Posted on December 29, 2010



Steve Piper is an accomplished writer, producer and director based in the UK.

He is also a company director at Coffee Films.


As a teenager, his interest in comics led him into the field of graphic design, and he developed a passion for music and band management, going so far as to perform at the opening of the Channel Tunnel. At school, he staged a coup of the drama department and, despite primarily using it as an excuse to get out of other work and as a smoking spot, his crew went from strength to strength and the school enjoyed several years of quality drama.

Upon leaving school Steve scored a job as stage manager, production manager, and technical designer/producer with the Naked Pony Theatre Company. Despite great acclaim for their work, the company folded after three years due to a lack of funding. By then though Steve had stumbled onto film production, broadcasting the company’s production of Televisual Man under the production company name of Mr. Spambapstic Films.

Whilst working in marketing, Steve started to recruit people for what would become Coffee Films. The company got off to a slow start, frequently shelving products that were too ambitious for their paltry resources. However, when his marketing company relocated, Steve took a generous redundancy payment and threw himself into Coffee Films full-time. They started work on a short experimental project called Dealer, while Steve promoted the company on the independent circuit. By 2003, they were an incorporated company with music company Coffee Artists and web designers Coffee Internet, later Coffee Design. The company’s production How to Disappear Completely began touring festivals, earning great acclaim for Steve and Coffee Films. The company has gone on to produce documentaries on American music acts signed to Coffee Artists, and Steve shot the wildlife documentary Last of the Scottish Wildcats, receiving critical acclaim from the Daily Mail, the Sunday Telegraph and the BBC.

Steve supports aspiring filmmakers through a series of university talks and working with the BBC Film Network Industry Panel. He is also a proud trustee of the Scottish Wildcat Association.


Q.  You seem to have found your way into film production through quite a haphazard route. What has motivated your career path?
A.  Just looking for the right form of expression really, I was always creative, I liked drawing, I liked writing, I liked comics, I tried music, I tried theatre, I tried photography; the beauty of film is it sits at the top of a creative pyramid with all those things feeding into it, so getting into film lets you do all those things, in whatever order you like. I’m regaining some passion for other mediums like writing and comics after reading some good ones recently but film is the thing that seems to fit best.

Q.  What led you to start your own production company? What were the challenges?
A.  I just didn’t want to make tea for other people, I wanted to start filmmaking right away doing things I wanted to do, having your own company is an essential to get taken remotely seriously by anyone. As luck had it my fellow company director is also a lawyer and handled most of the paperwork, it’s been a challenge actually turning over money and surviving but we acheived it with no small amount of credit and ultimately through the diversifying into music and design as well.
Q.  How to Disappear Completely was the company’s big breakthrough. Can you tell us more about it?
A.  I was lucky, it was the perfect short film script and I stumbled on it by chance. Everyone working on it knew it was a special script so put a lot into it, with recent advances in technology it doesn’t look so special now but at the time getting that kind of visual quality on a 3 figure budget was quite a feat. I think it spoke well to creative people, it was about a photographer who has this philosophy on how gross people are so shuns them entirely and gets locked into his work photographing nature, it was beautifully written and just spoke to a lot of people who go to short film screenings fortunately!
Q.  To what does Coffee Films owe its success?
A.  Credit cards, seriously, it takes so long to break into the industry this way you need longevity.

Q.  Coffee Films produces a number of documentaries. What interests you about this format?
A.  To put a cheesy phrase on it I love the immediacy and the truth, it’s so easy to make a documentary production wise that you can really focus on the story, you never know what will happen so you’re forced to create unexpectedly all the way through, and ultimately you really can change things, our wildcat doc has had a very positive effect on their conservation situation in a number of ways, that’s something you get to feel really good about.
Q.  Last of the Scottish Wildcats seems to have been a project very personal to you. How did it come to be?
A.  Very random following of instinct. I’ve always loved cats, I got a new cat that got me thinking about wildcats, I was disillusioned with the feature industry which I had naively found too corporate and liked the idea of a total change to a wildlife documentary, a challenge from all directions, physically, mentally, creatively etc. it was because it was such a challenge and become so all encompassing it did become very important; we found all these missed opportunities for the Scottish wildcat back through decades of bad government decisions, bad public awareness and so on, suddenly we had a chance to turn that around, put out some truth, let people know how bad things were and how cool these little cats are. I also had a kind of revelation out there in the mountains about the meaning of life in the wild for an animal, the importance of nature, that kind of thing, when you spend a serious amount of time out in it in a tent watching all these different animals surviving in so many amazing ways, the beauty of it and everything, you really can’t be unaffected. The irony here is that I made a short about a wildlife photographer who was anti-society but learned it had something to offer, whilst in real life I;ve gone the opposite way, human society looks uglier than ever.
Q.  You claim to be influenced by the guerrilla filmmakers of the mid to late-90’s. How was this influence manifested itself in your work?
A.  In my stubborn fascist insistence I shouldn’t have to compromise my integrity too much, which is why it took so long to earn money, and in the way we approach filmmaking and the subjects we feel we can talk about. the mid 90’s filmmakers were really important, that’s where the great indie hope of shooting a film on a camcorder and getting big off it came from, that’s where edgy or dark stories in the mainstream cinema came from, it was inspiring to see that finally the dregs of 80’s action films were dead and indie film was really influencing everything going on. I think the biggest influence was the positivity, the can-do feel of it and the determination to put some challenging subject out there for the masses.
Q.  Dealer is one of your upcoming projects. Can you tell us more about it?
A.  Dealer eternally gets shelved to do other things sadly, we finished shooting it so long ago and only have about 5 mins left to edit. It’s basically a short feature about recreational drugs, the story follows a dealer in the middle class English suburbs and the varied characters he meets, some of the characters are fabricated, others are real people relating real experiences, the idea was to put some truth out there about taking drugs, when we started it there was a lot of talk about how alarmist drug talk to young people probably just encouraged them to take things to rebel, I though relating some reality couldn’t hurt, and it was an opportunity to be really creative with really basic equipment, we shot it on Hi-8 camcorders.
Q.  Can you tell us about other upcoming projects?
A.  Lucid is our first bigger budget feature film, it’s a very cool psychological thriller set in the Scottish Highlands which plays with some horror/thriller conventions and twists but delivers something fresh, we’ve got an incredible crew and some good actors interested, it’s intended to be a slightly more European/thinking mans take on typical US thrillers; still lots of action and excitement but well developed characters, ensemble cast, strong performances and other things usually sacrificed for tits n ass in the US. Before that we have the Death and Resurrection Show which is a music documentary on the band Killing Joke, they’re a fascinating band, perhaps the most fascinating band, with a great rock n roll story plus a mountain of interesting spiritual and mystical elements that have seen us shooting at the Pyramids, Nazca Lines, Glastonbury Tor and interviewing everyone from Jimmy Page to the head of the Czech Secret Police. It’s a classic example of a documentary taking you on a wonderful ride and the end result is going to be really unique and special.

Q.  Coffee Films has gone from strength to strength. What do you still hope to achieve?
A.  I have a couple of stories I’m burning to tell and hoping to shoot independently with the proceeds from those other two features, we’re still at a point where, realistically, we need outside financiers to take on features, I’d like to have a rolling pot of money to just make cool little feature films with every couple of years, and see what else came along in between, we’re planning a series of wildlife shoots with small wild cats all over the world to raise funds for conservation too, that’s going to be a great experience, from the freezing wastes of Mongolia to equatorial rainforest chasing tiny cats that have never been filmed before. I guess basically, I just want to keep on going and be able to do keep making films that happen to interest me, rather than having to find interest in a film.

Q.  How do you hope Pelime can help with this?
A.  I think increasingly in the modern web world, you get drowned by all the people
and things out there, I think there’s a lot of room for networks and showcases that focus tightly on genre or medium or just do a good job editorially of finding interesting people to involve, rather than the chaos of facebook, youtube etc.


Posted in: regular