Student adapts, leads team as it completes film in the midst of a pandemic
When Jake Jurich began his film-video studies at Penn State in 2017, he knew he wanted to graduate with a “big film to [his] name.”
He couldn’t have anticipated a global pandemic two years ahead would rear its head into his film’s production plans.
“We had a cast, we had equipment, we had locations,” Jurich said. “We had everything kind of lined up [before spring break]. And then COVID hit.”
However, with one full semester left before his spring 2021 graduation, Jurich and his team are about to release the film titled “Take a Little Time.”
After the project’s initial mid-March filming dates were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jurich and his peers took a break from the film. Come July, though, they began to regroup — this time, having a slightly better idea about what was feasible, production-wise, during the fall semester.
From script changes, to implementing cast and crew COVID-19 protocols, to production time crunches and more, Jurich said he’s proud of how his team adapted. He’s also proud of the film, which will be released in early January and available on Jurich’s website.
“The film that I'm going to end up coming out with ... is like night and day [compared] to the film I would have happily gone and shot [this spring]. I think the [circumstances surrounding] COVID definitely brought a lot more out of my film that I would have maybe not even been aware [of] otherwise.”Jake Jurich
“The film that I'm going to end up coming out with ... is like night and day [compared] to the film I would have happily gone and shot [this spring],” Jurich said. “I think the [circumstances surrounding] COVID definitely brought a lot more out of my film that I would have maybe not even been aware [of] otherwise.”
“Take a Little Time” focuses on Smitty, a college student and dishwasher at a pizza joint (a detail Jurich claims is based on his own life at one point) who comes across an expensive set of antique silverware one day near his place of work. From there, the film follows Smitty and the internal conflict he faces in deciding whether he should sell the set for profit, or find the owner somehow and return the valuable collection.
Before the project’s original filming dates were postponed, Jurich was only planning to create the film, which will run at roughly 15 minutes, as a personal project outside of class, on his own time.
As the semester continued, post-spring break — with it looking less and less likely the rest of the semester would finish in person — Jurich said he was still passionate about the project, but felt the window to complete it was closing.
“At first, it was pretty devastating. As a person just waking up on Earth in the month of March 2020, it felt like every day was worse, you know?” Jurich said. “Obviously, there was a lot going on completely outside of ‘whether Jake got to make his film or not,’ but it was something on my mind.”
Eventually, instead of trying to make “Take a Little Time” work in his free time last spring, he decided to push the project to fall, thinking it might be better suited as his senior film — an academic project he would create for an advanced narrative production class taught by Maura Shea, an associate teaching professor and associate head of the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies.
“Starting around July 2020, there was a light at the end of the tunnel,” Jurich said. “We didn't know what the semester was going to be like, but there was a hope that we might actually get to make [this] film in some form of what [it] could be in the fall.”
From there, the team continued planning and re-planning certain aspects to the film as needed, including props, locations, moving locations and sets, equipment, test shots and more.
The most vital step for Jurich became ensuring the set was a healthy and safe space for the cast and crew, given that the pandemic showed no signs of slowing down. Jurich made sure everyone on set got tested days before shooting, quarantined as necessary, wore masks on set and was conscientious about where they were going and who they came in contact with leading up to filming.
One member of the crew happened to test positive before filming. Luckily, the individual had not yet come in contact with anyone else involved in the film, and was instructed by Jurich to stay home and quarantine.
Further, Jurich purposely condensed the timeline for shooting into five straight days — as opposed to a few consecutive weekends — in order to complete the in-person group work as quickly and safely as possible.
“Everything really had to be ready to go for the whole film by the first day we shot,” Jurich said. “I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going into something and having everyone get tested, and making it such a big undertaking if I didn’t plan it out extensively and exhaustively, because otherwise, there was a high chance that it would all flop. It was an insane month of October, and somehow it all went perfectly.”
As Jurich continued to watch the pandemic unfold, and observe how the United States is handling it, he said he felt compelled to re-work the script in hopes of reflecting what he thinks people should value in these trying times.
He thinks the edits have helped strengthen some of the film’s points in becoming “a little clearer, or more obvious.”
“I don't want to sound like that filmmaker, but [the film is] a reflection on society and what we place our priorities on,” Jurich said. “In a way the changes add an appropriate commentary for the time. Hopefully, it has something to say."