Jesse Mariut and Steve Gherebean are storytellers. They are also cigar enthusiasts, and the more they got into the hobby, the more they realized there was a story about cigars that had yet to be told. That’s where the idea for Hand Rolled: A Film About Cigars was born.
These commercial filmmakers wanted to do more than just make a film about cigars—they wanted to show the faces behind some of the industry’s top brands, to create something that showed the audience the craftsmanship and heart behind the brands, and, ultimately, to challenge the status quo cigars have within society. While they had a goal and an idea they knew would resonate with an audience, there was just one problem: They had never produced a documentary before.
Tobacco Business: What is your overall goal or intent with the creation of your documentary, Hand Rolled?
Steve Gherebean: We want to put a face to the cigar industry. The industry does a good job educating its consumers, and other organizations are doing their part in dealing with legislation, but nobody is out there reaching the hearts and minds of those outside of the premium cigar industry. When we were in grade school, I recall being taught that smoking one cigar was like smoking three packs of cigarettes. This cannot be further from the truth, and yet this is the information that’s out there. If someone watches our film and never associates cigars with cigarettes again, we won.
This documentary involves many different well-known people and companies within the cigar industry. How did you get them to support your film and your efforts?
Jesse Mariut: It was a bit of work at the beginning because we were introducing this new concept to an entire industry. We were and still are “nobodies” in the industry, so we had to gain the trust of people before we started filming. Pete Johnson [owner of Tatuaje Cigars] was the first to really believe in our efforts and began vouching for us from day one. After that, it was a snowball effect, with many other manufacturers letting us into their homes and agreeing to be on camera. Some have even contributed to the film, so without all of this combined effort from everyone, we wouldn’t have a film.
Out of everyone you interviewed for this project, was there a particular interview and lesson that stood out?
Gherebean: For me, each story has been meaningful in one way or another. Every interview we do answers one set of questions and brings about another. I think the overarching lesson—and one I was initially skeptical of—is that most of these companies really are just small family businesses. It’s hard to really settle on just one interview for a short answer, so I’ll offer an example of what I mean. We interviewed Don Pepin [Garcia] in Nicaragua at his factory. He was our first major interview, and we really were nobodies, like Jesse said. He was extremely gracious and inviting, and his whole family hung out for the interview. They just set aside time and joined us like it was no big deal, even in the midst of the Puro Sabor festival.
Mariut: Carlito Fuente was an interview that stood out for me, aside from the countless other amazing interviews. Before shooting the interview, we spent an entire day with him. We ate with him, smoked cigars with him, had coffee with him. He took us on a tour of his factory and Chateau Fuente, and explained every little detail and thought behind his design of the factory and farm. After a full day of hanging out, we finally started our interview at about 9 p.m. It was an incredible day that we didn’t want to end!
How does Hand Rolled bring the cigar industry together?
Mariut: Through education. A lot of consumers have a general knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in the making of their favorite cigars, but we hope our film will reveal a lot they don’t know about yet and create a whole new love and passion for the leaf.
While the audience is sure to learn something new about cigars after watching the documentary, what have you learned while filming and producing it?
Gherebean: This film taught us the importance of having a plan. Because we’ve been working with shoestring budgets, we haven’t had the luxuries that many filmmakers get. Both Jesse and I have worn every hat—from director, to grip, to personal assistant, to fundraiser. Having a strategy for every meeting and interaction helps you stay focused in the midst of all the chaos.
What are your tips for other entrepreneurs who want to take on a project the scale of what you did with Hand Rolled?
Mariut: Don’t be too cocky to admit you can’t do something or don’t know enough about a specific thing. Know your strengths and your weaknesses, and bring on people that will work well with you and help make your project the best that it can be. Anything less than your best is a felony, so just make better mistakes tomorrow.
This story first appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Story by Antoine Reid, an editor and digital content director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.