm, as seen through the eyes of the personnel.
It also relates the narrative of how Four Seasons turned around a scenario that threatened Siravo’s livelihood, which he had created from the bottom up over 28 years. The landscaping company’s redemption came in the form of reclaiming the narrative and positioning itself as the punchline. They’re the reason that Four Seasons Total Landscaping t-shirts became a hipster fashion must-have last spring.
Stoudt’s approach is informed by that spunky tone, beginning with the fact that at roughly 28 minutes, this video is far shorter than the news conference that inspired it. Giuliani’s never-ending babbling turned a show about nothing into a 37-minute-and-21-second marathon.
Although the piece is more of an episode about an episode than a documentary, its short length does not detract from its value. Stoudt and his subjects, including journalists who covered the campaign and the event, clear up many prevalent misconceptions about how and why it happened at that period. However, as the director emphasizes, this is the least significant aspect of the plot.
His main focus is on people who agreed to organize an event on a campaign’s property and were surprised to learn that they had become part of a larger story. The news appearance at the Four Seasons, according to Stoudt, was a fitting finish to a presidency that began with a game show host descending a gilded escalator.
As he stood in front of a garage door next to some coiled yellow hose, watching Trump’s presidency come to an end, he noted, “was kind of like the emperor-has-no-clothes moment for the Trump campaign, you know? It just sort of like it let us finally peek behind the curtain and see reality for what it was.”