The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Interview: Lemonade filmmaker Erik Proulx

By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 29, 2010 7:40PM

2010_01_29_lemonade01.jpg One fall day in 2008, a 37-year-old copywriter named Erik Proulx lost his job at one of the largest advertising agencies in the country and, and like any media-savvy creative, the first thing he did was Twitter about it.

This was the third time Proulx (pronounced “Proo’s”) had been terminated in less than a decade—but the third time was definitely the charm. Instead of getting mired down in regret and self-pity, Proulx used Twitter to track down sixteen other advertising creative types who had been laid-off and he made a beautifully shot film about their lives.

The inspirational film, titled Lemonade, follows the lives of former designers, writers, and directors from the moment they were fired to the moment they reignite their lives by pursuing a secret dream or desire. (Yes, as the title suggests, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Or to take the truism one step further: When life hands you pink slips, you make pink lemonade.) One person realizes their dream of becoming of holistic healer; another becomes an artist; someone else changes their gender.

Lemonade’s Chicago screening is February 9th (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) at the Chopin Theater. [The film can also be viewed on Hulu.] Erik Proulx, the film’s creator, will be on-hand for a Q&A directly after each screening, but we caught up with Erik in advance to talk about the process behind making Lemonade, Lemonade (The Book), and why he thinks this film will resonate particularly well with a Chicago audience.

Chicagoist: How did you use Twitter to make Lemonade?

Erik Proulx: Everything evolved from Please Feed The Animals, which was the blog I started after losing my job in October of 2008. Instead of bitching and moaning about unemployment, people were responding with stories of hope and reinvention. It was completely disarming to me, to the point that I thought some of the stories could be the basis for good short film. So, I wrote a post announcing that I was going to make a movie, and linked to it on Twitter. I ended up receiving about 75 stories from people who had lost their job and found their calling in one way or another.

But an even bigger Twitter case study is how it helped me produce Lemonade. My good friend and social media empress Lisa Hickey advised me to write an open letter to Virgin America on my blog, asking them to sponsor the travel to and from Los Angeles. I did, then tweeted about that as well. It got RT’d like mad, and within two hours I received a direct message from Virgin America’s head of marketing saying they would do it.

C: Why do you think Chicago audiences, in particular, will be able to relate to your film?

EP: There are lots of ad agencies in Chicago, and that’s certainly one reason why I believe Lemonade will resonate there. But beyond that, Chicago’s unemployment rate is quite a bit higher than the national average at 11.1 % (vs. 10% nationally). There’s been a huge response from people outside of advertising, as well, particularly from anyone who needs inspiration to go outside of their comfort zone. People have been telling me it’s just the kick in the ass they needed to try something new.

C: Are any of the 16 subjects featured in the film from Chicago?

EP: Well, my wife. She grew up in Batavia and her folks still live there. She played an incredibly important role for me in ensuring the film got finished. She’s Midwestern to the core. She doesn’t make any on-camera appearances (but there are a couple of photos of her and our kids in it), but I talk about her in the film quite a bit, so you kind of feel like she’s in it.

Photo by chloeloe
C: What are some of the most common questions you get asked at the Q&A’s after the screenings? What questions do you wish people would ask you about the film, but never, or rarely, do?

EP: The number one question is, “What’s going on with Kurtis Glade’s project?” Kurtis lost his job and is making a documentary about free surf camps for kids with cystic fibrosis.

I wish I was asked more about the people who helped me make the film. The director (Marc Colucci), the production company (Picture Park), the amazing Directors of Photography, the makeup people, the production assistants, sound engineers, editors—they all volunteered their time for a project that was worth more to them than money. And I am eternally grateful.

C: I’ve heard there is a book version of Lemonade in the works. How will it differ from the film?

EP: I had every intention of self-publishing Lemonade, the book. But once word got out, I received interest from several agents and one major publisher. I’ve received about 150 submissions so far, and it’s almost impossible to choose between them. While the deadline has officially passed, I wouldn’t turn down a truly amazing submission.

The book will differ from the film largely in that it will have almost nothing to do with advertising. And it will also feature people who left a bad job to reinvent themselves (in addition to being laid off).

C: Do you think Lemonade will ever get released to a wider audience?

EP: Let’s be honest—a 36-minute documentary about unemployment isn’t something most people are going to pay ten bucks to see in a theater. There isn’t a lot of commercial interest in shorts for the big screen. But we are currently talking to a couple of sponsors who would allow us to keep the screenings free to the general public and still travel form city to city for a Q&A. It’s also available on Hulu for anyone in the States, and the internet is about as wide an audience as you can hope for.