How could we not talk to Brandon Loper? He made a film about coffee — two of our favorite things in the world. But like any topic that seems straightforward on the surface, the world of coffee turned out to be far more complex and nuanced than Brandon realized. In fact, almost the whole time Brandon was making the film, he wasn’t sure what the film was about. Which is why, start to finish, A Film About Coffee took Brandon more than half a decade to complete.
Brandon: “It’s something I have to think about for my next project: What do I want to be consistently thinking about for the next five years? It’s a daunting thing. But coffee is one of those things I was passionate about the whole time, and I’m passionate about it still.”
If you love coffee, be sure to check out Brandon’s film, A Film About Coffee. And if you like conversations, check out our conversation with Brandon below.
It hasn’t. I grew up in Decatur, Alabama, and moved here about nine years ago. It was a pretty big change, but I’ve quickly become very well adapted. There are definitely some nice things about the South, but I would miss the great cafés and the juice shop and getting organic things.
You either love it or you get out quickly. If you’re not taking advantage of the benefits, the rent is just too high. You might as well live somewhere else.
I have this coffee story, and it’s true, and I tell it all the time. Basically, I started drinking coffee in Alabama to impress a girl who’s now my wife. She drank coffee, so I started drinking coffee when we started dating. The way I understood coffee, though, was that you drank it with hazelnut creamer and a side of donuts. One day, a friend of mine who’d been drinking coffee for a while dared me to drink it black. We were at this truck stop in Mississippi at two in the morning. So I drank it black, and I’ve taken it black ever since. That was the start of me actually being able to taste the coffee.
When I moved to San Francisco, I started drinking coffee at a place called Blue Bottle. I had this coffee there that was a naturally processed coffee, which is when they don’t take the coffee cherry off the bean before it dries. The coffee bean soaks up a lot of that fruitiness and the citrus and that acid. You end up getting a more fruity cup of coffee. That’s when I started thinking I needed to learn more about this. It was 2006, and there wasn’t a lot of information around at the time. I don’t think I realized at that moment that, Hey I need to make a documentary about this. But I realized nobody was talking about it and it was interesting; I wanted to learn more.
I started roasting my own coffee at home, trying as many coffees as I could. I started a blog about coffee; but I couldn’t keep up with it, so I let it go. I knew I had this desire to keep learning, and the documentary is what filled that void. It took a lot of time to educate myself, just to understand the industry. It’s very complex. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m still really intrigued by it.
I think that’s something I learned with the documentary, and it’s something I have to think about for my next project: What do I want to be consistently thinking about for the next five years. It’s a daunting thing. But coffee is one of those things I was passionate about the whole time, and I’m passionate about it still.
You have to be the champion of your project.
Definitely the latter. I had this idea of coffee that I needed to get off my chest. The hard part was finding people to tell that story. It took a lot of research to find them. And it took almost the whole time I spent making the film to figure out what the film was about. I think that’s something a lot of people struggle with early on as a filmmaker. My logline was, “It’s a movie about coffee.” So generic and uninteresting and wide open. You could make a hundred different films with that.
It was my curiosity and my love for coffee. Once you get hooked, you’re hooked. I also learned that you have to be the champion of your project. No one cares about it as much as you do. So your going to have to work harder than anyone else. I was also very fortunate to have a production company (Avocados and Coconuts) that believed in me and pushed me as well. And my wife believed in me and constantly challenged me. I think it was a combination of those three things that helped the film get completed.
I did a year of diligent research, and then there were probably two years of thinking Hey, I should do this. I finally did the first interview in January of 2012.
I struggle with that every day. It’s that artist’s struggle. But I was having a conversation with my wife this morning about how fortunate I am to have been given this blind, humble confidence somewhere inside of me. I don’t know where it comes from. But you have to have confidence. Directing is about who can stay in the game the longest. I’ve seen a lot of people my age who aren’t directing anymore. Because it’s hard. It’s a hard thing to do. You’re being judged and you always have to be creative and you have to find a way to make a living. You have to find people who will believe in you and bankroll your projects.
One thing I always tell other people, and I believe this applies to all of life, is that being a really good listener is so important. It’s an extremely rare skill and something I’ve tried to cultivate — especially in documentary work, but also commercially. If you really listen to people and are invested in what they have to say — if you can understand their side without trying to get your own opinion in there, your own thoughts — then you can really go a long way.
I think the proof of that is this film. I started out wanting to make this hipster cool film that showed how coffee is cool. But I realized that wasn’t the message everybody was saying. The message ended up being that coffee lives and dies by the coffee farmer and by the coffee consumer. And here I was focusing on the hairstyles, the denim aprons. I learned a lot along the way — in the film and in life. I think I grew up through the process.
We couldn’t agree more about the importance of becoming a better listener. It can be especially hard for us creative types who easily becomes obsessed with our own voice and our own message. The fact is, it took Brandon five years of conversations to make one 90-minute statement. The ratio of listening to speaking should be wildly weighted toward listening. It’s the only way we’ll ever have something worthwhile to say.
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