this is an open letter to Kayla, the 11-year-old who wrote Time to Pass, a short film i produced and directed. you can see it here.
it’s been over a year since we first watched the final version of Time to Pass, the short film you wrote which I produced and directed. today, I showed that film to my aunt’s fifth grade class, and I wanted to share with you their experience.
overall they liked it, and they really like the fact that someone who was only 11 years old (their age) had written the film. I think that encouraged them to pursue creative things.
but there was one little moment during my presentation today that made an impact, and I wanted to share it with you.
you know how “kids” are. there’s always that one little punk. he wants to be the center of attention. he’s the cool kid. he’s sarcastic, at least as much as an 11-year-old can be.
he didn’t act up too much during my presentation, but I did notice him. the Punk was nicely dressed, some kind of fancy product in his hair, and he was being a bit of a snot, but nothing too disruptive.
during the movie, I saw him sort of “mock laughing” at the funny parts. his buddy would always elbow him and laugh along, hoping he’d be seen as cool as the Punk. the Buddy had a cast on his arm, presumably from attempting some dare by the Punk, or maybe from over-elbowing for the Punk’s approval.
after about the third time I heard his fake laugh, I started getting a little irritated. I was sitting in the back of the room, just about ten feet from him. I could feel in my periphery every time he would turn and look to me. I wonder what reaction was he hoping for. was he trying to irritate me? was he hoping I wouldn’t notice? I pretended not to be either.
after another laugh (and another elbow), I saw who the little Punk was trying to get attention from. I don’t know her name, but she was just a few seats away and obviously thought he was hilarious. she would look at him and giggle conspiratorially. he was trying so hard for her attention, completely oblivious to the fact that he already had it. after seeing that, his behavior became less irritating, understandable, cute almost. so I kept watching him.
the whole class laughed when Mahn falls while doing his birthday dance. the fact that the rest of the class was genuinely enjoying the film seemed to confuse the Punk.
then Mahn talked about his grandma dying. Mrs. Doris talked about how Mahn’s grandma would want his grades to be good. I watched for the little Punk to roll his eyes, or make a funny noise to break the silence.
but he was quiet. watching.
Mahn finds Mrs. Doris on the floor. the ambulance. their final conversation. Mrs. Doris slips away with a peaceful gratitude. Mahn grows up a little.
and that’s when I heard a sound, a quick nasal inhale, a sniff. I looked to the source — the Punk.
the Buddy was so confused. I could see the Buddy’s thinking so clearly: ”wait… are you crying? you’re not crying are you? is anyone else seeing this?” the followers never understand the true motivations for the leader’s actions. the Punk’s eyes were straight ahead. after the film, he rustled through his book bag and stuff for a while, the kind of things I do when I don’t want people to see my watery eyes. he didn’t look at the girl, not at the Buddy, not at me. not at anyone. not for a while.
that little moment has affected me as much as any I’ve ever experienced with a film that I’ve worked on. compliments are nice, view counts and awards can be fun, but they’re not really my thing. one student asked a great question. she asked, “what’s the most successful film you’ve ever made?” I gave a general answer that you might expect, but I wanted to look the Punk dead in his little, red, glistening eyes and say, “this one.”
you did it, Kayla. you captured the power of cinema in this screenplay. this short story reached through the screen, reached through time, and touched a moment. I assume the little Punk will be back to being a little punk tomorrow, but something you showed him, something you said through your friends — Mahn and Mrs. Doris — affected this young man in a way that a guest speaker cannot, that teachers cannot, that his friends cannot, that his young infatuations cannot.
if you never write another film (which I think would be a tragedy for the world!), please know that Time to Pass touched someone somewhere deep in their heart today.
congratulations on having mastered the power of cinema, Kayla. I look forward to working with you again soon.