Successful Short Films – Lemonade Stand

Our regular post submission just began, here we gonna check out some great short films. To start with, i’ve chose Lemonade Stand, by Alethea Jones. It won the Tropfest Film Festival 2012. Besides being a really well-made short film, Lemonade Stand will bring some interesting subjects to our discussion as we’ll see.

It’s the story about Benny, his grandpa and their lemonade stand being harassed by Kevin, the neighbor whom just got a job at the City Council. As the stand has no business license, Kevin threats to shut their business down unless Benny hits a distant beehive with a lemon.

The film starts with a quick montage of events and voice over to show us the world. As we’ve seen previously at O’Keefe’s The Ghosts, this works really well to introduce the characters and the background of the story. I must remind you that voice-over is not an enemy, it should narrate elements far away from the story, but be a complement of the image. It’s the bond of sound and vision that makes cinema what it is, those elements should not drift apart (in most cases). If you work well with voice-over and it fits your concept, it’s a great method to save quite a chunk of time.

Following this introduction we have the event, when Kevin challenges them to hit the beehive. There’s a clear goal and urgency into this, the obstacle being the defiance itself. Afterwards, Benny wanders through the woods only to find his natural inclination at throwing objects on long shots. He’s just the perfect guy to win the challenge and save the day. However, this is the moment in which Lemonade Stand remains steady. We, viewers, are confident that Benny is going to nail the beehive and redeem the lemonade stand. It’s breaking this expectation what makes this short film great. Because that should be essential to every short film ever.

Coming clean, i’ve chosen Lemonade Stand to show up an example of a well-rounded structure that works perfectly on short films with a comic tone. It goes as something like this:

1. Introduction of main character, antagonist and the background savior*;

* this kind of structure relies on this background savior, which is an element you introduce in the beginning of your story (grandpa’s dirty socks in this case),  let it lay down and bring it back to resolve your story at the ending.

2. The Challenge (hit the beehive with this lemon or i shut down this joint!);

3. High Expectations: raising the expectations of the audience, make them believe the main character is going to beat the challenge.

4. The Failure: the main character fails to beat the challenge his way;

5. Raise the undead! The background savior comes back alive and saves the day.

This is not a masterpiece of an outline, but screw you, i’m not Syd Field. Basically, what matters here is using this background element previously introduced to effectively seal your story indirectly. If Benny had simply hit the beehive, it wouldn’t be fun, after all, we love to have our expectations broken apart, that’s why we engage with other people, no? But dealing with our issue through an unorthodox method is great, as it surprises us, yet as the elements were already introduced we don’t feel like the author is cheating on us (farewell, deus ex-machina).

Just remember that this is not a formula, if you EVER start a story by a recipe, you’ll fail, i guarantee. The viability for a specific, functional structure must emerge from the story, not otherwise. You can’t fit the story in a box (if it doesn’t want to).


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