Nearly ten years ago, a coffee revolution began bubbling up in San Francisco cafes, and that’s when filmmaker Brandon Loper’s love of the bean was born. Particularly when Blue Bottle Coffee launched in 2006, Brandon’s mind was opened to a whole different taste experience.
In 2012, Brandon made a short documentary about a piano bike (yes, a piano bike!). Afterwards, he began looking for his next project, and he realized that while there were many films about coffee, none of them were dedicated to the specialty coffee trend that he loved.
What was to become known as A Film About Coffee started as Brandon’s passion project. After he pitched it to Dalia Burde, who runs the production company Avocados & Coconuts, she got behind it and they started making the film between paid gigs. We’ve culled some of the most helpful lessons for filmmakers below based on the successful collaboration that ensued.
Create an easily searchable title
The first smart thing about their film that we want to point out is its unusually succinct title. When titling a film, it’s tempting to come up with a clever pun or an obscure reference, but if your title is too oblique, it makes marketing harder. A Film About Coffee doesn’t need a tagline to explain what it’s about, and it’s perfect for the Google generation: anyone searching for a film about coffee will no doubt find A Film About Coffee.
As word spread throughout the coffee world, people would post on social media and tag their local cafe, asking them to screen the movie.”
Dalia and Brandon were aware that the coffee industry is dominated by an increasing array of generic plays on words. “We were trying to run away from puns,” Brandon said, “and we wanted the film to appeal to people who aren’t necessarily coffee obsessed.” Eventually they settled on A Film About Coffee and built a strong brand identity around it. “People latched onto it. There are a lot of people who will buy anything with the word ‘coffee’ in it.”
Link up with your community
Dalia and Brandon worked with a small crew over a few years, gaining the trust of the most influential coffee roasters and brewers in the community. They then concentrated on making a beautiful film that would trace the path from bean to cup, and from coffee growers around the world to coffee shops around the corner.
He brought as much merchandise as he could fit into his suitcase — and ended up selling it all at the first location.”
When the film was done, they shared it with the people they had interviewed, including Darrin Daniel, head roaster at Stumptown, and Eileen Hassi of Ritual Roasters. While the film was not made to promote their brands or companies, Dalia explained, “The film helps people understand how specialty coffee is different and why it’s worth the money.” The interviewees loved the film and wanted to help share it with the world.
Embrace the social spread
Dalia and Brandon launched exclusively on Vimeo On Demand, and made their film available for rental and 4K download. “As filmmakers, we were attracted to Vimeo,” Brandon said. “Dozens of people were going on trips to origin countries and wanted to show it to farmers, which was possible with the DRM-free download.”
After receiving validation from some of the most respected people in the community, cafes around the world started requesting opportunities to screen the film for their communities. Dalia and Brandon hired a coordinator to help sell screening licenses and promote the film’s tour.
“Every time we had a screening, we had a big spike of sales on Vimeo,” Dalia said, noting the social media impact of live events. “Lots of cafes would organize screenings, even ones that weren’t in the film, since the film talks about the industry in general. They thought, ‘We’re doing this too.’” As word spread throughout the coffee world, people would post on social media and tag their local cafe, asking them to screen the movie.
Tangible objects + live events = happy audiences
The filmmakers also designed and printed limited-edition books and gift cards, each with a unique download code from Vimeo, which people could purchase at screenings or at cafes. Even though DVD and Blu-Ray options are no longer popular, people often still want a collector’s item to go with a film, so the book served that purpose well. The gift cards allowed them to sell at events and in cafes, capturing impulse purchases of people who were already thinking about coffee in the real world.
Tamper Tantrum, a production and events company dedicated to all things caffeinated bean, toured the film throughout Asia and brought Brandon along for some of the screenings. He brought as much merchandise as he could fit into his suitcase — and ended up selling it all at the first location.
In addition to organizing screenings and selling gift cards, many of the cafes also promoted A Film About Coffee to their mailing lists. The filmmakers offered each cafe a unique discount code that they promoted to their customers. By earning the trust of the community and getting their help in the promotion and distribution of the film, Brandon and Dalia were able to multiply their efforts and significantly boost their sales in a way that felt natural.
Seek out the subjects that really matter to you
Brandon and Dalia have been dedicated to the success of the film throughout the last four years, working tirelessly to market it online and offline. “It’s a lot of hard work and money,” Dalia said, “but it’s totally worth it. We’ve had well over 100 screenings, and it has been the largest part of our income so far.”
“Whatever my next film is,” Brandon said, “I’ll be living with that persona for more than four years. It’s intimidating to think about that with another topic, because I already love coffee. Something else may feel like work.”
Dalia added, “I spent four years making a film about coffee, but I can’t drink caffeine.”
Even if you don’t love coffee, A Film About Coffee is a beautifully shot documentary that we highly recommend. Get your fix on Vimeo, and be sure to pop on over to our collection of case studies for more helpful advice.