Conversing With The World About Human Issues: ‘LuLaRich’ Marks The Latest Entry From Production Company The Cinemart
Given the glut of original programming across an endless array of platforms, both digital and linear, the obvious challenge for any content provider is finding a way to stand out. Naturally, scripted product — comedies and dramas — offer a fictional escape from what can be the harsh reality of our world at present, as do reality competition series and celebrity-populated entries. But documentary filmmaking has exploded in popularity, particularly in the comfort of your home on a streaming service. And one series at present generating attention a la last year’s global event, Tiger King, is LuLaRich.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime, LuLaRich, directed and produced by Julia Willoughby Nason and Jenner Furst of the production company The Cinemart, chronicles the story of LuLaRoe, the clothing empire tailored to the female population – working mothers, in particular – from its transition as a potential business opportunity to the growing accusations of it being a pyramid scheme.
After seeing the alarming posts against LulaRoe, producer Cori Shepherd Stern brought the idea for a LuLaRoe documentary to her filmmaking partner, Blye Pagon Faust, who approached Julia Willoughby Nason and Jenner Furst. Recognizing the potential impact of this story, Nason and Furst brought it to their two longtime collaborators, showrunner Michael Gasparro and lead producer and writer Lana Barkin, and the team immediately went to work.”
“Our message behind LuLaRich is to really highlight a huge void in the American economic system with working mothers,” noted Julia Willoughby Nason. “That resource economically is not being tapped into in a positive and sustainable way. We see it being used here as a manipulative tactic.”
“The goal in LulaRich and any project we work with is to never look at anything in an exploitative way, glorifying the people and the situations involved,” explained Jenner Furst. “LulaRich offers a far more impactful message for men and women around the country and the world. Opportunities are evaporating, the middle class is disappearing, and the American dream as we once knew it doesn’t exist anymore. As a result, multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes have a huge audience because people hope and dream of a better life.”
“I think LulaRich strikes a chord because not only were the people heading the company (DeAnne Brady and her husband Mark Stidham) pitching that dream, they were also pitching the elusory dream that a woman can have it all,” he added.
“Tiger King we watched, LuLaRich we participate in,” explained Mike Tankel, partner/optimist at marketing and development firm To Be Continued. “We believe what we want to believe, which is why so many people joined — and continue to work with — LuLaRue. We all want that person to follow, to believe in; that person who will easily and plentifully improve our lives. But when we let others lead our destinies this is what can happen.”
“Tiger King was over the top escape, but LulaRich on the other hand, could be any one of us,” he added. “Nevertheless, both shows share a commonality in that the broken people depicted in them have now become pop-culture brands. So much for positive role models.”
With a programming goal of “highlighting systemic issues without alienating the audience,” according to Julia Willoughby Nason, New York-based The Cinemart has examined and focused on core issues facing society since its launch in 2011.
“We delve in people’s lives in a very intimate way,” noted Willoughby Nason. “We start slow and deep and methodical and subtle into a story, and then we kind of get swept up into all the tentacles of how we are all connected in it – the audience and the characters onscreen.”
“We are both visual storytellers,” explained Jenner Furst. “I had been working in the premium documentary space and Julia had been working in the commercial production and fine art photography documentary space. We came together to tell these stories, and right out of the gate we started working on the short-form series Here Comes the Neighborhood.”
Airing from 2012 to 2013, Here Comes the Neighborhood documented an area in Miami where an array of colorful street artists, graffiti artists and muralists who uplifted and revitalized their community.
“During that time, we became viable to a lot of different brands,” noted Furst. “At that point, branded content needed a heart and we were there to deliver that. It helped us build the company and we reinvested every penny into our infostructure, which led us to Welcome to Leith.
Released in 2015, Emmy nominated film Welcome to Leith chronicled the attempted takeover of a small town in North Dakota by white supremacists.
“If you look at all the work that followed, it all fell in line with our mission to find stories with characters to help humanity see itself. More specifically, to help us all understand the human condition in a way that is digestible but impactful,” added Furst. “We feel that way with stories like LulaRich and Fyre Fraud, or some of our new films in development. And we are finding a way to have a conversation with the world about important issues.”
Released in 2019, Fyre Fraud followed the infamous failed 2017 musical Fyre Festival founded by con artist Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule.
“We feel that you can get a viewer, and you can hold a viewer, through humanism, not the type of sensationalism you might see in a series like Tiger King,” said Furst. “We believe there is something transcendental about humanism, where people actually want to watch human stories and relate to human beings. And we believe that empathy, for example, should be given to someone like the pill mill doctor in The Pharmacist; or the guards at Rikers Island who were part of the system that oppressed Kalief Browder in TIME: The Kalief Browder Story; or to Mark and DeAnne in LuLaRich, to name a few of our productions.”
In a partnership between The Cinemart and rapper Jay Z, TIME: The Kalief Browder Story is a six-part documentary series about a 16-year-old student from the Bronx who spent three years on Rikers Island without ever being convicted of a crime. It aired on former cable network Spike TV in 2017. And limited series The Pharmacist from The Cinemart followed a small-town pharmacist, Dan Schneider, who embarked on a pursuit to bring his son’s killer to justice after losing him in a drug-related shooting.
The Cinemart also teamed up with Jay Z in 2018 for limited documentary series Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story for Paramount, which explored the racial tension in the country brought to the forefront in the wake of young Trayvon Martin’s death.
“The life of Venida Browder will always be in our hearts,” noted Julia Willoughby Nason.
Before Venida’s death in 2016, she worked tirelessly to support her son Kalief, who in prison and following his release suffered severe bouts of depression. He committed suicide in 2015.
“And I am honored to have supported Sybrina Fulton to tell her son, Trayvon Martin’s story,” she added.
Standing Out in the Crowded Marketplace
“For us, we are benefitting from this incredible expansion of content,” noted Furst. “We have more outlets to get our work out to than ever before. And we pride ourselves on our relationships; not just with the content outlets but with the talent. LuLaRich, of course, wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t on Amazon Prime.”
“We know when we are working on a good story; it’s got a buzz to it in our ears,” added Furst. “After a decade of doing this, we can tell if that story is something the world wants to see.
Coming up next from The Cinemart, this time on IMDBtv, is Bug Out, a true-crime documentary series that explores the theft of $50,000 worth of rare live insects from a Philadelphia Bug Zoo and provides an insight into the world of exotic bug smugglers and the federal agents who chase them.
The Cinemart also has over a dozen projects in development, with two docuseries and two feature documentaries about to go into production. It is also expanding into the scripted space. An adaptation of The Pharmacist will be helmed by Oscar-nominated producer David Permut, and there are plans to develop LuLaRich into a scripted series with production company Story Force.