When a young journalist accidentally reports a fake story, he must go along with the lie to further grow his career. This is Jake Williams’ directorial debut Before We Break.
“Write it as if I were missing and then swap my name out for the dogs. That should fix your motivation.”
These words of advice are given to Wyatt Barnes, played by director Jake Williams, by his girlfriend Emily Dunkin early in this 40-minute short film. Wyatt is a young kid straight out of college who longs to be a journalist. He begins work at a news station with huge dreams and aspirations to become the next Woodward or Bernstein, or even both. Instead, 6 months into his career, he is still stuck on the bottom rung of the ladder working as a runner, messenger, and assistant where his days consist of the same mundane tasks repeated over and over again; he gets coffee for colleagues who don’t know his name, changes the toilet paper in the restrooms, and eats in the corridor instead of the staff room.
One day, Wyatt sees his chance to get a journalist job by writing a story that will put him on the map. Unfortunately, the only story he has is a pretty lame and boring one about a lost poodle. Enter Emily, Wyatt’s girlfriend, who offers him her words of encouragement. Taking them on board, Wyatt writes an amazing piece that is full of emotion and angst, then emails it to his editor, who loves it so much that she offers him a new writing job with a huge salary. The only problem is, Wyatt has kept his girlfriend at the centre of the story as a missing person instead of a missing dog, and what follows is a world of pain and trouble for everyone involved.
As a director, writer and lead actor Jake Williams has given himself a huge mountain to climb in his first film and there is a mixed bag of results. As an actor, Williams is great, making Wyatt’s career seem believable by being utterly credible as a young intern frantically trying to find his big break. He shows his desperation so well that we understand why he would do anything to try and get it, and he manages to show the character development from lackey to lead anchor effectively. As a director, Williams shows some lovely flourishes with a couple of cuts and edits that show real progression. There are some lovely long shots of Wyatt wandering through corridors with colleagues that give us a West Wing walking-and-talking type feel to proceedings. He also gives us an effective reverse zoom shot towards the end.
His best directorial work comes during the times Wyatt’s integrity is questioned, managing to create some real tension using moody lighting and blackout during scenes when the police interview him. There are also some nice transitions as Wyatt’s career begins to take off and he becomes more ego driven and selfish.
It’s as a writer though where he stumbles slightly; the premise itself is clever and interesting but the script relies on a lot of questionable behaviour from characters. Katie Hartel as Emily has a thankless role in which she far too easily goes along with Wyatts’ scheme; her boyfriend’s job is great and salary excessive, but it isn’t worth causing friends and family so much grief. There is also a scene where Wyatt takes a phone call from Emily’s mum and again his script relies on a mother not being overly concerned about her daughter being missing and possibly even dead. However, William’s writing does create a delicious villain in Newsroom boss Helen Mathews, played by Kyle Larsen with a wicked grin, who is more concerned with her ratings than anyone’s well-being.
Before We Break is an unbelievable-yet-enjoyable piece of work that, with a bit more substance, could have been very special. It does, however, remain a bright and breezy debut film that shows Jake Williams to have some considerable promise.