'She is exactly the way she is on television': Filmmaker recounts ten years documenting Betty White
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A filmmaker from Wisconsin hopes to honor the wonderful life and career of Betty White with a new documentary airing for only one-day in theaters across the country.
CBS 58 sat down with Steve Boettcher, a filmmaker and Wisconsin native who created the new film "Betty White: A Celebration".
"We found a niche that we are trying to preserve the early days of television. People that paved the way to make what television is today. We went back and interviewed all the legendary stars from television and we met Betty along the way and thought she was extra special and needed more attention," said Boettcher.
Boettcher spent the last ten years shaping the story of Betty White.
"She is exactly the way she is on television. She is beloved, she is amazing, she is charming. We have been filming this project for about ten years. She always says Steve is embedded with me and always kind of winks and smiles about it and that's her standard line when I'm with her. She's an eternal optimist she finds the best part of life to embrace and that's the standard for a lifetime."
A positive outlook on life Betty says she learned from her mother.
"She was a cock-eyed optimist but she always made the point where if you look at those negatives you spoil all the good stuff and it goes by and it's gone and you haven't tasted it. I really believe in that philosophy. If you don't at least notice it, and accentuate the good stuff when the bad really tragic stuff comes along it makes it tough to handle," explained White.
Boettcher says it was an honor to work on a project with someone who broke so many barriers.
"She was the first woman to be a producer on television she was the first woman to hire a female director, she was the first to nominated for an Emmy so it was hard to encapsulate that story."
A story, filled with a career many in Hollywood only dream of.
"I think it's been one of those things where your grandparents remember her, your parents remember her, your generation remembers her. It's one of those things whether it's Mary Tyler Moore, Hot in Cleveland, or the Snickers commercial we all know Betty. She got got into this pop icon sphere late in her 80's and somehow rose in pop culture which is amazing. Many entertainers are frozen in time, but not Betty. It's amazing, she is evergreen," explained Boettcher.
Boettcher says the film was originally meant to celebrate Betty's 100th birthday on January 17th but they received tragic news of Betty's passing just weeks prior.
"It was shocking. We thought We are going to cancel the film it's over with. And we heard from Bettys team later in the day and they said betty would want you to go forward betty would want this to happen. This was the only project Betty had supported for her 100th birthday, this was it. There had been talks of networks and streaming specials, and Betty was endorsing this film as her only 100th project. We were really honored to do that so we decided to go forward and create this celebration for her," said Boettcher.
The project went on just as Betty would have wanted and producers made sure to include those who knew her best.
"She wanted us to interview Ryan Reynolds, Valerie Bertinelli, Carol Burnett , Jennifer Love Hewitt, and those people were really close to Betty."
"One of the smartest, kindest, funniest most generous women In a business that doesn't usually have that in it, but that's how she will be remembered," said Bertinelli.
"I give you my heart and my love always and for me you will be here forever," said Hewitt.
The one-day only event airing in 1500 theaters on January 17 will also feature Betty's last on-camera appearance just days before her passing.
"She wanted to do a video for her fans and kind of a shout out, a thank you a salute to her fans and the film begins with that little video clip ten days before she passed away and I think it's going to be really special," said Boettcher.
Over the course of Betty White's career she touched the hearts of millions across the country. She also touched the heart of a student at St. Francis High School.
Dominic Dean is a junior who grew up watching Betty on TV.
"I used to watch it with my two grandmas on television when Betty White was on the show Golden Girls. So, I wanted to write a letter to her," said Dean.
He then wrote a letter to Betty for a school assignment.
"My teacher sent it off to her and it came in her mailbox and I was very super surprised about it and shocked."
Betty had taken the time to send Dominic a personally autographed photo, something he will cherish forever.
"I was super surprised I had so much energy. She just loves her fans so much and I love her positivity and energy she has in herself and fans."
A quality Boettcher says he saw first-hand.
"I remember being in her home one day, she was actually responding to all the fan letters and she would work on it for hours and hours. Just sending letters, notes, pictures of people that had written to her and she would do it every day."
Now, generations of people are ready to honor one of television's biggest stars who was always humbled by the chance to entertain us all.
"I am so looking forward to watching this documentary I am going to be watching it with my parents and grandparents, " said Dean.
"She always said you know you're on the small screen in people's homes for a tv show or whatever and she always said I always saw myself as a guest in people's homes and I always wanted to be that respectful when I met them and I always thought that was very special," said Boettcher.
It's a special quality the city of Milwaukee honors.
"You come into Milwaukee and you see the billboards of thank you for being a friend Betty White billboards everywhere. And I was so touched by our city. It was so sweet just to see that and I actually called Betty's friends and colleagues and they were all so moved by it so thank you Milwaukee," said Boettcher.
Betty White: A Celebration will air in select theaters on January 17th. To find a theater near you or learn more information, click here.