An upcoming feature-length documentary, “Stolen Dough”, looks at the origins of Pizza Hut’s stuffed crust pizza and the $1 billion patent infringement suit brought against them.
The film is the seventh filmmaking collaboration for director Stefano Da Frè and Carbondale resident and Emmy-Award-winning editor Krysia Carter-Giez.
The lawsuit is the largest patent infringement case in the restaurant industry. The patent infringement was brought by Anthony Mongiello from Brooklyn, who, at the age of 18, had developed a method for making stuffed crust pizza. On April 28, 1987, at the age of 19, Mongiello was issued U.S. Patent No. 4,661,361.
Mongiello descends from a long line of Italian cheese manufacturers and pizza makers. His grandfather, Lorenzo, had a patent for the first mozzarella machine, and Anthony’s father, Angello Mongiello, Sr., developed and packaged the first mozzarella string cheese sticks.
Mongiello’s patent describes placing mozzarella cheese sticks onto the edges of rolled-out dough and then folding the dough to create cheese-filled pockets. Pizza Hut’s claim, in their advertising and marketing, was that the crust contained one uncut ring of cheese.
After talking to Mongiello and examining his patent infringement claims, Da Frè concluded, “This is a David and Goliath story.”
A friend of Mongiello’s from Florida telephoned him to say he had seen a TV ad for stuffed crust pizza and congratulated him, thinking he had sold his idea to Pizza Hut.
An incredulous Mongiello watched the launch of Pizza Hut’s stuffed crust pizza, along with its TV ad campaign that featured celebrities, like tennis icon John McEnroe and Donald Trump with his then-wife, Ivana.
Da Frè viewed recordings of legal depositions, taken over three days, of Mongiello being questioned by Pizza Hut attorneys.
“They treated him [Mongiello] like a criminal. And that became the framework of the film,” Carter-Giez said. Da Frè added, “We cared very much about showing the psychological damage they [Pizza Hut attorneys] were doing.”
Da Frè and “Stolen Dough” co-director and Rosso Films International partner Laura Pellegrini were keenly aware of the ordeal that Mongiello had been through with his lawsuit, including a narrative reenactment that shows Mongiello contemplating suicide. “This film touches on that pain and that trauma, and I think the audience comes out with this sense of the toll it takes on someone,” Da Frè said.
“There’s a lot of pain when Anthony is telling the story; his level of distrust is very high,” he continued. Mongiello would arrive at 6 a.m. when the equipment arrived and stayed until filming ended at 9 p.m. “It took four months for him to be like, ‘Okay, Stefano’s got this under control,’” he said.
“Stolen Dough” is the recipient of Marvel’s Russo Brothers Grant for Filmmakers. The film director/producer brother duo, Anthony and Joseph Russo, chose seven projects to be made into feature films.
The Russos are responsible for some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s highest-grossing films, including “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “Captain America: Civil War”, “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”.
Post-production sound is being done by Dave Taylor of Cool Brick Studios in Carbondale, with post-production work taking place at Coventure. Carter-Giez said, “Coventure, along with other members and individuals in the building, have been very supportive of the film.”
When asked why their collaborations are so successful, Da Frè explained that working with Carter-Giez, “There’s enough scope with us, as two artists, that covers a lot of human experience right in the room. I always feel that we can talk each other off a ledge.” Da Frè added, “I appreciate that we’ve been in battle together. You don’t want to go in the trenches with someone if you don’t know what they’re like under pressure.”
Carter-Giez observed, “You can’t allow too much of that pressure to come in because there’s an end goal, and you’ve got to make it.”
“And you need each other to make it,” Da Frè concluded.
“Stolen Dough” will stream on Disney Plus at the end of May. The film is being submitted to New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it will have its world premiere. The filmmaking pair are also looking for other opportunities on the film festival circuit in the United States and Europe.