Filmmaker interview with Roland Fraval

Passion and Stubbornness: making and marketing the indiefilm The Coffee Man

Did you develop a marketing plan before production began on The Coffee Man? 

Not at all! The story we told in the film changed remarkably from our original idea, which was going to be a film about direct trade within the world of coffee, but obviously, as the filming progressed the story changed as it unfolded before our eyes! Like most things with this film, as there was only me and Jeff Hann (the director) working on the film, we mostly dealt with things as they came up, so the marketing plan didn't come along until well into the editing process!
The Coffee Man was shot all over the world, have you built an audience in each of those places? Did you do that at the time? 

Our audience has been built mostly through the international networks of the specialty coffee industry and less so throughout travels. The trips to each of the locations you see in the film were super short, in Ethiopia, for example, we spent 10 days on the ground and averaged seven hours a day in the car, so it didn't leave a lot of time for filming let alone networking! ;) But the specialty coffee world is very connected and the connections we made throughout the filming but especially at the world championships in Seattle really enabled us to tap into the network and promote the film.

I noticed that you’ve experimented with Tugg screenings. Has that worked for you? Do you market them differently to other screenings? 

We have partnered with Tugg to distribute the film into cinemas in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK and it has been a great relationship to date. We don't necessarily market these events any different to another event, we just push ticket sales a bit earlier than otherwise as you need to sell the minimum amount of tickets before the cut-off date, so that makes it a wee bit challenging as most people buy tickets last minute.
Do you collect email addresses when people sign up to a Tug screening? 

Yes, and this was one of the most appealing elements of the deal with them as it is an amazing advantage to have. We wanted to really focus a lot of attention on the email list we have created as we wanted to create a sense of community and exclusivity that comes with having access to the first announcements and offers and such.
How often do you send out a newsletter or update to that list? 

In the lead up to the release of the film we were sending emails every week, but now we have backed off to more like every 3 weeks or when we have special news or offers for people.

The Coffee Man has a very active social media presence. How did you decide which particular platforms to focus on for your social media marketing? 

We decided to really focus on Facebook as that is predominantly where the world of specialty coffee hangs out, but it was also a choice of necessity as we are such a small team with such limited time that we felt it was better to focus our attention on one platform rather than try and spread our attention across too many.
Do you have a team of people preparing content for your marketing strategy? 

Nope, just me! We brought on board a social media intern to help with the day to day comments, likes, posts and also to help write emails to our list, but the marketing content and strategy itself came mostly from myself and Jeff.
Does it take much time on any given day to keep up with the social media? 

YES! I usually spend my first hour of the day on Facebook and then another after lunch as well as taps here and there throughout the day and on weekends. People want to be engaged and that means comments, likes, posts and other interactions need to be responded to as quickly as possible as people's memories and patience levels are very short these days! We live in an age of immediacy and as such you have to be on the ball all the time to keep up.

How much time, each day, do you spend on social media and other marketing? 

At least 2-3 hours
Do you use any tools (apps/documents/techniques) to help get the marketing done most efficiently? 

Not really, I probably should do this more but just don't have the time to set it all up! We use a few apps to run comps on social media but that’s about it.
What are your top 3 tips for filmmakers wanting people to see their film? 

1. Find your target audience, and talk directly to them. For us, this was easy, but even so, starting conversations online in a scroll and click age is tough! 
2. Work out what your story is and tell it consistently. For our film, for example, there is so much that goes on, so much drama, but you have to narrow it down to a laser beam focus and be consistent in what story you are telling. For us, it came down to an inspirational story of a man overcoming obstacles to reach his dream as the basic story, then depending on how much time and space you have, we added in elements one by one starting with 1. the search for the perfect cup of coffee, 2. Sasa's background coming from war-torn Yugoslavia 3. the travel porn aspect of the film.
3. Have interesting content! To engage people you need to have a personality and offer something more than pretty pictures and links to other posts related to your content. Be playful and do what you can to stand out!

Why do you make films? All filmmakers have moments of doubt when they don’t think anyone is ever going to see and enjoy the product of their hard work. What sustains you in the dark times? 

I think to make films you need a lot of passion and a lot of stubbornness! Jeff and I both share a love of stories and storytelling, so that is at the heart of why we make films. As for how to get through the dark times, which inevitably happen? For me, it's important to have good people around you, and hope that you can take it in turns to breakdown, which Jeff and I managed pretty well! ;) But there comes a point when you just need to have enough self-belief and determination to drive it through to the finish, the last dash to the finish line is always the toughest, and I think to a certain extent you just have to be stubborn enough to get it over the line.

The Coffee Man, produced by Roland Fraval and directed by Jeff Hann, is screening at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.

The programme and tickets are available here...