Arts & Culture News

Oak Cliff's Raw Lemon Start a Porno for the Win

Oak Cliff filmmaking group Raw Lemon just scored a big win by "starting a porno."
Oak Cliff filmmaking group Raw Lemon just scored a big win by "starting a porno." Oscar Lozada
Filmmakers from all over gathered in Austin’s AFS Cinema on May 22 for the Austin After Dark Film Festival. Founded by filmmaker Mikel Fair, the festival is known for its raucous, raunchy, gory and “dark” subject matter.

Film enthusiasts from California, Oregon, France and the United Kingdom had flown in to find out who won the coveted awards for best cinematography, animated film, documentary and dark drama. When it came time for best comedy film, some of Los Angeles' most prestigious filmmakers sat on the edge of their seats as the announcer said, “And the winner for best film comedy is We Start a Porno directed by Bryan Sabillon.”

At that moment, Oak Cliff’s Raw Lemon film group roared with happiness.

“That win feels validating,” Raw Lemon founder Sabillon says, “When you do this long enough and you feel like you're not getting that response back, stuff like this really, really goes a long way for us. That win went a long way for us.”

We Start a Porno is not a porno. Sorry to disappoint. It's part of a three-year project that involved seven Oak Cliff residents.

The short film is part of a feature film titled We Start a Series, which is composed of seven short films that tell one absurd, satirical and fictional narrative that pulls from the real life experiences of the film collective Raw Lemon. The film is a comedy centered on a group’s failed attempts at filmmaking, and is a celebration of Raw Lemon and the friendships, trials, tribulations and successes that have kept their passion for filmmaking alive.

Raw Lemon began in 2007 when Sabillon was 13 years old. Fascinated by directors like Martin Scorsese, Sabillon lured his friends into his filming hobby by recording them skating. Soon those skating videos became skits.

“I made my debut with the 2007 cult hit classic Mission So Possible 3 that was uploaded to YouTube, and it was groundbreaking,” Daniel Campos, an original Raw Lemon member, says jokingly. “Well, no it was terrible, but it was fun. … We're not really a crew, because it's more like a bunch of great friends filming together. We just take turns holding the camera; we don't really have a production team. It's all from the ground up and we all just take turns doing the blue-collar work.”

The group caught traction in their high school, Moisés E. Molina High School, where their work impressed the administration so much they were allowed to begin their own school-funded film club. With nothing but time and jokes, they started creating YouTube videos for entertainment. Their fanbase began to blossom.

Campos recalls a day in his senior year when he and a former Raw Lemon group member were browsing NorthPark mall’s Lego store before being recognized by a group of grade-school kids.

“Oh my gosh is that them,” he remembers the kids saying, “Oh my gosh, it’s Raw Lemon!”

Campos was flabbergasted. The kids surrounded him, taking photos, hugging him and calling people to excitedly announce they were meeting members of Raw Lemon.

“It's one thing to make your peers or teachers laugh and your older family members laugh," Campos says, "but to have a group of kids that have their entire day made and freak out because they're seeing you, it's like a feeling you'd never never knew you’d have or never knew you’d need because that has to be one of the purest moments of my entire life.”

Despite the excitement, Raw Lemon didn’t see much success in their filmmaking. They uploaded and shared their skits, but the failures mounted. Prior to We Start a Series, Raw Lemon had two failed attempts at creating a feature film. After 10 years of trying, they decided instead to take a jab at stand-up comedy.
Under the comedy group name “JFK,” Raw Lemon sold out Texas Theatre in 2017 and 2019 with their stand-up show.

Fifteen years after its founding, Raw Lemon continues to have the goal to make people smile. Today Raw Lemon is composed of eight members: director and writer Sabillon, actor and comedian Campos, writer and comedian Eric Sosa, actors Louis Clifton, Victor Hernandez, Oscar Sanchez and Sigifredo Flores and the newest Raw Lemon member, actress Guadalupe Reveles.

“Bryan isn't like the other directors that I work with,” Reveles says. “I've seen people try to do this exact thing where they go and they make movies with their friends and they end up hating each other at the end of it. That's because I think they put the project before their friendship.”

“We all want to be a part of this film group because we just love it so much since we were kids, and it's something we don't want to let go because we believe in it. I feel like Raw Lemon is what keeps the friendship so close.” –Eric Sosa

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For We Start a Series, Raw Lemon depended on their friendships to keep the project alive. Filming took place mainly on Sundays due to each member having to work, go to school or tend to other projects. The hours were long and many nights turned into mornings. The bloopers, reshoots and throw-away footage were abundant. Yet, everyone continued to show up because Raw Lemon was the glue that has kept the tight-knit group together.

“We all want to be a part of Raw Lemon,” Sosa says. “We all want to be a part of this film group because we just love it so much since we were kids, and it's something we don't want to let go because we believe in it. I feel like Raw Lemon is what keeps the friendship so close.”

After many film festival rejections, the Austin After Dark Film Festival win invigorated the group. With a winner's high, the film group set out to make another dream a reality. They commissioned the Angelika theater to show their feature film.

For Sabillon, the Angelika was a no-brainer. His and Raw Lemon’s inspiration don’t come from major motion films like Transformers, but from the independent films that feel tangible, accessible and intimate. As a big part of Dallas’ independent film hub, the Angelika was their first option.

On June 26, Raw Lemon will be premiering We Start a Series at the Angelika for one time only. And Raw Lemon has Dallas’ support: The group sold out 249 tickets on June 1, just five hours after they were released on Eventbrite.

This will be the only time the seven-part series will be shown as one film. For those who miss out, Raw Lemon will be releasing the film in its original seven-part web series format. It will be the same narrative, just in bite-size wedges.

We Start a Porno, that just won the festival, was completed nearly two years ago and we've just been sitting on it for so long,” Sabillon says. “No one has seen it. So I thank Raw Lemon for their patience and I thank them for believing in our work. They believe in me, and I believe in them.”
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Desiree Gutierrez is a music and culture intern at the Dallas Observer. Equipped with her education from Dallas College Brookhaven Campus and the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism, Desiree has transformed the ability to overthink just about anything into a budding career in journalism.