After getting laid off by ad agency Arnold last fall, copywriter Erik Proulx took to the web, creating a job-search site for recently unemployed advertising professionals and chronicling their stories on Please Feed The Animals.
Production company Picture Park took an interest in his work and soon Proulx' interviews turned into a film. The resulting documentary, "Lemonade," focuses on 15 people who were laid off (including himself) and is set to premiere in the fall.
I caught up with Proulx to talk about what his recent unemployment has taught him about the economy, the ad industry and life after layoffs.
Why did you decide to do this film?
It started when I got laid off. I lost my job in October of last year. Right away I started blogging about my job search experience. It wasn’t really the first time I’d been laid off. I thought I had a bit of wisdom to impart. The more I started blogging about my experience, (and as more people started getting laid off) the more it just sort of evolved into this collective about what we’re doing other than advertising.
Instead of people whining about being unemployed, it just became this really positive thing. The more stories I started hearing, the more I started thinking this would be a great little video. Originally, it was just a marketing piece for Please Feed the Animals.
I solicited people for stories and put it up on the web and Twitter. I got flooded with these really amazing stories.
One of the responses was a production company, Picture Park, who said they'd like to help me make a movie.
It became a lot bigger than me and my camera. It turned into an actual film about people making lemonade out of lemons.
Where you surprised by anything you learned from the 15 people you interviewed?
What surprised me most was that my instincts were right. I had hoped that all of these people we were talking to would have found these really cool, creative ways to make a living. That they would have thrived and really found this latent happiness with their lives that they didn’t know was out there. My surprise was that I was right.
At one point we interviewed this woman named Michelle who is now a yoga instructor. There’s just this twinkle in her eye. And her husband said: "I thought I loved her before, but I love her even more now. She's so genuinely satisfied with her life now."
What sort of marketing and advertising plans do you have for the film?
So far it’s been built on social media. Everyone who has contributed mostly I found directly on social media or through a contact found through social media. Right now I’m only planning to air it online, as a virtual experience. I don’t want anyone who needs to see it to miss it. If I show it in a few movie houses across the country, that’s not really helping anyone but me. I want it to be publicly available and free. It might limit my distribution options, but that’s the most important thing to me.
Who are some of the people you found through social media?
Everyone. From the director Marc Coluccito to producers Jennifer McKenzie and Carrie Jacobson, who were both laid off from advertising. Also, Virgin America flew us from Boston to Los Angeles so we could film our L.A. people out there.
We did a direct Twitter campaign for Virgin America. I posted an open letter to Virgin on my blog and I pointed my Twitter followers to the post and told them: "Retweet this to @VirginAmerica if you think this is a worthy cause." Within two hours I got an direct message from somebody at Virgin saying "We’re working on it, we’ll let you know."
Are you going to monetize the movie with advertising?
It's happening so quickly I haven’t really given too much thought to how to generate revenue. I want the experience to be pretty clean and I tend to hate sites that are cluttered with advertising. So we’ll see what happens.
Is there something different about this recession that has made people try out new things?
Yes. I don’t know if it’s social media, or a war or the direction that the country has been going in, but there’s this new willingness for everybody to be on everybody else’s team. People are giving away a lot for some kind of karmic hope. That’s just a new mindset that wasn't around before.
From the trailer, it looks like most of the people you interviewed are no longer in advertising. Is that the key to happiness for ad folk?
No. That's not the moral at all. The moral of the film is using this potential downtime to figure out what makes you happy. Half the people we talked to are still in the business. The ones that made it into the trailer, for logistic reasons just happen to be the ones who left the business.
What about you? Are you done with advertising?
As I said in the trailer, I lost my job and now I’m doing my life’s works. What I discovered about myself is that I love storytelling and really uncovering people’s passions, stories, and truths. That doesn't necessarily need to be limited to advertising. Whether it’s filmmaking or advertising or a million other formats, I just love storytelling and coming up with ideas.
"Lemonade" is really nothing more than just me being an unemployed guy trying to help other unemployed people. It’s not more complicated than that.