Grayson Duvall Wittenbarger
Grayson Duvall Wittenbarger’s “The Man Who Took Time” took the laurel for best drama short film at the 2020 LA Live Film Festival. This month, writer, director and star of the award winning film tells us about his influences and what he loves about filmmaking.
Q. How did you “find” the story for "The Man Who Took Time"? What was your inspiration?
In a way, I kind of found the story through necessity. I couldn’t get funding for a previous project so I decided to write a script that mostly took place in one location. The first draft I wrote was in midsummer of 2019. July, I think. Then I used things that were happening to me in my life at the time. The spark was my grandfather, who was battling cancer, and my own financial woes.
Q. The film begins with your character and his struggles to get an acting job. Obviously coming to LA from Kentucky having studied acting, you must have experienced life as an actor in LA. How autobiographical would you say the film is?
Super autobiographical. Many of the things, if not all of the things, Jesse writes in his journal are things that I’ve thought in my own life.
Q. The conversation between Jesse and Papa really hones in on the theme of patience. What message were you hoping to convey through “The Man Who Took Time”? What other themes were you keen to express through the film?
Patience, certainly. But also letting go. Letting go of ego. Letting go of control. It’s like that great line from Jurassic Park when Laura Dern tells Richard Attenborough “You never had control. That’s the illusion.” You can’t steer life. You can’t change your past. Just be, ya know?
Q. Absolutely! In this industry, people are noticed because of their successes, but we create them on the back of our failures and that message also oozes from the film. What failures would you say you have been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?
Well, that kinda goes back to the other question about the inspiration. I used to look at things as failures; still do, often. I’m working on that. But when things don’t go as planned, like not getting funding, it’s not a failure, it’s a fork in the road. It’s not the path you thought you were gonna take, but you should still keep moving forward.
Q. This film required you to act and direct? How did you find that part of the process?
At times stressful. But when you have a DP like Tristan Starr, someone who has a good eye for movie-making, and you ask him “Did we get it?” and he says “Yeah.” then we got it. Tristan and I were very much on the same page going into the project, and we like a lot of the same filmmakers.
Q. There are obviously some very beautiful scenes in the movie (thinking about the paper planes scene in particular). Is the movie how you planned it out? Did you plan, storyboard or draw out how you saw the scenes developing visually?
The final product is pretty darn close. Tristan and I sat down and talked through most of the big sequences. I actually sketched out, poorly, by the way, the whole dream sequence as well. I love movies that use framing to their advantage. Pictures, ya know? I love a well framed picture. But sometimes shots were collaborative. I’d have an initial idea, then Luke would say “what if we did this” and Tristan would say “Yeah, and…” So it would just build, and build, and build.
Q. What important lessons did you learn throughout the process of making “The Man Who Took Time”?
Trust that everyone else there wants it to be good, too.
Q. What was it like working with Orange Robot?
The process with them was effortless. My friend John hooked me up with Luke and Tara after I told him I was looking for a sound person for my next short. After I’d talked to them about the project, they said it sounded like something Orange Robot would like to be involved with. From that point on whenever I asked for anything, like a door or a patio set for set dec or a drone shot in the desert, their answer was always, “How do we get it done.”
We were fortunate enough to win BEST DRAMA at LA LIVE Film Festival, but because of Covid, we didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate together. That was a bummer. But hopefully it’s not the last time I work with this team and we can celebrate future projects.
Q. What makes a film great for you?
I always like movies where distinct directing choices are being made and they’re executed throughout. This is how people talk in my world, this is how they dress, these are the prominent environmental colors. And the choices aren’t distracting. Like watching a comic book on screen. Everything is fully realized and seamless.