Shelby Township DIY project inspires film 'Making Time'

Kurt Anthony Krug
Special to The Detroit News

Michigan-based filmmaker Grant Pichla condensed 40 days of shooting his independent movie, “Making Time,” into two days – albeit with seven months in between.

“My wife (Lyndsay) and I were in the middle of our DIY house renovation. We were about to start our main floor, which included our kitchen, our living room and our dining room. I was looking at it and thought, ‘This entire floor would never look the same again. Wouldn’t it be interesting if you could capitalize on that production value of an entire switch of what it looked like now to what it’s going to look like seven months from now?’ That was, honestly, the genesis of the entire plot,” explained two-time Central Michigan University alumnus Pichla, 30.

Inspired by 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” 1985’s “Back to the Future,” and 2000’s “The Family Man,” Pichla wrote, produced, and directed “Making Time,” which was filmed at his Shelby Township home. It is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

In “Making Time,” absentminded scientist Nick (West Branch native Mason Heidger, who had a role in 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”) is on the verge of creating a time machine after years of work. However, his dedication to his work has cost him so much. He’s alienated family and friends, he’s in financial trouble, his house is a mess, and his wife Jess (Tori Titmas) wants a divorce.

In “Making Time,” absentminded scientist Nick (played by West Branch native Mason Heidger) is on the verge of creating a time machine after years of work.

That night, the government knocks on Nick’s door, demanding to see his time machine. Although Nick’s unsure if it’ll work, he travels from 2019 to 2012. There, Nick captures his past self and most repeat the events of the evening, which is the night of his engagement party, where he’s surrounded by the friends he’s alienated and must propose to Jess.

The rules are simple: Do not alter history and return to the present ASAP. However, following those rules is anything but simple.

“When it came to actually shooting the film, you’ll see in the movie at the midway point when he arrives in the past, that was everything we shot on Day 1,” said Pichla. “Technically, our house renovation was already underway. That’s why there’s things like boxes of kitchen cabinets laid out and some of the floor’s still wide open.”

Day 2 of filming commenced seven months later when the renovation was finished. Pichla shot the scenes that occurred in the present on Day 2. Filming occurred over the course of 16 hours and 15 hours on both days, respectively.

“After Day 1, I realized just how big of a blitz it is to shoot 35 scenes in day,” said Pichla. “I told our production manager on Day 2, ‘Okay, we gave everything 15 minutes, but I need you to lie to me starting now. Every scene, cut the time in half. So if it’s 15 minutes, give it seven minutes... That way, we never rest on our laurels and get too comfortable when we go back into a normal shooting mode.’ That really helped. On Day 2, things went so smoothly, we walked away like this was something we could easily do again. A movie in two days is not as bad as it would seem.”

He explained why he decided to cram 40 days into two. When shooting an independent film outside of the Hollywood system, not only is money tight, but people’s time is tighter. It’s more valuable than money and harder to come by, according to Pichla.

"Making Time" was filmed in two days at producer/director Grant Pichla's Shelby Township home.

“For me, shooting it in two days wasn’t just for fun or for the challenge, it was the only way the film could be made within everyone’s schedules and my own schedule,” he said. “We had to shoot it as quickly as possible. I have a full-time job (media arts manager for Ziebart International in Troy). My wife has a full-time job (dental hygienist). We were in the middle of renovating our house. It just came down to I don’t have the time in my life to do a 40-day shoot. If I had any chance of making this at all, it had to be done in the most efficient way possible. That ultimately came down to one day to do all the past and one day to do all the present.”

It was a team effort one everyone’s part – the cast and the crew, even local businesses who donated food – in order to pull this off, noted Pichla.

“We had three camera operators, me being the primary one,” said Pichla. “We had a person monitoring sound, so every actor was always wearing a (microphone) at all times. We just set some really high bars in terms of time. We’d look at the amount of scenes required for the day and it would just boil down to 15 minutes/scene, which means 2-3 takes if you’re moving at a good pace. That means you’ll sacrifice certain things like lighting, which can’t always be perfect… Sometimes blocking and where the actors are gonna be – that’s almost created on the fly and adjusted on the fly. Having the background and enough years of shooting and editing to know that if someone misses a shot, we have two other cameras running to patch that hole when we get to the editing bay. When an actor flubs a line, that’s completely okay – we can either go with it or halt and pick up right where we left off.”

It was also a matter of trust.

“As a director, you’re used to being able to look at every camera angle and check the lighting and give notes and as much feedback as possible to try and create the best thing as possible,” said Pichla. “In this case, it was trust in my actors, trust in my fellow cinematographers. Everyone told me later that it was quite liberating for the cast and crew to know they could trust their gut and play honestly. I told them as long as the audience can read that you’re playing it honestly… (if you) disappear into the role, I don’t care if you flub a line or something, the heart of it should come through.”

“Making Time” – financed through crowdfunding – won several awards, including official selections of the Central Michigan International Film Festival, the International New York Film Festival, and the Royal Starr Film Festival. Heidger won several awards, including two L.A. Actors Awards for “Best Performance of the Year” and “Best Performance of Fest.” Heidger and Titmas won the L.A. Actors Award for “Best Duo of the Year.” Titmas also won the L.A. Actors Award for “Best Supporting Actress.”

Picha stated Heidger was the hardest-working actor he ever worked with and he carried the film. Heidger memorized 61 pages of script for Day 1 and 50 pages of script for Day 2.

“When (Grant) presented me with an idea to film an entire feature film in two days, I had to try it out,” said Heidger. “It was going to be a lot of work but if I can pull this off, then I can do anything.”

“For professional actors to walk in and just handle that amount of dialogue, that amount of pressure, on-the-fly blocking – it’s a testament to just how good he was and how good his fellow cast members were,” said Pichla. “Working with Mason is a dream. Not only he is incredibly gifted as actor, he has a similar drive as myself. As much as I was directing and leading the team, he was a direct reflection and led by example.”

'Making Time'

Streaming on Amazon Prime