There’s two casts of Take a Little Time: Spring 2020 (pre-COVID), and Fall 2020 (mid-COVID). Although Zeke Winitsky and Jake Mayer hold the special title of being on both lists, we absolutely have to start with Smitty, aka Mark McNeil II:
Spring 2020 Smitty was played by Tom Schmids, who had acted in several of my freshman year shorts. I loved what he was bringing as Smitty, but Tom’s fall workload and COVID precautions kept him from doing so once production started back up. Lilly remembered Mark from an audition for a separate film Fall of 2019, reached out, and arranged for him to audition over Zoom with everyone else who responded to the above casting call. Auditions were a strange and wonderful experience as a writer/director holding them for the first time, but Mark was easily the highlight. I heard him dig in on “people think of silver…” (we had everyone read “the essay”), and immediately turned to Lilly—we’d found him. Mark brought so much care and vulnerability to Smitty, a side I hadn’t realized could be so crucial to selling the visual motifs in the short as extensions of his emotional state and well-being. At the audition, we had him read (as well as anyone could over Zoom) with…
Jake Mayer, playing Charlie the roommate. Jake had gone film-for-film with Tom when it came to my freshman year shorts, and we’d had some fun together in COMM 339 as well. I started thinking of Jake for Charlie when I realized the banter-filled vibe between Smitty and Charlie mirrored the friendly arguing Jake and Tom carried so well in those freshman shorts—so I worked in lines like “nice ass set of silverware” to really let his Philly/Delco accent shine. What’s especially wild is Jake was back in Philly the entire Fall 2020 semester, but when the film was back on, he absolutely came through for the shoot (getting COVID tested ahead of time and everything!), lending his pickup truck for both equipment transit and a starring role:
I met Zeke Winitsky while DP’ing Lilly Adams’ excellent short him. during Fall 2019, when we were juniors and Zeke was a freshman here. Although we weren’t capturing audio that whole shoot, we soon realized he could bring it, so I worked with him again in early Spring 2020 for some Directing Seminar exercises. It only added to the fun that Zeke and I were both in an acting class together that semester (tragically thrust onto Zoom before it could really get going). As I was writing the first draft of Take a Little Time, I think I realized about halfway through Vincent’s scene that Zeke would be perfect to play him—as Lilly’s always said while watching Zeke as Vincent, you can’t tell how old this man is, or what time period he’s from. He’s an enigma. The literal last night on campus before spring break (and by extension, COVID), I used another Directing Seminar assignment as an excuse to rehearse that scene with a C100, Zeke, and Tom:
The MaryKate character was written for, ideally, MaryKate Cadden. She’d been in every major production of my second half of college—The Fallen (which I composed for), him., and ultimately at the same time as Take a Little Time, Pulling Daisies. She wasn’t available in Spring 2020 for this film, but by the fall she was able to jump in! I didn’t want to waste such raw talent, so she was a big reason for the late addition of more developed arcs for her and Charlie. Running through her character’s story with her and the loss she feels responsible for until the moment this Smitty guy arrives with the exact antique set she thinks she lost forever was a fantastic moment of the rehearsal stage. Speaking of…
Every one of these actors were phenomenal at taking direction over Zoom. I never thought that’d be a quality to explicitly look for, but I feel spoiled by my experience on this project. I was able to schedule meetings with them individually, work through the script and their characters, try a few things out, give notes…then not see them for days. Then we’d have a group rehearsal over Zoom, and everything we’d worked up individually came out to play! There was buffering and latency issues, sure…but there was also chemistry, which was ridiculous. Most of the scene pairings between these performers didn’t get the chance to meet once in person before we shot (COVID exposure quarantines, Jake being in Philly, etc). But just as all our test lighting and shooting had let the technical side of things sit around 85% there prior to THE shoot, this immense and dedicated prep work on behalf of the cast meant that even if they were running the scenes together in person for the first time, it never felt that way. We took care to rehearse enough on set before rolling to smooth over most of the bumps inherent in the situation, but I can’t thank them enough for all they did to let it be as smooth as possible going in.
We looked long and hard for an antique store owner—(understandably) thanks to COVID, multiple film faculty turned down the role, which would’ve been fun. Instead, I found this lovely email in my inbox one evening, about a week after posting the casting call online:
Rod was an absolute treat, right from the moment he Zoomed me and Lilly from his front porch and discussed the bowties he could bring to set. He really could not be any closer to how I pictured the appraiser in my head! We ran through the scene with him a few times on that Zoom, and that was it until the day of the shoot. When it came to lining up the knife he was holding so Mark’s eyes would reflect in them from the camera’s perspective, he was an absolute pro.
Finally, cast only the morning of, at Mad Mex, gaffer Nick Yelesin was everything you could ever ask for in a non-speaking bus buy role. For how last-second his addition was, I never thought I’d see so much of him during post (read all about the timelapse shot here).
While a lot of these articles are centered on the crew and our technical maneuverings, Take a Little Time would fall flat on its face without the best cast I’ve ever worked with. I can’t thank them all enough, and can’t wait to see what they all get into down the road.