On the final day of 2011 -- "a slow Saturday" -- Don Merritt drove from Dallas southwest to Dublin. He used to make the 120-mile trek all the time and figured on this day he'd grab some footage in addition to some sugar-cane Dr Pepper. "We shot tours," he says now, "the soda shop." Merritt was thinking of including Dublin Dr Pepper in a doc he was hoping to make spotlighting small Texas businesses, Shiner Bock and Blue Bell among them. But the Dublin Dr Pepper story had an extra layer of drama: aby-then-six-month-old legal dust-up with Plano-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group
, which had claimed in court docs that Jeff Kloster and his family were violating a distribution agreement. The fate of the 121-year-old bottler, the oldest amongst the Dr Pepper family, was in doubt.
A few days later, Merritt wanted to get some more footage, this time of the bottling machine in action. But a transformer blew; the trip was a bust.
"So we went back a week later, and it turned out to be the last bottling ever," Merritt says. "We were out there to get some B-roll, some beauty shots of some bottles going through there. And we actually got the last bottle coming off the line and put into a 30-, 40-year-old case where [Dublin Dr Pepper plant owner] Bill Kloster had hand-written his name. We got really fortunate."
That day, of course, was January 11, 2012, the official demise of the brand name "Dublin Dr Pepper." On the spot Merritt dropped his film about small, successful Texas businesses and began making a new one: the death of a small, successful Texas business, at least as it had existed for more than a century.
What you see above is but a small bit of what he gathered that day -- a "sizzle reel" put together in the hopes of raising funds to finish a film pitting a small-town David against the corporate Goliath that one day decided, for whatever reason, it had had enough. Moments ago, the filmmaker launched a website devoted to that documentary: Bottled Up. And as you'll note, there's another link to the IndieGoGo fundraising page, where Merritt explains he's hoping to raise between $46,000 and $65,000 to finish his film that "provides an insider's look at the battle over Dublin Dr Pepper" as it attempts to answer the question: "What led to the demise of the relationship between Dublin Bottling Works and Dr Pepper Snapple?"
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Merritt says he and his small crew, consisting of folks from their Size Fives Production shop, will spend the money finishing the film -- because, after all, they got there at the end of a very long, very complicated story. He guesstimates there's another 30, 40 days of shooting to go. At least.
"First of all, we intend to make it really, really beautiful," he says. "We have a compelling story that's fallen into our laps, and we want to do it justice. We also want to talk to Dr Pepper Snapple, absolutely. We want to tell the complete story, their side. I don't know if they'll talk to us. So far they've refused. Channel 8 tried with the piece they did. But we fully intend to get their side. It's unpopular, but it's based on legal grounds. ... I wanna know what happened. We want to get their side. And it's such a hot topic too. We could scrape by and get this thing done, but we have delusions of grandeur." He laughs. "I knew this was an awesome Texas story, which was our intention to begin with. But I think there's a shot at a national audience too."
Merritt says he'd talked to investors about pitching in, and they were interested. But he'd also seen how films crowdfunded through IndieGoGo were doing on the film-fest circuit. Raising the money that way, in increments ranging from $30 to $15,000, he felt, left him with enough autonomy to tell the story he wanted. And there was a more pragmatic reason too: "Some people were concerned about this story about the big corporation versus the small corporation and what the big corporation would do [when they found out about it]. We're planning the guerrilla route, and if we're able to this, that'd be great. We're gonna tell the story regardless. I just feel a sense of urgency to finish this now."
As with all the crowdfunding sites, the more you donate to the cause the more perks you get -- everything from tickets to the premiere to your name in the credits. But if you kick in $15,000, at the so-called "Executive Producer" Platinum Level, Merritt does offer one extra incentive: "Case of Dublin Dr Pepper in the bottle."