In a Romantic Study of Process, Dan Goldberg Turns Beans Into Chocolate
“My mom taught me how to respect the craft [of making chocolate], that the ingredients you use and the procedure you follow are crucial.”
We’ve always admired flexible people. Take Dan Goldberg, for example. He always wanted to create imagery documenting the making of chocolate “from bean to bar,” and 2020 was the year to do it. Then COVID hit. With this chocolate project remaining on his wish-list, Dan shifted expectations and moved forward with imagery akin to “from bean to bar.” Dan gives us the perfect example of persevering while respecting the process of making chocolate and creating imagery. Here is our delicious conversation about “Chocolate.”
From where did the idea “from bean to bar” originate?
I have always been fascinated by where food comes from. Chocolate, coffee, almonds, tequila, the process of how this food makes it from the tree to our table is pretty amazing! I have spent days sitting in almond orchards, listening to the bees, smelling the beautiful blossoms, just watching nature produce such a magnificent tree. I felt the same way about chocolate and really wanted to learn more about the making of chocolate, from plucking and opening the pods, fermenting the cocoa seeds, drying the cocoa seeds, roasting and winnowing the cocoa, grinding the cocoa nibs, melting the chocolate. It’s such beautiful art, and I have huge respect for this process. I wanted to show the art of chocolate through the bean to bar process in a cinematic video.
You couldn’t travel to Belize as planned. How did this change what you shot in terms of the craft of making chocolate? What were your thoughts on eliminating certain aspects of creating chocolate?
I envisioned shooting all of this in Belize and planned to shoot in the spring of 2020. My crew and I started planning the trip when the pandemic hit. So we decided to hold off until fall, hoping it would be safer to travel. COVID was spiking in the fall, so I sat down with My DP Isaiah Jay and said, “Let’s just shoot this here until we can figure out how to get to Belize safely.” We made a small set in the studio, ordered some pods from Hawaii, and started shooting. My assistant Donte Tatum brought in some of his wardrobe, and we started shooting in the studio. We also collaborated with Beth Somers as our food stylist, and Brendan Canty created the music. We didn’t have a producer, wardrobe, or a prop stylist. It was a small, nimble crew, and we had a lot of fun shooting it. We eliminated some of the chocolate-making processes because it didn’t feel authentic in the studio and didn’t help the overall video.
Did any of this project resemble what you used to make in your mother’s shop?
My mom’s chocolate shop was the inspiration behind this project, but her process was a bit more modern than this.
What did you need to consider in shooting this campaign in Chicago yet still making it appear Central American in every aspect?
I wanted it to feel like Central America in hopes that we still make it down there and cut together a more lengthy spot. We made the light feel as natural as possible and used a bit of atmosphere in the background to make it soft and non-descript. We shot the first half of this video in a warehouse and the other half in my studio. Although it was a cold winter day, we wanted it to come across as a hot day in Central America.
What considerations did you make in shooting during COVID and ensuring this was still safe?
We used a tiny crew, got tested regularly, and wore masks at all times. Occasionally our talent, Dante, took his mask off for the shot, but Isiah and I always masked up. It’s the way we have been doing it since March 2020, and we are staying safe and healthy.
You grew up with a magical childhood of witnessing chocolate being made and sold, a dream for most kids, and an adventure like no other. This chocolate imagery is sophisticated, high-end, and emotional, which is unexpected. Did you intentionally set out to shoot it this way?
The process in this video is a bit romanticized from my mom’s chocolate shop, but I wanted it to be artful, textural, beautiful. I want the viewer to be able to smell the sweet chocolate and hear the roasting and scraping. We used sound design, music, and slow-motion to help create some of that. After all, chocolate should be a sensual experience. Samba and Latin Jazz was my original thought on the music, but it wasn’t working. So, I hired musician Brendan Canty, and he created this beautiful jazz piece that worked perfectly. Music is always the hardest part, and collaborating with a musician makes it so much better!
Follow Dan on Instagram for imagery documenting the sublime.