With a Twist of Lemon – The Making of a short film over a very long time.

I can’t remember exactly what made me write With a Twist of Lemon but I can remember a few things around the time that added to the story. Come with me if you will back to the end of 1996 in December, I was 19 years of age when Armand’s Star Trunk Funkin’ Mix of Professional Widow was released under the title of “Professional Widow (It’s Got to Be Big)”, it topped the singles chart in January 1997. At this point in December, I wasn’t a big fan of Tori Amos; the only songs I knew were Crucify and Cornflake Girl. My friend Mark had the “Under the Pink” album and I copied that on to cassette tape over the Christmas period while he was back from University and played it to death. I went and bought Tori’s first three albums on CD in the January sales – Little Earthquakes (1992), Under the Pink (1994) and Boys for Pele (1996). 

In January I was back uni and it was a long winter and I had SAD. This was the first time I’d experienced this. I think this was bought on by the fact I was doing a course I wasn’t really interested in and the weather was extremely cold. But out of difficulties grow miracles! Sometime during the previous year, Mark had accidentally snapped my Jamiroquai CD single of Space Cowboy when he stepped on it (don’t worry I managed to get a replacement) and what’s in the script was true to what I believed: the single version of Space Cowboy was better than the album version! So there were certain things that were in place before I came to write the script in early 1997.

There is a film that I must mention before I go too far into this story and that is Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino movie “From Dusk Till Dawn”. My brother Gary, Mark and I went to the cinema to see From Dusk Till Dawn at the Showcase cinema in May of 1996. We came out of the film and were blown away by it; it was like no other film at the time with a heist/getaway turning into a vampire movie. It had a great story, great dialogue and great effects. We came out of the cinema and wanted to make a film, a heist film to be precise. There was also a programme on BBC2 in the 1990s called Moviedrome which showed movies and would have an introduction dissecting the film, sometimes by Alex Cox. On one of these prior to From Dusk Till Dawn being released there was a 10-minute movie school by Robert Rodriguez and this was sort of the basis of us making a film 

Within this Rodriguez talks about making a movie with zero budget and how you go about doing that with what you have and know. When he wrote El Mariachi all he had was a turtle, a guitar case and a small town. This was the basis for my story with a love of Woody Allen films, knowing about doomed relationships, having a pair of horn-rimmed glasses and a broken Jamiroquai CD.

What I wanted to write was a 10-minute short film and thought that 10 pages of the script would do that. I came up with the idea that it was about an artist, a typical Woody theme, who is dumped by his girlfriend, another Woody theme of relationships, and then his art insulation is panned by the critics and he goes into a depression, slightly like my mood at this time and something that Woody would write. The title “With a Twist of Lemon” was inspired by a line in Steve Martin’s L.A. Story.

I can’t remember where I got the name Maynard Friedman from, but it obviously sounded Jewish and Woody Allenesque. Frank Keys was and is the name of building merchants in Nottingham and so I thought I might as well use that as an in-joke for my friends. The final name was Londa, this was from Jerry Springer; Jerry was one of the biggest things on TV around this time. I had a friend, Ruth Bacon, who was slightly obsessed with Jerry Springer at the time and she’d written a list of the unusual names of people appearing on it such as Bonnie Tinker and Yolanda, these are ones that have stuck in my mind from her list. The one that I used was, of course, Londa.

The opening of the film was going to be Nottingham City Centre with a depressing voice over about the main characters state of mind, probably easy to write at the time with my SAD! I’m not exactly sure how the art insulation of the 100 foot Tori Amos head came up but it was definitely something that myself and Mark had joked about and this got thrown into the story. Looking back it’s very quirky but at the time I think I thought it would be interesting in the short film that this 100 foot Tori Amos head gets mentioned as an art piece.

Then there was the ending of the film I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea for Maynard to explode but obviously, I was not going for a Hollywood ending. This idea was of him blowing up due to the noise the CD makes because of the break-in it, this was brought about by two things.

The first was that I had a broken CD, the second was that when Gary was at secondary school he’d watched a programme during a lesson where people had exploded due to their body frequency being tuned to a specific noise. I seem to think the exact thing that Gary had told me was that on the programme he’d watched someone was dealing with sound and they’d gone out the room and someone else had messed around with the noise and volumes and levels and when they came back in the room they switched the machine on and exploded as their body frequency was tuned to it. So this was the basic idea that everyone’s body as a frequency that a sound can make you explode and it formed the ending for the film.

The filming of the script began at Easter time in 1997 when Mark came back from Uni. Mark was playing Frank Keys and Gary was filming it. I think the only scene we filmed was the part with Frank and Maynard talking about Londa dumping him and his Tori Amos art piece. Then that was it, we didn’t film anymore. In the summer of 1998, I had finished my course and was only working part-time and must have said to my brother Gary that we should film With a Twist of Lemon. We must have actually set about it because we have the footage but, to be honest until I saw that footage I couldn’t remember actually filming it. I know we did because the footage is there. What I do remember is that we never filmed the part with Maynard and Frank outside. We had set aside a day and were going to film this scene but I seem to remember having an argument with my mum about getting a job so it never got filmed.

Fast forward 22 years to the Covid-19 lockdown and being furloughed from work in 2020 about June time, I am keeping myself busy and I want to check what’s on my old VHS Panasonic camcorder R33, the reason being that I thought there were a few comedy sketches we’d filmed on it and I wanted to check. However, when I was looking through, on one tape were the scenes we’d filmed for With a Twist of Lemon. I couldn’t remember what we’d filmed but there were about three takes of each scene we’d recorded.

The first thing I thought was I wouldn’t mind seeing this complete just for the reason that Gary was so funny and good in it and I knew that with the wonders of modern technology this could be achieved.

The first thing I did was check on Youtube if there was a way to transfer VHS camcorder tape to a laptop and after watching several videos I realised that I needed to buy the equipment to do this. I went on Amazon and found exactly what I was looking for, and for £15 I made the purchase. Within a few days, I received the product and was able to transfer all the footage to my laptop from analogue to digital within 30 minutes, you have to play the footage while it records it off. All of the footage was now on my laptop and ready to edit together. As I’ve said I couldn’t remember what I’d filmed so had no idea what scenes had been shot.

At this point, I needed to find the script. I was pretty sure that I hadn’t thrown it away because I’m a massive hoarder of stuff that I’ve written. After searching around in a few different places I finally found it in a drawer. Reading the script we’d filmed most of the Frank and Maynard scenes apart from one, mentioned above. I’d also filmed my part of the telephone call with Londa so all that needed filming was the other side of the phone call with Londa, a scene with Londa and Maynard bumping into one another in a shop and the Frank and Maynard scene outside in a park.

I started editing the footage I already had on Premier Pro and it looked quite nice in the old VHS camcorder tape footage. I did say several times to Gary there is no way I could have edited this as well in 1998 with the overlays of phones ringing, other noises, music and the fades between scenes. I think my idea at the time was to go to a studio at Broadway cinema in Nottingham and edit it there but it would have taken me ages to do, cost thousands and still probably not have been what I wanted.

There were a few things which I needed to sort out for filming the remaining scenes. Firstly Gary had his doubts that 22 years later we were going to look like how we did. This was completely true I was 21 at the time when we filmed in 1998, a lot slimmer, and Gary was 25 and looked more or less the same. Yeah, we’ve both aged and at one point we did wonder if it would be best to just film all the scenes again. We knew we could do the original scenes a lot better, but there was a certain charm about those scenes and it was like looking at archive footage.

I didn’t really want to film them again. My thinking was with the blur of the camera how it was and that we didn’t really do any close-ups we may get away with this. So I told Gary “Don’t worry I’ll amend the script a bit to compensate for the age difference.” So in the scene with Londa, I added the line about the stress of her leaving me and ageing me by 20 years with a glance to the camera in recognition of this being 22 years later!

This led to the next problem of casting Londa. We never cast this the first time around, we never got that far. I probably had a few friends who would have done it at the time but I can’t say I had anyone in mind. What I needed though was someone who was going to be able to act with me and my 21-year-old self in the phone scene and also act with me now in the unshot scene. I also wanted someone who was a bit Annie Hall in personality.

I asked Elizabeth who I had worked with at a solicitors’ firm. She had been there temporarily and then gone off to university, she was the right age and I could see a quality in her that would just be perfect for the Londa role. I can never thank her enough for saying that she’d play the part. If she had said no; I don’t know what I would have done, it would have remained unfinished!

Then came a problem: the camcorder developed a fault. It suddenly had a crackling line a third of the way down it. I cleaned it and tried a few different things but to no avail. The first thing that I tried was filming it on digital and then altering the footage to look like video on Premier Pro but that didn’t work. So I had to wait to buy another camcorder! Luckily one came up on eBay and we were back in business.

At this time I spoke with David Moss, better known to the world of restoration of toys as Toy Polloi, about altering digital footage to camcorder film. I told him about the story and knew that he was very skilled in Photoshop, and so I asked him to make me a 100 foot Tori Amos head in an art gallery. I don’t think this would have originally even been seen on screen or in the shooting script, it would have just been mentioned as a plot point. The only other thing I could have done was cut Tori’s head out a magazine and stuck on an art gallery photo! But with the advancement of technology, these things can now be done. I just sent the two photos to David and he made the photo that’s in the film of the 100 foot Tori Amos head being ignored in the art gallery.

This couldn’t have worked out better, bizarrely in my head, and Gary said the same thing, we’d always imagined it as a 100-foot sculpture of the head. So this was a completely different thing and perfect. I can’t thank David enough for doing this for me as it was the icing on the cake.

I carried on editing the footage and rewrote the script slightly on the scenes we hadn’t filmed. I edited the Nottingham City scenes together at the start and Gary did a voice-over from the original script. I’d thought when I put together the start that the voice-over might be a bit of a downer, I realised once I listened to Gary’s narration that it was going to be completely depressing as an opening to the film. The beginning of the film was just a homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan only it was Nottingham City and after watching the start of Manhattan again (the first time in about 7 years) I knew that I had to write something more upbeat and more about the art and character of Maynard. Once I got writing the new voice and having a better idea for what I needed to introduce the film, I had it completed within the space of about an hour. Some of it is slightly factual as I was told by my art teacher at college after an exam that I had no style and all my pieces of art were different!

As I’ve said I started editing the scenes together of the footage I already had and the final scene where I exploded had all been filmed in 1998. The only thing missing was the explosion. After watching a few tutorials on YouTube of people making an explosion on Premier Pro I was then able to put it together in my film. I realised after though that it was a bit static so the clips of me screaming as I explode are actually filmed in 2020 and inserted into the existing 1998 footage. There are a few extra parts within that final scene that were recorded in 2020, however, I don’t think you can actually tell unless you look very closely.

I filmed a few more city centre scenes of statues for the interlinking scene where Londa breaks up with Maynard and it goes into Shed Seven’s “She Left Me On Friday”. What I decided I wanted to do was to try and change from each scene in a different way or fade. I think if this had been edited in 1998 it would just have been a simple fade out and fade in but Premier Pro allowed me to fade in different ways and so the “She Left Me On Friday” change was just something else I thought would be a good way to change scenes.

When Covid restrictions had been lifted I finally got to film the scenes with Elizabeth. I organised date and time with Elizabeth and in keeping with the script I had organised to film in a shop.

Unfortunately on the morning of the shoot, I got a call to say they couldn’t have the filming in the shop as they were busy. I wasn’t to be deterred and decided to rewrite the script so it was more stalking from Maynard with Londa and I think this made the scene more fun, we spent a few hours filming the scenes. She was a bit nervous about doing it, to begin with, but I think once she got into it she quite enjoyed doing it! Well, that’s what I like to tell myself. With these scenes recorded I just needed to record the final scene with my brother Gary.

The scene with Frank and Maynard had always been written that we were going to film in a park. I had a few ideas about where to film it. In the end, Gary said he couldn’t go through with going into a park and acting and filming it. He thought that people might be staring and think we were crazy – which clearly we are but we like to think we do a good job of acting sane. On the day that we were going to film it, I decided to change it so we were on Gary’s driveway and that we would get in his camper van. Hence the noise of the traffic on the main road that deafens out some of the dialogue.

We could have overdubbed this and we were going to do it but after I watched it I thought you get the gist of what’s being said here, do you need to hear every word? I also thought of Christopher Nolan with his film Interstellar where there are loud noises drowning out dialogue, so I thought this is going to look artier! And as Rodriguez said in the 10-minute film school: use mistakes to your advantage. So that’s why that scene remains hard to be heard at times.

We rehearsed for about a week before we filmed the final scene of Gary and me, just to get back into character. Bizarrely Gary struggled to get the voice to begin with but then he watched the old video again and realised what he was doing wrong. I don’t think you can really tell that those final scenes with Maynard and Frank, and then Maynard and Londa, are filmed 22 years apart. So We somehow managed to pull it off.

After editing the last few scenes together I had to put it all together - which was probably the hardest part - as well as creating the end credits. I used the same font which Woody Allen uses on all of his films just to get the look of his films for it. Once I’d done all this Gary made a mock poster for it to put on YouTube and the film was complete.

23 years in the making but it felt good to complete it and I am proud of it. I do wonder what the 19-year-old me would make of the completed film. I’m sure he would be amazed by the standard of it and that it was completed. The 43-year-old me looks on this as that the 1990s I really wanted to do, write and make films. I have lots of scripts and short stories that I wrote in the 1990s but somewhere in the 2000s work and life got in the way, I always think of the words of John Lennon “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans” and that is so true. So what have I learnt from making this? Probably nothing, but if there’s one thing I can say it’s don’t give up on your dreams even if it takes 23 years to complete them.

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