18th BFI Future Film Festival, 2024
"The partnership between Iris Prize and Channel 4 does this brilliantly and there are great online streaming websites dedicated to shorts. "
A sunny day at the park becomes a duel to the death when two lemonade sellers turn to guerrilla warfare in a battle for customers.
Hi Max, Matthew & Kanhaiya, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to have Lemonade Stand-Off part of this years BFI Future Film Festival?
It’s an incredible honour, really. Personally, the BFI Future Film Festival was one of my dream festivals, and as I am soon going to be turning 25, my mind was struggling with the inevitable pressure of potentially never making it in!
As well as having your world premiere in Cannes you also won Best Film at Straight8, what has it meant to you and your team to see your film get so well received?
This film was made out of the excitement and fun we get from collaborating with a great variety of filmmakers. Our objective was to meet new collaborators and make every single one of them take part in the core decision-making of the film. This is why the film has three directors, writers, producers, and so on. Therefore seeing “Lemonade” be so well received is an amazing feeling. It’s not a big film, we made it under many restrictions, so to see it screening at big events like the BFI Future Film Fest is highly rewarding. When we all sat at the pub in order to brainstorm this film (and our previous one!) we never thought we’d end up here.
How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films and emerging filmmakers?
Every year, more and more young people want to dedicate their lives to film, so having a festival such as this one offer many exciting opportunities to young filmmakers is highly significant. Festivals are really great to watch new independent films, but they are also such a great platform to meet fellow filmmakers and make connections for the future. We attended last year’s BFI Future Film Festival and still chat with some of the contacts we made there!
What more can be done on a local/national level in the UK to offer short films more visibility to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?
Recently I’ve been noticing many “Short Film Open Mic Nights” being hosted at local cinemas and pubs, I think that’s a great idea. I attended one recently and watched a great variety of independent short films, being able to meet the directors and creative teams behind them. If that was more common and cinemas, including the bigger ones, screened local talent, I’m sure that’d be very beneficial for the future of film. The cinema we usually attend has 9 screens, and it often shows some films that unfortunately not many people choose to watch. If those films, for example, screened during the first half of the day, and perhaps the second half was dedicated to a local short film event, that could potentially work?
Lemonade Stand-Off is very much a collaborative film effort, what inspired you to make a short film that would bring so many passionate and creative people together?
I’m glad you asked! “Lemonade” is the second film in this very big collaborative film effort you mention. I had just started a Master’s Degree in Film Directing in 2021 and since Covid regulations were still quite strict, the university was not a big fan of mixing students together in networking sessions. Ironically, one of the students hosted a party, and that’s where I got to meet most of them. Back then I was struggling with the pressure of what making a film meant; the time and resources that have to go into it, the money… getting a film made is really hard. I then came across Straight 8 and thought that would be a really great excuse to pick the first three people I had met from each department and just make a film to meet each other and have fun. That film, Dead Funny, did quite well so we decided to make a second one, which would end up being Lemonade Stand-Off. We repeated and improved the formula, getting the main cast involved from the writing stage too.
"There’s a long way to go, but if there’s something true about my work, is that it revolves around unusual relationships or connections between characters, honing in on surreal or slightly strange situations such as this one."
And what was this experience like for you as a director, will this type of filmmaking approach be something you’ll continue to do in the future?
MAX: It was life-changing. That sounds very dramatic, but personally it made me reconnect with the original reasons I wanted to be a filmmaker in the first place. Shooting on film, specifically just one roll of super 8mm, is so creatively challenging that I can’t imagine who I’d be without having made the film. I can safely say it opened all of our eyes, making us as directors question our choices more, what we want to communicate with each shot, and how we do it. In such a modern, digital world, where multiple attempts at a shot are taken for granted, shooting this project has really made us reconsider our creative approaches when directing a film. I’m not sure about Kanhaiya or Matthew, but I’m definitely going to be pursuing this type of filmmaking, even as an annual tradition. In fact, we’ve already shot our next one!
Matthew: The idea behind how Lemonade Stand-Off was filmed is very unique and specific to the requirements of the competition it was made for. Keeping shots to one take and doing all the editing to in-camera is something you only do for Straight 8. What it does prepare all filmmakers for is to set a standard for preparation and rehearsal to a level where you know exactly what you need to do for each individual shot which can be applied to any project - whether it’s shot in film or digitally.
Can you tell me how Lemonade Stand-Off came about?
I remember we had a meeting at our local pub, and brainstormed many ideas. Usually this is where I get endlessly mocked, because I love just saying the first thing off the top of my head in case that inspires someone else!
During that first meeting I remember we couldn’t come up with anything, but after some remote sessions I vaguely remember Matthew speaking about using Tom and Jerry cartoons as the comedic inspiration for this film. If I’m correct, that was the first bit of inspiration that made me propose a lemonade stand war. How the story was put together and all the details in between was again a great collaborative effort.
Had you always intended to film using 8 mm and what where the biggest challenges you faced using film stock over digital?
Yes! We made the project for Straight 8 so it was always intended to be using 8mm. Our biggest issue during this film was the camera itself. We rented an old camera that had some faulty gear, and it would cut the take before our cinematographer, Oscar Miño, released the trigger. We kept pushing through the day despite the technical issues, but since we had so many tricky and risky shots, we realized it was impossible to shoot the film with that camera. We had to stop, choose another date (and camera!), and start shooting from zero. Thankfully, that was a great decision!
What was the trickiest scene for you to film?
MATTHEW: Every shot has its own challenges when shooting with this particular approach. One of ones we remember as trickiest is the rolling lemon shot right at the beginning. We couldn’t get it right purely because the lemon would not always roll in the right direction so it had several rehearsals. In the end, it didn’t roll perfectly which is why we used a cut to help smoothen the action out.
Also the shot where the catapult is activated and it fails was not in the script. We practiced that several times and it worked each time before the take so the added shot of Amber picking it up and throwing the lemon was the workaround. Very rarely is a shot difficult to pull off because of camera trickery or movement, it’s usually just a lemon deciding to misbehave.
How much flexibility did you allow yourself, crew and actors when it came to the vision you had for this short?
We were very flexible regarding the initial approach in pre-production. When we start shaping the idea into a proper story, and start writing in the comedy and story beats, anybody can contribute. When the directors test shoot the film, we change some timings around, maybe add or remove a joke for pacing, but that’s only up to us by then. Afterwards, whenever that’s completely locked, we don’t change anything. We’ve had some arguments on set about sticking to what was planned, as the nature of Straight 8’s competition is so challenging. The planning is there for a very particular reason, as opposed to a normal short film where you can allow yourself to be surprised. However, sometimes we make exceptions when the cast offer alternatives regarding their blocking or actions, as they always have to act within a specific timeframe and that’s quite challenging (for example, if the shot lasts 4 seconds they have to perform their actions inside those 4 seconds).
Now you can be reflective what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from making Lemonade Stand-Off?
“Lemonade” is an ode to the spirit of collaboration, so if anything, this project confirmed that we did the right thing. We eliminated many aspects of a film crew’s hierarchy, and made it all about getting everyone involved. While a typical shoot can’t be exactly that, there are many elements of the creative process behind this film that we are surely going to bring into our future sets. We’ve definitely learned how important it is to be open to ideas that aren’t your own, and going with your gut, especially when you’re relying on such visual storytelling.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
MAX: My interest instantly piqued as a child, after I had watched the Nightmare Before Christmas. I told my father I wanted to make “that”, so we started making stop-motion films together. That lead me to discover more films, and expand into different genres. My family was also very much into theatre, my father being a mime at the time, and that was definitely a very significant source of influence. I also had a great passion for theatre, but filmmaking was such a different landscape for me at the time that instantly fell in love with it.
MATTHEW: I was in the middle of my third year of my business degree when I started writing my first screenplay. I stumbled upon meeting a producer in Los Angeles when I was visiting that following summer and his feedback was very encouraging to the extent where I saw it being a genuine career possibility. After working in a call centre for a couple years, I saved up and applied to film school where I met a wonderful group of colleagues and gained the skills that I needed. Before that I had always had a love for film, going to the see the new releases every weekend whether they were good or bad. I always credited Jaws as being the film that got me into cinema as a 7-year-old watching it for the first time; a movie about a shark that barely shows the shark had me loving every second because of the acting, direction, and how excited it made me feel watching Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw hunt down and fight an animatronic.
KANHAIYA: As far as I can remember I've always had a special connection with films, even before I understood them as an art or even wondered how they were made. During the final few months of my law school I had applied for my masters but something felt wrong and I realised I needed to do something I have always loved and would love doing instead. I found out that film school exits and took a leap of faith.
How much has your approach to your film projects changed since your debut short?
Every short is a new step, and every experience makes you learn so much. I don’t feel like my approach has changed entirely, but rather it’s been improving and redefining itself bit by bit. Every time I prep more and more, I look for different things in rehearsals, I get the DOP involved at different stages… I guess I’m still figuring it out, but every project is a world. I have a solid blueprint I use to approach a project, and from there the rest keeps on varying.
What does Lemonade Stand-Off say about you as a filmmaker and the stories you want to tell?
Personally I think “Lemonade” has a quirkiness to it that I hope all of my films have. It’s inventive, original at times in its creative approach, and I can only dream of viewers attributing that to my work or “style”. There’s a long way to go, but if there’s something true about my work, is that it revolves around unusual relationships or connections between characters, honing in on surreal or slightly strange situations such as this one. A chunk of our previous super 8 short took place in a mime funeral, if that says anything!
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into filmmaking and what has been the best advice you’ve been given as you started your own filmmaking journey?
I’d say the best advice is definitely “just do it”. Very cliché, but very true. Practice makes perfect, and your films don’t have to be high budget in order to be considered proper short films. Challenges such as Straight 8 or the 48hr Film Project prove that. I feel like many filmmakers, myself included at some point, hold off from making a film because they want to wait for that “perfect idea” or they want to wait to have “enough savings” to make a film. Your ideas need to have some substance, but a huge part of a film is how it’s story is executed. Some years ago I produced a section of a feature film shot entirely on a handycam. The story had a very good reason to support that, and the director/writer made it work on almost no budget. Some incredible filmmaking came out of that, and I truly believe that’s where filmmakers are really made. On those low-budget projects, where you have to really think about how you’re going to get your vision made.
Regarding the best advice I’ve received… It’s more of a fact rather than advice. I can’t remember who it was, but someone once said that the difference between “those who make it” and “those who don’t” are the ones that give up. Making films will be very hard, but hang in there!
And finally, what do you hope you audiences will take away from Lemonade Stand-Off?
I think I can speak for the entire team when I say we just want audiences to have a great time watching our film. We wanted to honour the cartoons we watched growing up, and if anybody is reminded of that, we’ll consider that an amazing achievement. As a bonus, for fellow filmmakers, it’d be amazing to start a conversation about what it takes to make a film, perhaps making creatives reflect on the limits of our filmmaking approach to the project in comparison to films shot digitally!