Take a Little Time – Writing
I’ve never written a script with origins as eccentric and organic as Take a Little Time’s. As mentioned in my director’s statement, it all goes back to an August 2019, late-night groupchat message: “A film where faces are only shown in reflections.”
What I failed to mention in my statement is that after sending that message, embarking on my junior year of college, composing an “edgy” feature film score, serving as cinematographer on Lilly Adams’ junior film, and crafting a slew of experimental shorts over the fall of 2019…I wrote an entirely different script on winter break, intending to shoot it that spring. I hadn’t helmed a narrative film of my own since two springs prior, so all I knew was that I would write, direct, and shoot; Lilly would produce.
Lilly was already scheduling shoots and securing locations for that winter break script (which shall remain shrouded in mystery) by mid-January 2020…when I decided I hated the story and wanted to make something that meant something. Easy, right? Lilly and I had a few meetups over the following couple weeks intended purely to hammer out this new story, before I would write anything at all. That’s when I reached back in the groupchat and re-pitched the faces/reflections gag; other random nodes of inspiration included my desire to have the protagonist walk down a (not necessarily) State College alleyway in the dead of night. This mirrored my voyage home following my sophomore year pizza job that kept me dishwashing past 4AM at times—another key plot point, not that we knew it yet.
The first order of business was giving meaning to the faces/reflections. I wanted it to play off some non-science mumbo I saw on Twitter—that if you passed yourself on the street, you wouldn’t recognize yourself, because you’ve only ever seen your face in mirrored reflections. Influenced by Sam Esmail’s character POV-driven writing/directing style, I felt I could structure the acts of the plot around this visual motif, how the protagonist perceives himself.
I decided the film would open with the protagonist’s face almost entirely shown in reflections—how he’s used to regarding himself. Then, at a crucial point launching us into Act II, we’d see his face straight-on for the first time. I’d shoot this as a moment, an arrival—as he sees himself as others have been, for the first time. As the film climaxes, he’d have some secondary reflection-adjacent epiphany that carries him over the hump to self-actualization—but what that was, or what any of this would entail in terms of raw plot, was still up in the air.
The emphasis on silverware materialized before any real plot did. It was shiny and reflective, and that was good enough! An early stab at breaking the story involved a brother and sister reading the will of a recently-passed parent, the sister receiving money and the brother getting only a set of antique utensils. That judgement from beyond the grave was supposed to be that first moment of reflective clarity…? We trashed that within a day of pretending we liked it.
Then, in some blur of creative dot-connecting, we arrived at this: a college-aged dishwasher, jaded by the infinite pile of silver he scrubs each night, stumbles across an antique silverware set in the alley on his walk home from work one night. It’s got the irony of his job vs. the set, his pay vs. its value, and sets up that first reflective moment perfectly. He’d hear how much he stood to make, and for the first time, make a decision not based on profit. He doesn’t know why, but something about how much he could make off what’s clearly someone else’s memorabilia triggers something in him…something he’ll blindly pursue until he does understand. Until then, the feeling that that first big decision gave him is enough to propel him forward—he’s never felt it before, so he’s gonna chase it.
Soon enough, I knew that second watershed moment would come as he withstands his final temptation to make a profit—you know what, an even bigger profit. He’s committed to this new feeling, this new look at life…why? Because he’ll realize that the guy across from him, tempting him, is his reflection—if he doesn’t change his ways. If you’ve watched the short, you’ll see this all clicking into place. But before I could set out writing the first draft, I needed to devise the stops along the way to finding the set’s original owner using nothing more than the set itself, aside from but parallel to the protagonist’s emotional arc.
The first step kind of had to be an antique shop, since he’d take it there to get it appraised before having that first reflective moment. So the appraiser should be able to provide some piece of information to move things along…what about an engraving on one of the pieces? This is where everything fell like, 97% into place: based on this engraving TBD, the appraiser would send the protagonist to a devilish collector who knows where to find the owner…but whatever the engraving was had to both make sense in the context of the original silverware set, and be a phrase that could trigger the protagonist’s final realization when it’s flashed in his face at the climax. Got it?
I most certainly did not, for days. That’s when, like the first drops of rain after a drought, my Mac Miller Circles hoodie arrived in the mail:
The featured phrase is lyrics from Hands off that album. I held the hoodie in my own, having just ripped the packaging open, and the final piece clicked. Take a Little Time. That could be the words the protagonist needs to hear at the peak of his temptation, and also pass as the cutesy name of a ma-and-pa shop that would sell silverware with the name of the store engraved!
So only at this point—mid-February now—did I write the first draft. I’m grateful for all the groundwork Lilly and I laid, because over the course of an 8-hour writing session, I was able to focus entirely on additional creative devices like Smitty’s name and its reveal, his essay and the running character metaphor around sterling silver (entirely fueled by that Wikipedia tab, kept open the entire time), fleshing out the personalities of everyone around him, and writing the intercutting dishwashing bits I knew I wanted to mirror the plot from a directing standpoint (more on this below).
The climactic temptation scene in this first draft, however…was ugly. I was so bent on releasing all the tension with the phrase “no, but I can take a little” that the entire thing was contrived as hell and a basic waste of space. Incredibly, we were able to cast Zeke Winitsky as the devilish temptation character (“Vincent” in the script) using this draft. In the meantime, I gave the script to Carson Spence and asked for his thoughts on how the phrase “take a little time” could become the crux of both the scene and film, in a meaningful way. The night before I was set to rehearse that scene with Zeke and Tom Schmids (cast as Smitty at the time, pre-COVID), I distilled notes from Carson and Lilly and almost entirely rewrote the scene. This was the final form of the script going into March 2020…and then something pretty significant happened, you’ll never guess what.
Anyway. The film was dead for a bit there, and I didn’t look at the script again until July. Up to that point, I’d considered it a story about a guy who spends too much time in college worried about making money, with a roommate who spends too much time having fun, and the guy needs to learn to strike it down the middle. Then COVID happened, and when I re-read Smitty dodging diatribes about “seeing the world as a game of dollars and cents,” in order to stick to his goal of passing up profit for personal growth and genuine connection, I knew I had to re-tool the script to bring out the undercurrents of capitalism, labor, and American greed running just below the surface since the onset of this storytelling journey. (If I was writing the first draft seeing myself only in reflections, I saw my face head-on for the first time when I did this rewrite!)
This entailed another pass of Smitty’s dialogue with his roommate before the appraisal scene, and a few adjusted lines in Vincent’s scene (obviously including the addition of Vincent’s COVID line—that happened closer to shooting, when feedback from the class wanted more confirmation that he’s evil. This also clarified whether Vincent killed the grandma or not—something I had never considered or intended, but that came up in notes from the class as well, so that’s why Smitty asks).
One thing that never really left the script, but isn’t as clear in the final film, was my intention to use the 3-tub sink (pictured above, found in many a restaurant back kitchen) to parallel the 3 acts of the film—soap, water, sanitizer. The intercuts that happen throughout the second and third acts would feature Smitty moving the spoon through the phases of cleaning a restaurant dish, and this would thematically match how he’s cleansing himself in the process. This aspect had to go for location reasons, which was fine given the COVID of it all, but I loved it enough I wanted to mention it here.
Another small COVID-driven revision was to Vincent’s line, “you want a coffee, tea, Long Island? On the house.” In the Spring 2020 iteration of the script, this scene took place in a coffeehouse, so he simply offered to buy Smitty a coffee after introducing the money clip, to demonstrate how flippant he is with cash as a result of his way of life. When the scene shifted in the fall to “Vincent’s apartment,” I wanted to keep this beat in the conversation, so it became the line I just included above—on the house.
A brief detour into MaryKate Cadden’s character (“MaryKate” in the script, by no coincidence): in the short it kind of comes off like they fall in love at the end. And maybe they do! But to me the point was that she wasn’t his goal; that was to find both meaning beyond money and himself along the way. I just wanted it to be clear she was his reward for doing so at all. Smitty wouldn’t have ended up on her porch if he hadn’t expressed his final transformation so eloquently to Vincent that Vincent, against all his premeditated intentions and perhaps a little affected himself, gives her up to him. So Smitty gets to see what happens with MaryKate because he figured it all out, he didn’t figure it all out just to see what happens with her.
That being said, the final touches added the week before shooting were to incorporate more of an arc for MaryKate, and Jake Mayer’s roommate character (“Charlie” in the script). Initially, there was no indication she was driving that truck—but I arrived at that bit of trivia while struggling to find a duplicate silverware set to throw out the back of the truck. Carson suggested the truck bed be overflowing with moving boxes, as opposed to a heap of junk like I had written it, so Smitty could safely pull our only silverware set out of the box in a closeup once it’s on the ground. This revelation came at almost the same time I added clarification in the Vincent scene as to how “Nana” died…so suddenly there was an invisible subplot surrounding MaryKate’s Nana’s untimely death due to COVID. MaryKate was ferrying boxes from her estate in the middle of the night when the box with the family’s last un-poached silverware set tumbled out in front of Smitty.
This let the porch scene do some more plot lifting than it did originally: MaryKate could be carrying that box of “Nana’s Booze” up the steps when she meets Smitty, and the truck door could drop open again to explain how this all happened to begin with. Why Nana’s Booze? Until these final revisions, “Charlie”/the roommate wasn’t seen again after he storms out of the antique shop, disgusted with Smitty’s wholesome determination to find the set’s owner. Since he was mainly fascinated with getting drunk in both of his scenes, Smitty meeting MaryKate as a result of completing his journey could be a way to satisfy Charlie’s arc after all—so at the end there, Smitty proudly hands him an expensive bottle of liquor, and everyone’s happy.
My biggest takeaway from writing Take a Little Time is that it’s much easier to tie scenes back around with each other, to get an entire story to interlock on itself, when the backbone at the very core of the story is established first. With anything I’d written prior to this, maybe I had an idea where I was going or what a given character needed to learn, but I’ve never leaned so hard into compiling theme, symbolism, and meaningful arcs before worrying about anything on a scene-by-scene level. Doing it this way was enthralling—when that core was solid, you could feel it. And once I felt it, everything built upon it was able to blossom and intertwine beautifully, and almost effortlessly. I would say I learned to do last second revisions sooner than the week before the shoot, but then they wouldn’t be last second revisions, would they? If it wasn’t those particular tweaks I made mere days before calling action, I’m sure it would’ve been something else. After a painful summer on lockdown, it just felt great to be making important decisions in the heat of the moment again. It took about 7 months to the day to go from that first draft, to this:
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