White Magazine Business Feature
It’s often the way that the genesis of great things can be found in the small and seemingly insignificant. In Shaun and TJ’s case, the rudiments of what is now Lemon Tree Film House began as a chance meeting at a bar in Spain.
He was a bartender. She needed a tequila. There was nothing profound about his gesture: a wedge of lemon and a bag of chips handed across the bar to accompany her shot. TJ found the bag of chips memorable as a stand-in for a non-existent salt shaker, but the yet undisclosed ploy of fortune was in the lemon. That night was the only night in six months a lemon had been available at the bar. Shaun had plucked it from his lemon tree before making the short trip to work. He had never harvested one before and had no reason to do so then. But later, TJ walked in and gave meaning to this seemingly inconsequential act. It was the beginning of something enduring, the extent of which neither of them could predict.
A little way down that fateful path, when Lemon Tree Film House was barely a germinal concept in their collective minds, Shaun and TJ were living in New Zealand, navigating the bracken of planning their own wedding.
‘We were living in Christchurch five years ago when we got engaged ourselves,’ says TJ. ‘Earning in New Zealand dollars at the time but trying to save for an Australian destination wedding was proving impossible, so we decided we needed to earn extra cash. Shaun had always had a passion for film and is completely self-taught; he’d taught me a fair bit over the three years we had been together. I already had a passion for anything media related and coming from a super ‘dramatic’ family, I’ve just always known how things should look on film and on stage. So earning extra money for our own wedding using our film skills just seemed like the obvious plan. We were so nervous on our first wedding job but by our second we were loving it. When the gorgeous couple couldn’t stop raving about their film, we just knew we had found our calling. It was, and remains, the best feeling!’
Just as the curious make good inventors and dreamers good storytellers, lovers make good diviners of the heart’s unruly conduct; in TJ and Shaun’s case, great immortalisers of it too. Their carefully-edited rendition of what they capture behind the lens is exceptionally compelling and achingly nostalgic. Hardly a dry eye remains when the footage draws to a close, having showcased in its entirety the candid expressions of ardent devotion even the keenest of us habitually miss.
‘Our focus, above all else, is to tell each couple’s unique story faithfully, so we never set shots up so to speak,’ says TJ. ‘From what we hear, that is rare with cinematographers and is probably one of the reasons photographers recommend us so often too; we’re super easy to work alongside as we don’t waste time staging anything. We want every couple to watch their film back and barely notice the technical elements of what we’ve done because they’re so engrossed in reliving their day, wondering what they were laughing at one moment and in tears of happiness about the next.’
The seamless storyline in every Lemon Tree film is indispensable to what makes their work so stirring – as is the less conspicuous influence of friendship. TJ and Shaun actively befriend each couple, over breakfast, Skype, in their home or while downing a beer. What subsequently emerges post-editing is a celebration of the couple’s true individuality – an expertly crafted record that is irrepressibly beautiful.
But then, when your livelihood has its anchor in a magic you both can hardly deny, it shows. In the timeless words of Greek philosopher, Aristotle, TJ and Shaun are a ‘single soul inhabiting two bodies’.
‘We are giddy about each other,’ she says. ‘I know that sounds corny but it’s the truth. We are, above all else, best friends. We laugh together all the time and if we spend a few hours apart we miss each other like crazy. We say “I love you” literally a hundred times a day. Seriously. We are so lucky to have each other, to make a living working together and to love what we do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work too but not a day goes by that we don’t appreciate just how privileged we are.’