We've all heard the truism, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." With the plethora of pink slips circulating in the media and advertising industries (BLS estimates place losses over 65,000), you would think some creative type would have parlayed theirs into pink lemonade.
Erik Proulx did.
When the 37 year-old copywriter was laid off from Arnold, a large agency in Boston, in October 2008, it was the third time he'd been terminated in less than 10 years. The third time was definitely a charm. Taking his experiences both in work and out of it, he started a blog, Please Feed the Animals, to serve as a venting ground and support system for other unemployed ad professionals.
Once launched, Proulx decided to create a promotional video featuring the faces and stories of other laid-off execs. And like any good social-media enthusiast, he put out a call for submissions on Twitter. "I started getting all these amazing stories of people who'd just lost their jobs but trying to find creative work," he says.
The enthusiastic response led to the idea of creating a short documentary meant to "show how each of these people has kicked this economy in the balls," he quips. And Lemonade, the movie, was born.
The 30-minute film tours the lives of former directors, writers, and designers from the moment they were fired through how they used their dismissal as an opportunity to discover long-held dreams that range from artist, to holistic healer, to coffee roaster. One man even changed his gender. "I'm just a guy who lost his job," Proulx says. I don't think I deserved it, and others may not have deserved it. But there is a lot of generosity in this community. They want to do something good together."
Initially, Proulx was going to conduct the interviews himself with a hand-held camera, but once the word started getting out about the project, Picture Park, one of the largest commercial film companies in Boston, sent a tweet offering the expertise of their director Marc Colucci.
Using Twitter, Proulx recruited an entire volunteer film crew and companies such as Sony Pictures (who called camera rental houses on their behalf) and Virgin America airlines donated equipment and services. "We had four stories lined up in L.A., so I put an open letter on the blog and sent out a tweet that said 'if @VirginAmerica got retweeted enough, maybe they'll consider donating flights,'" explains Proulx, who sounds as if he's still in disbelief that not only did the airline come through, but "A-level photographers shot an early morning surf scene" that he pronounced spectacular.
Kurtis Glade, a former creative director, deserves credit for that particular sequence. His own personal brand of Lemonade was to make a documentary about a surf camp for kids with cystic fibrosis, one of which is his daughter.
"I can't invent a drug to cure cystic fibrosis," Glade wrote on the PFTA blog. "But I can make a movie. In the end, this is a way to focus my energy on something with some sort of larger worth."
Colucci, the director, says it is rare to have the opportunity to work on something so timely and with the potential to help so many people. "We in the creative business want to do more," he says. "This is bigger than most anything I've done." The trick was to keep it real, and grounded.
One of the most challenging aspects of creating this film, Colucci says, was to have the 15 people tell the stories of their struggles and triumphs, "naturally, as if they were sitting across the table in a coffee shop, not as if they were crafting a clever soundbite."
The other was to be inspirational without being cheesy. He believes they captured reality—good, bad, and ugly. "There is absolutely a feel-good aspect to the film. These people took the worst economy and turned it into the best situation of their lives." Proulx says. "But it's a lot more practical than that," pointing out how each of them is no longer hoping but rather already supported by their new professions.
Lemonade is set to be released online in late September. Proulx and his co-executive producer Jennifer McKenzie have agreed to keep it free on the Web site, despite the fact that it automatically disqualifies the film from any chance to be entered in documentary competitions.
It is not about awards. "The more people who have lost jobs that can click and see it the better," Proulx says. "I'd rather have a million laid-off viewers than 500 at a film festival."