This was probably the most grueling shoot I have been a part of thus far. I was hot, tired, and anxious about finishing in a timely manner.
But hey, that makes for an interesting blog post, right?
This series is about my experience making the comedic short Lemonhead in 24 hours with my team, metaphorical duct tape. The film is about a boy (Aidan) who accidentally puts his brother’s addictive substance into his lemonade. He’s had a rough time selling at his lemonade stand, but this substance, called angel dust, gets one customer addicted, and he keeps coming back for more.
In my previous post, I posted about our time spent proposing, planning, and prepping from midnight until 9 a.m.
Today, I’ll describe the shoot, including all the challenges we faced and how we solved them. And I promise that, by the end, you’ll understand why it took 10 hours. As the director of photography, I have a lot to say about this.
In my next post, I’ll wrap up the series, detailing the post-production process and the following awards night. As the editor, I have a lot to say about this, too.
This trifold series is dedicated to Matthew Calder, who drove me with his family to Washington, D.C. to gather footage for Bulletproof (which I have exciting news about, so read until the end).
Okay, so here’s the thing.
The lemonade? That we used in the film? Yeah, that wasn’t real lemonade.
It’s lemon juice with water. I personally didn’t try it (for some very logical reasons, may I add), but I heard that it was disgusting.
But we had our reasons.
We originally planned to show Aidan making the lemonade outside by squeezing lemons into water and pouring sugar, to add to the childish tone. It would also explain why customers didn’t like it until he added, um, angel dust. However, this idea was cut, so now we were just left with diluted lemon juice and a lot of drinking scenes.
Luckily, our actors were fantastic.
Caroline (Customer 1) drank the lemon water like a champ, and Ian (the Lemonhead), poor Ian, drank glasses upon glasses upon glasses of that stuff. Especially in scene 5. Just wait for scene 5.
Anyway, thanks guys.
We started with the outdoor scenes so we would 100% finish those before the sun set behind my house.
The first shot we did was [insert drumroll here] room tone. This is always useful to have in case a clip has bad audio and you need something to insert in its place. This is when Quiet on the set! really comes in handy.
The next shot was actually one we ended up scrapping. It was shot low to the ground, and showed Aidan walking down the sidewalk, carrying his foldable table like a briefcase. It wasn’t originally in the shot list, but I added it after seeing the apparent briefcaseness of the folded table. It seemed too adorable an opportunity to pass up. However, while I was shooting it, it became evident that the shot wasn’t as cute as I had thought it would be, and actually took away from the tone of the film by giving it an off-start.
Next we shot the montage. I love this part of the film because it really sets up the fun, childish tone of the film early on. Also, it was really easy to film because I just put the camera on a shoulder mount and pointed it at what Grady (who plays Aidan) was doing.
The montage shots actually took a lot of time. We needed multiple takes to get Grady’s placement and timing right. Hey, setting up a lemonade stand ain’t easy. One part I love specifically about this montage actually happened by accident. Aidan has a lot of trouble unfolding and placing the table, but it wasn’t planned. That was just Grady trying to set up the table.
By the end of the shoot, this wouldn’t be the only time a mistake made the final cut. (Just wait for scene 5.)
After the montage, we got right into the scene. We shot an OTS (over-the-shoulder) shot of Grady, then an OTS shot of Caroline.
At the end of each shot, Caroline dumped her lemonade in the grass. It’s hard to see, but it’s a funny detail if you do notice it.
We set up an umbrella so there would be shade on Grady’s face, to avoid overexposure. However, this actually ended up causing some problems in itself. Because Grady’s face was darker than the background (due to the umbrella), we had to open up to allow more light in, which left the background way overexposed. The shades on my camera helped a little with that, but outdoor lighting is always tricky. We tried using a reflector, but it ended up concentrating the light too strongly on Grady’s face.
Next we got a shot from the side of the table. It was intended to show the exchange of goods (money for lemonade), but we ended up using it for most of the scene.
We got a very wide master shot which would double as the title screen.
The final shot for scene 1 was a rack focus between Grady and the lemonade, to show his decision to add sugar. (But what he ends up adding is not sugar…)
It’s a small change of focus, but it’s there. For most of this shoot we used 24mm and 35mm lenses so we wouldn’t waste precious time changing lenses after every shot, and because shots with those lenses are just more convenient to set up in my opinion. However, for this shot, we used a 50mm lens for a more shallow depth of field, so the focus would not be on both Grady and the lemonade at once. We also cheated the lemonade away from him to increase this effect.
And scene 1 was done! We went inside to eat sandwiches, and I edited scene 1 to save time for later.
We jumped to scene 3 to get all the outdoor scenes done first.
For scene 3, we repeated most of the shots from scene 1, which made it pretty easy.
We even planned to shoot another wide master, but as we set up it became apparent that it was so overexposed that it wasn’t even worth shooting.
The shots that we added were for transitions.
We used a similar shot of the lemonade to transition from scene 2 into scene 3. This establishes the lemonade as a constant in the two scenes.
One transition I really liked was the 360-spin transition to show that it’s a new day.
To accomplish this, I did the same 360-spin twice. The first time with Grady in the red shirt, the second time in the white shirt. This is essentially a 360° whip pan. Because it’s so fast, the shots cut together nicely in post (which I’ll get to next week, so stay tuned).
Well, I guess that brings us to
To be completely honest with you (as I always am), I don’t have much to say about scene 4. There are no special shots (other than the 360-spin transition I already discussed). So, I’ll just talk about some details I noticed.
One thing I want to point out was a great acting choice by Ian. His character is so impatient for the lemonade that he taps the glass lemonade container.
I thought it was a nice touch.
This scene is where the lemonhead starts to break down, which can be seen in his attire. In scene 3, he is wearing a nice outfit. Here, the same outfit is disheveled, and the outfits continue to get sloppier each scene.
His drinking also gets more aggressive. If aggressive drinking is even a thing.
And his final outfit really seals the deal.
At the same time, Aidan’s outfits are getting darker to show his plunge into dark sales tactics. He starts with a bright red shirt (color), then white (no color), then gray (getting darker), then finally a black jacket (darkest).
There was no special shot or pan here to transition, just a line by the lemonhead and Aidan’s reaction:
You here tomorrow?
Yes he is, which brings us to
Oh, the iconic scene.
This is my favorite. By far. It was also my favorite to film.
You’ll see why.
We racked focus from Ian to Grady when Grady started talking. This establishes that Aidan holds the power here.
It also brings your attention to the necklace he’s wearing.
So, Aidan adds lemonade to the cup as he always does. But this time…
Well, whatever [the secret ingredient] is, can you put a little bit of extra into mine?
Sure. Close your eyes.
I love how Ian awkwardly and impatiently moves his head around here.
This is an example of how the prompt actually helped us develop the story.
So, Aidan takes out his “secret ingredient” and dumps it into the cup of lemonade.
And I mean dumps it. A concentrated beverage, indeed.
Now, it would be absurd to actually have Ian chug lemon water with a tablespoon of flour on top. So, for Ian’s close-up, we had Grady hand him a flour-less drink to chug quickly before the viewer can notice.
So, the lemonhead chugs it, and he reacts exactly how one would expect him to.
Whooo! Hit me again!
Here’s the funny part: that umbrella wasn’t supposed to fall. Ian slammed the cup down so hard that it came untaped from the table and fell over. Everyone started cracking up, and we knew immediately that we had to use this take.
However, everyone started laughing before the shot was over, so we had to get another shot for the line “Hit me again!”
This shot definitely had the most takes. Which is funny, because it wasn’t even in the shot list.
It was very hard for Ian to land in exactly the right spot and get the line right. Even though he didn’t need to, he drank an entire glass of that awful lemon water before every take to get himself in character. It wasn’t even in the frame. Method actors, am I right?
Eventually we got the take, right around when we were all at the verge of exhaustion.
Gabriella worked with the actors a lot on this scene, which is probably why it ended up working so perfectly.
It was definitely worth the effort.
The (Second) Montage
Similar to scene 1, this montage has a childish, innocent tone, which contrasts with the darkness of Aidan’s actions. This is probably my favorite example of black humor in the film.
We shot three cup-exchange shots, each one quicker than the last.
I really like how a truck drove by during the second. It helps place this lemonade stand in the real world rather than on some fictional street.
Here, we kept the camera still and slowly added money (and eventually items, which is hilarious) to this beautiful money bowl to show how quickly little businessman Aidan is making cash. It also foreshadows the lemonhead giving Aidan his car.
For a similar point, we showed Aidan increasing his price more and more until it’s a whopping $20/cup.
We actually lost the green $5 square and had to rewrite it outside; that’s why it looks different from the rest.
Now, my favorite shot. My favorite shot in the whole film. My favorite. Are you ready? I love it so much. Here it is:
The bartender shot.
I love it. I love how it looks like a bartender pouring a line of drinks. I love how careless he is with some of it landing on the table. I love how there’s a random lemon on the last cup. I just love it.
To get this shot, we attached a slider dolly to the Magnus VT-4000 tripod and slid the camera to the speed of Aidan pouring lemonade. It took two takes.
Okay, I’ll stop fanboying over my own shot now and move on.
This is a short scene, but we definitely took the opportunity to be creative.
For this OTS shot, we had Grady consume ¾ of the frame and stuffed Ian into a small corner. This way, we gave the shot a claustrophobic feel to emphasize how the lemonhead has no other options. It also establishes the power dynamic: Aidan has complete and utter control over the lemonhead.
A lot went into this shot. First of all, the lighting, colors, and arrangement of objects just made for a naturally beautiful shot. We also took inspiration from the Michelangelo painting of Jesus giving life to Adam. Notice the items in the foreground, the trees in the background, the water bottle seen through the glass bowl, and the cups and bowl leaving only a small space for the hand to be seen.
So, that was a wrap for outside. Before we went in to finish the shoot, we tried to get a picture of all of us using a timer.
Clearly, the picture came out perfect.
(On an unrelated note, apparently grass isn’t transparent?)
We jumped back a bit.
It was now time to shoot the indoor scenes. Which was amazing, because we were hot, sweaty, and exhausted. Now, we were only one of those things. You can guess which.
Thank god for air conditioning.
For the indoor shots, we were able to set up artificial lighting. We arranged three lights around the kitchen.
First we recorded room tone again. It’s always useful to gather audio from each location, because they all have different ambiances and background sounds.
First, we shot a wide master. We actually set up the camera in the living room, to capture the entire kitchen with a 24mm lens.
I lined up the shot so that the bright line on the refrigerator and the bright light from the window formed almost a symmetric border for the sides of the frame. The purpose of doing this?
Aesthetic. That’s really it.
Next, we got a follow shot of the brother using a shoulder mount.
Can I just say that Logan transformed into this role perfectly? It’s basically the opposite of his own personality.
Another shot I like: the two-shot. And I don’t mean of Aidan and his brother.
I mean of sugar and angel dust.
We see Aidan reaching for the sugar, but unknowing grabbing the angel dust his sketchy brother just put away.
I love how he turns the container to reveal the label Angel Dust.
To get this shot, I stood on the counter and went handheld.
Finally, we got the transition shot I talked about in scene 3. That’s why this transition was particularly troubling: the shots were filmed hours apart.
The final scene. Three shots. Let’s get this done so I can start editing.
1. As before, the wide master:
This establishes the setting, reveals where Aidan is relative to his brother when he enters, and shows the brother looking for his angel dust.
Also, we set up some nice sliced lemons. Again, for aesthetic.
2. The brother turning his head, and realizing what Aidan has done:
Of course, he’s coated in swag, his newly acquired items, in addition to an almost empty container of angel dust.
And that’s a wrap.
So I had an interesting week.
Two days ago, I went to the KiDz HuB Regional Film Festival in Old Bridge, NJ. Bulletproof and Lemonhead were among the 25 selected films. However, Lemonhead could not be screened because of the implications of drugs, but the festival told us that if we sent them another film they could screen that one instead.
Well, we went one step further.
Gabriella, Ian, and I wrote a script, filmed it, and edited it in 3 days, just in time for the festival to screen it. The film is titled Guilt, and it takes a look into the mind of Marcus as he handles the guilt of his infidelity.
We even paid homage to Lemonhead through the dialogue in scene 1.
Both Lemonhead and Guilt proved to me that making short films doesn’t have to be a lengthy process; you can make a pretty great film in a short amount of time if you put your mind to it. I would like to thank everyone who helped us make this film last minute. Ian Dugan, Kaitlyn Dundorf, and Mohinder Singh all did amazing in their roles!
At the festival, Logan, Gabriella, and I won the Miranda Allen Excellence in Filmmaking Award and Achievement in Documentary for Bulletproof!
Filming Lemonhead was such an interesting experience. I’m glad I experienced it with such fun, talented people. Special thanks go out to Grady Calder, who was not even originally part of metaphorical duct tape but agreed to spend his entire Saturday playing Aidan. And playing him very well, may I add.
In my next blog post, I will document my experience editing these clips together, the stress of posting before midnight, and the fun of attending the screening with my co-filmmakers.
Cut to black.