What did you do to pass the time when the pandemic first hit two years ago, when the entire world seemed to shut down and people were forced to quarantine?
Maybe you brought a puppy or kitten into your life. Perhaps you binge-watched one or two or 10 TV series.
Or perhaps you, like Chanceton Lindsey, at the time a junior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, went above and beyond to break out of your comfort zone.
A communication major with a focus in radio, TV and film, Lindsey spent his early pandemic time teaching himself to play different musical instruments by watching YouTube video tutorials.
He watched as many movies as he could, figuring out post-production and different special effects.
Most importantly, he mentally logged all of his pandemic achievements and turned his quarantine time into an idea for a screenwriting class.
“Time Off” is a 26-minute, music-focused film that tells the story of the fictional Dean Hawkins, who had recently left his job due to COVID-19. He decided to spend his time off investing in and learning new musical instruments.
“As a communication senior, we were tasked with either doing an internship or a directed project,” said Lindsey, who received a bachelor’s degree from UTC in May 2021. “I spoke to Professor (Angelique) Gibson, who was going to be my sponsor on either of them, and we talked about the idea of an internship. I told her I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I was on a set somewhere.
“I knew that I would hate myself if I graduated from college without having made a short film.”
Taking about a year from start to finish, Lindsey wrote the screenplay, was the lead actor and produced, directed and edited the final product. He initially presented his concept in a screenwriting class Gibson was teaching.
“By the end of that course, he said, ‘Professor Gibson, I’ve got an idea for a little short movie that I think I could do during quarantine. Can I send you a draft? Can we talk about it?’” Gibson recalled.
“We were in a quarantine period and there were so many things that could go wrong, but he was incredibly careful with how he ran his set, who he allowed in and how he was going to do safety, to where I said, ‘OK, you’ve got a good project.’”
Thanks to the pandemic, Gibson’s advising was done virtually, so she couldn’t give him any hands-on instruction.
“There are a lot of things he had to teach himself,” she said. “There were things we could barely cover with me teaching from a computer screen and not actually being over his shoulder in the lab saying, ‘This is how you do it.’”
For instance, when the whole process began, Lindsey didn’t know how to operate a camera or record audio. Let alone how to write a screenplay.
Lindsey took on the lead actor role to ensure there were no filming setbacks, saying there was a symbiotic relationship between his real-life pandemic persona and the movie’s main character.
He had never acted before.
“I knew that if I ever needed to just film one shot or one scene, I didn’t have to worry about calling my lead actor and making sure he or she could make it,” he said. “I could just sit down on my couch and set the camera up and accomplish it myself.”
Lindsey admitted it was weird seeing himself on camera, calling it “cringeworthy” at times.
“At one point, I was able to kind of desensitize myself to it and understand that this is a character that I’m looking at right now,” he said. “Disassociating myself from what I was editing is what kept me going through it and made it a lot easier to be OK with just letting myself out there and being ready to expose this type of footage to the world.”
At the end of the spring 2021 semester, Lindsey received an “A” for the capstone project. He could have taken the grade, graduated and moved on to his next chapter in life, but he wasn’t satisfied.
“I knew that it had a lot more potential that I wasn’t able to fully exhibit with the capstone,” Lindsey said. “I knew what I had sent in to receive my credit was a fraction of what it could be, and I didn’t want to let all of my hard work go to waste.”
So he went back to work, spending hundreds of hours to finish something “we could all be proud of and look back and say we did the best we could,” he said.
“To make something like Chance did takes a lot of dedication because he was pretty much a one-man band,” Gibson said. “When you are making movies, it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. So you really have to be very dedicated to getting something done.
“This is a really creative endeavor. It’s really good storytelling. Chance had a very good line for figuring out how to grab the audience and tell the story. He did an amazing job.”
Lindsey recently submitted “Time Off” to the Chattanooga Film Festival and a Toronto-based festival for first-time student filmmakers. He hasn’t heard back from either one.
“To be honest, I really didn’t have many ambitions for this short film. I saw it as more of just kind of an exercise in my video editing and writing skills,” Lindsey said.
“The reception not only changed the way I felt about the movie but also myself as an artist. Maybe I do have a shot at this, and it’s given me full motivation to just continue it and do my best. I know my next one is going to be better and the one after that is going to be even better.”