Smitty’s never questioned the blind pursuit of profit. He drowns himself in dishes every night because he needs money, as if growing numb to your work is a rite of passage. But after stumbling upon a lavish silverware set, he’s shocked by just how much he stands to make off someone else’s misfortune. So he puts his wallet aside in order to cleanse himself for a change—bringing him face-to-face with the ugliness of his old ways, of a world driven by dollars and cents.
“A film where faces are only shown in reflections.”
That’s the vague message I typed at 4:08AM on August 9th, 2019. A seedling of a pitch, shared with a groupchat of PSU film friends searching for something to shoot. 19 months and ~9 lifetimes later, Take a Little Time has arrived. The world is forever changed, that reflections motif modified a bit, and I’m a different person and filmmaker than I was when I hit “send” that night. But every moment in between made its mark on this film I wrote, directed, DP’d, scored, sound designed, and After Effects’d—it’s truly the culmination of my four years here, and I couldn’t be prouder of it or the countless wonderful people that gave it their all in the midst of a pandemic!
I dug in on story development with Lilly Adams in January 2020. Dishwashing—a visceral proposition, following my sophomore year pizza job that saw me scrubbing plates past 4AM before strolling home through a dark alleyway—came into play naturally as a means to work reflective utensils and water surfaces into the script. An antique silverware set worth a few paychecks felt an ironic introduction, and there stood Smitty: looking back at himself in the exact kind of utensils he’s exploited to clean, questioning his place in all of this for the first time.
By early March 2020, I’d written the script, rewritten the script, and rehearsed the climactic scene with actors for a COMM 445 Directing Seminar assignment. Lilly had just secured us a back kitchen location when the entire world shut down, and we had to table the project. This only added fuel to the dull fire of my quarantine depression, but when I sat down with the script that July for the first time in months, I was surprised to find a new energy between the lines. What I’d written as a meditation on work/play balance in college, I now read as a rejection of our society’s prioritizing profit. As shooting—now slated for Fall 2020’s COMM 438 Advanced Narrative Production class—fast approached, I reworked some components to better engage in this emerging theme.
I once saw on Twitter (so it must be true!) that if you passed yourself on the street, you wouldn’t recognize yourself, because you’ve only ever seen your face in mirrored reflections. That’s Smitty at the onset of the film, exhausted by his work but only able to perceive himself through the lens capitalism has so kindly provided him to this point. Yet when he hears just how much of a quick buck he’s about to make off someone else’s misfortune, he truly sees what he’s been all along, and doesn’t like it—so he holds onto the set. When this leads him to the devil’s doorstep, there’s a little too much of his old self staring back, and only by accepting the occasional scenic route can Smitty arrive at the…social riches he never knew he was missing.
This isn’t a COVID film, just COVID-adjacent. Everyone behind the camera was masked at all times; I held production meetings and rehearsals over Zoom. Despite everyone testing negative going into our 5-consecutive-days-shoot-window (a Friday through a Tuesday, designed to minimize exposures outside the cast/crew bubble and to wrap the thing as soon as possible should the school shut down again), I felt I had to mask everyone up in-scene with our 70-year-old Appraiser talent on set. So it followed that Smitty would wear a mask in the back kitchen, and so the devil might as well make a jab at covidiots, and so on. The school’s revised COVID film policies actually granted me a Canon C200 for the entire semester, instead of just the shoot, so we had all the time in the world to test equipment and lighting rigs. This came in especially handy for some of the more complex mirror shots, where gaffer Nick Yelesin found that nowhere was safe from the gaze of our Rokinon primes, not even behind the camera!
I was supposed to shoot my Directing final in April, serving only as director…then the pandemic hit, and I had to create an alternate short almost entirely by myself under lockdown. This might seem counterintuitive given my handful of roles here—but leading this team of beautiful souls in bringing Take a Little Time to life was truly an incredible practice in collaboration, in letting go of producing, gaffing, editing, coloring, and so on. Without the gargantuan efforts of each and every member of our dozen-odd crew, the film wouldn’t be what it is—or anywhere close. I only got to have that specialized a crew, a byproduct of shooting the film for COMM 438, as a result of that same pandemic that once canned this whole project. There are so many worse things to come of it than Jake not getting to make his film (a year into this thing, we’re still shoving lives by the thousands into the furnace of Wall Street), but to provide pertinent commentary via the medium I love has been an invigorating honor and an experience I’ll hold dear through the rest of my days.
Below you’ll find links to more in-depth and technical breakdowns of each stage of production (complete with perhaps too many pictures). I encourage you to take a little time, explore this year-long journey, and reach out with any questions or comments! A year ago, I never thought I’d be writing this statement, and I have far too many people to thank for delivering me here. They all get their love in these breakdowns, though, so please enjoy!