Lemonade | documentary 26 of 100

Seth Godin did something he doesn’t usually do earlier this week: he raved in his blog about a documentary film. “The Lemonade movie is so professional, engaging and inspiring that you’ve probably already seen it. If not, here it is.” I wish it were true that possessing those qualities made it probable that a film would find an audience. If so, there would be as many people crowding into theaters to watch The Cove (my Oscar pick for best doc) as there are lining up to see Avatar. But that’s another story.

Synopsis: Devastated when they are laid off from their ad agency jobs, former employees tell how they found courage and means to turn their perceived misfortunes into golden opportunities to create businesses that better reflect who they are and how they want to live.

Story Structure: Interviews are the spine of the film, which are structured in three acts: 1. Laid off – oh crap. 2. What am I going to do about it? The characters reach a point where they decide to take matters into their own hands. 3. As a result, they find happiness and inspire others.

This structure, incidentally, is essentially the same structure of our film Shine, except that our first act was people leaving by choice, because they hated their jobs.

Cinematography: One word: stunning. These are some of the most beautifully lit and shot interviews I’ve ever seen in a film. The production values were very high, from gorgeous introduction sequence with lemons bouncing around shot at a high frame rate and rendered in silky slow motion, to the detail shots of characters hands, to the sparse but stunningly beautiful b-roll from the lives of the characters. Who are mostly all beautiful. Most everyone is fairly young, too. It looks like the film was produced by an ad agency. Oh wait, it was! Ha ha. They did a great job applying their skills to the task, and the result is an effective sales pitch for DIY career management that looks like an ad for a BMW.

It had to have been shot on a Red Camera or maybe just a Canon 5d. Something with one hell of a fat sensor, because the depth of field is so shallow, they had a hard time keeping the interview subjects in focus – if they leaned forward to make a point, even an inch, they were out of focus. It’s the kind of cinematography that I call “shallow depth of field porn.” One thing about lighting: it appeared to be relatively simple soft source key, without any rim light. There was always darkness surrounding the interviewee for drama, but light in background to set them off the background, which was carefully exposed just right so the highlights were never completely blown out. The background light often has a soft color to it – the orange of a lampshade for example.

The b-roll was often very small things, details: hands fidgeting, lots of focus pulling, limbs cartwheeling through yoga class, coffee beans that looked good enough to eat, milk being poured into coffee as if it were a Starbucks commercial, veggies being chopped. Still photos were jump-zoomed into like you see on network TV – from small to medium to big in three distinct steps, rather than zoomed steadily into, which is the more filmic way. They even found a way to use the side angle of the interviewee’s face as b-roll, cutting to shots of person just looking at camera while their voiceover continues. It all adds up to make them larger than life, heros.

Editing: Spare use of b-roll to accompany the interviews, which are shot so beautifully that I’m glad they stayed on the faces as long as they did. An interesting departure was no slates for any of the characters. Instead, at the end of the film they all state their names and we cut through all of them, sort of like all the performers take a bow at the end of a play. The recurring use of lemons worked but felt a little overdone, but they look so good you can’t help but but enjoy watching them roll by in slow motion or get chopped up or just glide by. Editing did a great job of intercutting the different characters so that they are all talking about the same thing, moving the story forward together by completing each other’s sentences almost.

Music and Audio: Music (credited to Caspian) is mostly quiet guitar riffs build the mood. Soft, sparkly keyboard riffs.

A lot of talented people worked on this film, and it shows. Bravo for an inspiring film that raises the bar on what documentaries of this kind can look like: gorgeous.

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