New Indie Releases: Making Time – A Time-Travel Romantic Dramedy Shot In Two Days

1960's The Little Shop of Horrors is best known as the film that Roger Corman shot over a single weekend just to prove that he could do it, for a bet (or so the Hollywood legend goes). It's not a very good film, but Corman still won the bet, and proved that he could indeed shoot a feature in just two days. Of course, it surely helped that he was a well-established producer with his own studio. Detroit-based indie filmmaker Grant Pichla does not have an entire studio or Corman-level resources at his disposal, which makes it all the more impressive that he set a very similar restriction for himself, and not only pulled it off, but made a much better and much more ambitious film. Pichla set for himself the challenge of shooting a feature-length film over the course of just two days; a challenging schedule for any filmmaker, and for a low-budget indie production, a pretty stunningly ambitious feat. In this case, the two days were months apart, before and after a total remodel of his house: a life-event-as-production-design choice that he could use to denote past and present in a time-travel story. I heard about Pichla's bold gamble (in the interest of full disclosure) through a friend and television-production colleague who was on the film's crew, and was fascinated; I couldn't wait to see if they could actually pull it off. To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical. I expected it to be a really interesting experiment in production, but I'm not sure I expected such a tight production window for an indie feature to necessarily result in a good film. After a preview screening that blew my uncertain expectations out of the water and legitimately left me pretty emotional, I can honestly say that Making Time is a VERY good film. And not just a very good film for having been shot in just two days; a very good film by any standards, and an extremely impressive accomplishment for an indie feature.

Thirtysomething physicist Nick (Mason Heidger, who had a small role in Batman v Superman) has spent his entire career obsessively pursuing his dream of inventing a time machine, at the expense of everything else in his life. Now, seven years after his first experiments, his wife Jess (Tori Titmas) is divorcing him, he has alienated his few remaining friends, his career and finances are in shambles... but the machine actually works. To prove its success to potential government investors, he embarks on a test flight which takes him seven years back in time – and he finds himself reliving the night he proposed to Jess at a party, which was also attended by his best friend (Jordan Kantola) who was killed in a car crash soon after. Which gives him a choice: to preserve the integrity of the timeline and return to the present a successful inventor with a shell of his former life, or to try and fix his regrets of the past seven years, and risk unknown consequences for meddling too much with history. The premise plays out as equal parts character-driven time-travel sci-fi and romantic dramedy, exploring in both funny and heavy ways the idea of reliving the better, less-complicated days of a relationship, and confronting what went wrong since. While it doesn't venture into the same surreal stylistic territory, narratively it feels a bit like if the lo-fi but very smartly-written sci-fi of Primer and the bittersweet romantic what-ifs of Eternal Sunshine had a kid.

Making Time is able to succeed as well as it does with the tight restriction of its shooting schedule because Pichla really put in the work in the writing and pre-production phases, and it shows. As both a love story and a science fiction story, the script is very well-written. The relationship between Nick and Jess, and the portrayal of their young love as it first starts hitting trouble seven years ago, and has faded mostly into resentment in the present, is captured with genuine emotional sincerity that feels very truthful and written from experience; it probably will hit close to home for anyone whose relationships have gone through hard times. And the time-travel plot is very well-thought-out, intelligently-handled, and tight in its internal logic. Pichla clearly defines and establishes the rules by which time-travel works in this narrative universe, and the script sticks to those rules, without excessively bending them for the sake of plot contrivance. While the past-and-present love story is the soul of the film, it doesn't treat time-travel as a narrative means to an end; it treats it as serious business, and gives the rules of how it works just as much weight as Nick, and the fellow scientist who makes the journey with him (Steve Berglund), do.

Between the temporal stakes of the film's laws of time-travel, and the genuine emotional stakes of its central love story – not to mention the other subplots involving regrets from the past, like Nick finding himself at a party with his best friend who's been dead for seven years – Making Time has a lot going on to pull viewers in and get them invested. The script also walks the line of dramedy very well. It is sincerely emotional in its serious moments, quite funny in its lighter moments (mainly dealing with how awkward it would be to have to convincingly act like your seven-years-ago mid-twentysomething self), and it balances the two in its whimsical-but-not-silly tone in a way that allows both to work. It must be said that the film starts a bit too silly, with an opening-montage music cue that feels rather too on-the-nose, and some comic-relief side-characters who come on a little strong. But as Nick and Jess start to develop as characters, and the film's emotional core starts to form, the film soon hits its stride, and the tone strikes its very good drama-to-comedy balance, which it then holds consistently throughout.

The story is a good fit for its self-imposed make-a-film-in-two-days challenge for a couple reasons. For starters, almost the entire film is set in one location: Nick's house, seven years ago at the party, and in the present day. Also, the bulk of the film – the central chunk set in the past – takes place almost in real time, over the course of one evening. Pichla – also the cinematographer – shoots the film with a substantial amount of long steadicam shots, following the characters around the house as the evening goes on, and while this undoubtedly served the practical function of minimizing the number of camera setups required, it also gives the film a kinetic feel that works very well. For the most part, this is quite a well-shot movie, and the director/cinematographer has a good eye for shot composition, and a strong talent for choreographing his steadicam sequences. Occasionally there are some handheld or steadicam shots that are a bit rough around the edges, but no more than one would usually expect to find in a low-budget indie like this. And shooting the film before and after a house remodel to capture the passage of seven years was an inspired choice.

The acting is mostly quite strong, though if there is any place where the film's low-budget indie nature shows itself, it is here, in a somewhat uneven supporting cast. None of the actors in the movie are bad by any means, but among the supporting players some are certainly better than others, with a bit of over-the-top acting to be found in the ensemble. But that's usually the case with truly indie productions, so that's easily forgiven, especially since on the whole the actors here are quite good. The three main leads are very good. As the government scientist who accompanies Nick on his trip back in time – definitely something of a comic-relief character – Steve Berglund is very funny and eccentric, going just over-the-top enough without it being too far, and totally selling his vocabulary of physics-themed dad-joke one-liners. As Jess, Tori Titmas displays a lot of range as she plays the character at either end of a once-really-good relationship that went bad despite her best efforts. But Mason Heidger is certainly the one who most impresses as Nick. He delivers a VERY good performance, with strong comic timing and genuine gravitas, capturing the rollercoaster of emotions that Nick's journey through past happiness and regret takes him on. Crucially, he makes sure that Nick is always an understandably human, relatably fallible, mostly-sympathetic lead, even when his oblivious and self-centered behavior shows what a jerk he's been to Jess over the last seven years. If the character was played too abrasively, the movie would lose the audience's sympathy, but Heidger's performance keeps us rooting for him, and convinces us that he deserves the shot at a second chance that time-travel gives him.

Making Time is a very impressive indie feature. If Grant Pichla can make a film this good with a very low budget in just two shooting days, I would love to see what he can do with greater resources. He clearly has a lot of potential to go places as a filmmaker. While you can see some flaws stemming from the low-budget and time-crunched production, they are few, and overall this is an unusually good film for a truly-indie, made-in-Michigan production like this. As a time-travel film it is very smartly-written, as a romance it is sweet, thoughtful, and emotionally sincere, and it balances its comedy and drama aspects admirably well. This is an indie that deserves to get some attention. It was doing pretty well on the independent festival circuit, with both leads picking up some awards, but now with festivals over for the foreseeable future due to COVID, the film has instead found a home on Amazon Prime streaming, where it can currently be rented or purchased digitally. If you're looking for a good film to watch during these weird times that has a lot of heart, and puts a unique twist on both sci-fi and romance, I wholeheartedly recommend it.


- Christopher S. Jordan

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