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Tabacalera Fernandez - Simply Amazing
Written by Daniel Lopez

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

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Great lunch in the belly and it is time to make our way over to see one the processing facilities of Tabacalera Fernandez. As we drive to our destination I shoot some of the driving scenes and we arrive to the destination. Now since we are trying to make some interesting video I decide to have A.J. and Kris drive away and drive back to the facility so I can get a vehicle approaching shot. Swanson helps me stage the shot and we roll it. Having big Swanson around on this trip is great since we are covering so many different aspects of the factory and getting set up for shots is killer by yourself. Brainstorming with him between shots becomes the norm since things are shot gorrila style on the fly with this sort of minimal staging. The goal of shooting in the processing facility will be to get as much footage of the actual process that the tobacco goes through and also grab an inside look at the different tobaccos that are used by Tabacalera Fernandez. We set up with only natural light on all shots since I had no way to bring lights on this trip. I set my gain and start shooting A.J. and Kris as they talk about everything from Tobacco Bank theory to characteristics of each tobacco by country. Damn I am loving the footage because I know members will want to see this. Shooting this time with a wireless mic allow the subject to move freely as the mic picks up the sounds of tobacco leaves rustling at the fingertips of A.J. and Kris.

aj_fernandez_cigar

One thing that sets this tobacco duo apart is the fact that they are charasmatic about the tobacco to such a point that we can roll footage straight with little need for breaks. Shots go longer then expected because A.J. and Kris just love to talk about tobacco. Little did I know when we came to shoot the footage that I would end up with over 7 hours of video. Video would take days to log and index footage and even longer to subtitle in English for the members of Puff.com to watch.

We set up in the sorting area of the processing factility were we plan to have A.J. explain about the different classifications of tobacco. As A.J. Fernandez starts to talk about the sorting process he grabs some different tobaccos and just starts rolling a cigar by hand. No tools just Cuban Country boy style as he explains it. I was freakin floored and just happy that I was able to catch it on video. He goes on to explain that this is how he blends. He blends when ever it hits him and he makes the blends on the fly just to try them when he feels the need to do so. This man has some skills and rolling with no tools a cigar with a perfect draw is just one of them.

krisk21

Time passes and we really need to head back to the rolling and packaging areas of the main factory to get some footage there. On our way back to the factory we stop by a small building and this is the point in the trip I get to see where he started. I small building still standing that is dwarfed by the bigger size factory he has now is marked with the Fernandez Tabacalera image on the two front metal doors.

Arriving back at the rolling room I decide to get some shots of A.J. and Kris doing some of the quality control on parts of the operation. As I am shooting this footage I am listening to A.J. talk and I quickly realize that he talks "Really Fast" when he gets excited. The Cuban accent will merge spanish words together so closely that watching the body gestures is needed sometimes to understand. Just when I thought my spanish was starting to get better the Cuban accent throws that theory out. We would later find out in the post/editing of the footage that we would need to call up relatives in order to paraphrase some of what was said. One more thing that make this stuff really fun to me is that we often come across these sorts of challanges. I follow A.J. and Kris around to the deveining area and to the packaging area. We spent more time looking at color differences in cigars before they are packaged into boxes. It seems that women have a keen eye to slight color differences so this is why they are positioned under well lite areas for this sole purpose.

Setting up in different areas of the facility I do some interviews of the workers. Some workers are very shy never having been on camera before and others like the man that is the packaging manager seems to be right at home in front of a camera. As we finish an interview the time has come for the factory to shut down. Areas of the factory are cleaned and organized for the next day and it is all done in perfect order.

As night falls I sit down with A.J. Fernandez and Kris Katchaturian to discuss how they both became partners. In rocking chairs on the patio of Kris's home we share cigars and talk into the night. I learn more about A.J. and one such thing is that he is in fact a third generation blender and grower from Cuba. Even more impressive is that A.J. was mentored at a young age by the famous Alejandro Robaina of Cuba. A.J. had first hand insight on everything about growing great tobacco. After leaving Cuba A.J. then started a small factory in Esteli with only 6 rollers and it has now grown to over 1100 employees. Wow! As we talk more I learn of the great respect that A.J. and Kris have for each other. Kris is the type of person that would give you the shirt off of his back and a sort of instant mentor to those he meets. I would soon learn to "Listen" to Kris and absorb what he was saying about life in general. You see one of the things I would take away from this trip is a small catch phrase that Kris would tell me. He told me "Daniel, life is about the memories you take with you." He was right, and I will have great memories of this trip to take with me for the rest of my life. More and more Kris and I talked and some of the stuff he says is really deep.

Ok so it is after midnight and I look over and see Swanson working hard on the laptop. This guy never sleeps and when he does I think he is still either smoking in his dreams or thinking about the last blend he smoked. I log in to Puff.com and check up on what is going on with the forums and write an email to my wife to let her know I am fine and about the current state of what the Sandanistas have decided to do about the election. It seems that Ortega has announced that he has won the election before the election is even over. Hundreds of ballots are being found in the trash and he has called all muniple workers to go to Managua to rally. Buses filled with high strung sandanistas are going to converge on Managua starting Friday. Ortega has announced that either he has won or there will be a civil war so calling all sandanistas to Managua is the first step.

Wait....I am supposed to be flying back out of Managua on Sunday right?






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