Drama, 107 minutes, color and black and white
From writer/director Wade Wofford comes a breathtakingly honest portrait of subjectivity and the human mind. Clarissa (Lauren Gleason) recently left behind her clothes, her apartment, and her job. Today, she lives as a homeless person on the streets of New York, supporting herself meal by meal by selling her photography from a blanket in Central Park. She meets Tobias (Ryan Shrime), a rebellious student, and an unlikely romance blossoms. When Clarissa’s older brother, Ralph (Clay Adams), begins to have concerns about Tobias’ intentions, the misunderstanding builds to a startling and dramatic climax.
Split into three distinct parts, Perception journeys through the same season of time from each character’s perspective. A moment, revisited from another point of view, takes new dimension, and the fundamental breach that separates one individual from the next is revealed.
Writer/Director Wade Wofford has studied multiple aspects of the dramatic medium for nearly twenty years. A native of an Atlanta suburb, Wofford studied Drama at the University of Georgia, then moved to LA at 21 to pursue a film career. There, he completed the two-year intensive program at the Meisner School of Acting and Los Angeles Film School’s intensive one-year film production program.
He shot several student shorts and parlayed his production knowledge into feature work, serving as a gaffer, scenic carpenter, and set dresser. He directed several stageplays, honing his skill of working with actors. He adapted his third stageplay into a screenplay, and relentlessly studied still photography to expand his knowledge of film as a physical medium.
In 2000, Wofford moved to New York City to continue his multi-faceted study of the medium. He worked with light in off-Broadway theatrical productions, continued his study of photography, and wrote another four screenplays. In 2004, he founded Dedalus Films out of Brooklyn.
Wofford bought enough equipment to furnish Dedalus with a small production studio and began filming. He shot Assailable, a short collaboration with three dancers from Paul Taylor Dance, in 2002. In 2005, he began pre-production on his fifth feature screenplay, Perception, which was written around locations and actors he had access to. It took four years to complete the film.
By day, nine months a year, he teaches high school English and Drama at an inner city school in Springfield. He has two scripts currently optioned, and is trying to raise another micro-budget for his next project (either The Answer or The Common Man, depending on his Producer’s tastes). He has recently completed his eighth feature script, and is beginning research on his ninth – a biographical work about the life of Mary Lyons. Also a poet, Wofford has a portfolio of over 2,500 pieces, many published.
Film Industry Questions
Who are your role models in the film industry?
I have an enormous amount of respect for directors who pride themselves on a diverse body of work, like Ang Lee and Marc Forster. They move from one genre to the next with such fluidity. They’ll do a comic book film followed by a homosexual cowboy tale followed by an Afghani novel adaptation or whimsical fantasy-tragedy. I also have an enormous amount of respect for people like Stephen Soderbergh, who make enormous-budget films really well one year, then use the profits to finance smaller, experimental works the next.
Who or what has influenced you as a filmmaker?
I’ve bounced around a lot. I lived in the south as a kid, then L.A. for a while, then New York City and now a small town in Massachusetts. I’ve lived in poverty, middle class, upper middle class – in predominantly-white neighborhoods, predominantly-Dominican neighborhoods where I was the only guy who couldn’t speak Spanish, and predominantly-black neighborhoods. This diversity of experience has really helped to remind me how small one person is, and how important culture is to the creation of a character.
What are your top three favorite films? Explain for one what makes it a favorite.
It’s impossible to answer such a question, because there’s movies that are favorites for reasons of quality, and movies that are favorites because you could watch them over and over again every day and never get sick of them. The latter’s a shorter list, so here’s three from there:
Home for the Holidays
V for Vendetta – My love of writing began in poetry. I also have a rebellious streak running up my core, and love stories that transport audiences to other worlds. So it only makes sense that I’d love a film about a rebellious poet set in a brilliantly-realized alternate reality. I also love Children of Men for similar reasons.
It has been said that there are only a limited number of original plot ideas. In the midst of that, what nuances make your film stand out from others in its genre?
Perception has a really unique structure, and each of its three parts has a distinct look and feel that is very intentional. Furthermore, we wanted to shoot a film that was truly authentic, so when a character’s homeless and on the street in the cold, she’s actually in the cold – not on some studio lot with computer-generated breath to make it appear cold. This lends a sincerity that I think is missing from a lot of other movies.
What obstacles did you come across as you entered the film industry? What motivates you to persevere?
Oh, have I “entered the film industry”? hehe. Time and reliable collaborators were my biggest obstacles, and both related back to a lack of money. Collaborators working on deferred pay while taking paying gigs to pay their bills burn out really fast, and many don’t persevere to the finish line. That makes things take a lot longer, and really deflates one’s spirit. Having no money was difficult, but I could handle it. Having people that were once committed to the project walk away was very frustrating.
I persevere because I know that I’ve learned volumes from making this one, and it’s incredibly given the resources we were working with. On future projects, even if moving up in baby steps, my own preparedness and not having to finance the project entirely myself through production will make life a lot easier. And, I just love film; I want to be a part of the conversation.
What inspired you to create this film?
I was sick of the non-stop querying, trying to convince others to read one of my scripts. My scripts don’t sum up well in a one-sentence logline (do anyone’s?), and I was getting nothing but rejections. All of my previous scripts were spec scripts – that I’d written with no concern for budget. Perception was the first time I considered the business of it; “How can I write something that I can actually shoot?” So I structured the story around actors and locations that I had access to, and structured the story around the theme of perception, which I’d been wanting to write about for some time.
What message do you hope your film conveys to an audience?
It’s easy to get caught up in yourself. We live every day in our own minds, and sometimes forget that the billions of other humans walking around nearby have completely separate subjective experiences that inform their attitudes as much as our experiences have informed our own. I hope people walk away from Perception considering this breach of experience, and taking that into consideration when interacting with others.
What are your aspirations for this film?
I’d be thrilled if Perception got DVD distribution from some small distributor, and maybe sold some television rights. Chances are, I’ll pay out every dime it makes in deferred pay to the cast and crew, and will never see a dime. It’s not about making the money. My hope with Perception was always that it would be a strong shoestring-budget film that people who took the time to watch it would have a great debate afterward about what happened and why. Beyond that, I just hope some Producer looking for the next project sees it and thinks to themselves, “Wow, if this guy can do all this with no crew and no budget, what could he do if he had something to work with?”
How difficult was it to stay under budget for this film? What is your favorite guerrilla filmmaking tactic?
The budget was “as little as possible.” My wife and I funded the entire thing, until late in the post-production process, when we got $1,000 each from Judson Thumm and Michael Barra; their money went straight to DVD mastering and festival fees.
My favorite guerilla tactic is to just show up and shoot. We did it in the financial district just blocks from ground zero and got harassed by a different police officer every other shot. We did it on the New York City subway and no one batted an eye. Sometimes the stars just align. No harm in trying…
How did you choose which festivals to enter?
There’s of course the basics: Sundance, Slamdance, Berlin, Toronto, etc. Beyond that, it’s been a pretty arbitrary process. I read Chris Gore’s book on doing the festival circuit, and used some of his profiles to admit. Random lists like “25 Film Festivals worth the price of admission” hold some weight, and word of mouth from other filmmakers I know who have actually gotten some attention.
What was the most challenging part of this film?
Shooting the art gallery scene. I had written this scene around a location I had access to (through a friend’s boyfriend), but by the time we entered production, I no longer had access to it. We spent the entire production hunting for something to replace it, but an art gallery’s not so easy to come by when you have no budget. Almost 18 months after the shoot wrapped, we finally acquired a gallery location – and shot there.
What was the craziest or most unbelievable moment that occurred while making your film?
Lauren Gleason, who plays Clarissa – a homeless character – was responsible for her own makeup. She showed up for a 5am shoot one morning at first light in the skankiest area we could find – on 14th Street in Manhattan way over on the west side – and had forgotten her makeup. The shoot had to go on, so the poor woman had to smear muck from the street on her face to make herself look dirty. Now that’s commitment to one’s craft…
What is one thing you wish you had on set?
A grip truck, for lighting our shots on the streets at night. They are underlit, and make me cringe every time I watch the film.
What type of junk food did you consume the most of on set?
Coffee with way too much sugar. There wasn’t much else… We didn’t really have a crafts service table on our 18th hour in the 12-degree cold in Central Park, if you know what I mean.
Which moment of your film reflects your “signature?”
I think the beginning of each section, with each character waking into their respective lives, is a nice signature, as is the first blue-to-black scene.
List four adjectives that describe your film.
Why did you choose film as an expression of artistic medium?
I dabbled in a lot of parts of the dramatic arts before I landed in writing and directing film. I started with the stage – first acting, then light design, then set design, then playwrighting. I then moved into film – still acting, art department, cinematography. I wrote poetry, shot a lot of still photography, tried writing a novel. I was pretty good at these things, but never felt I was really strong at any of them. I spent most of my 20s experimenting, trying to figure out what my niche was. I finally realized that my “niche” was cobbling all the various parts together, and my study of the many corners of the art form were necessary, so as a director, I can communicate with my collaborators – and as a writer, I can consider each perspective when creating a new story. In short, I just love putting it all together.
Is there any other artistic medium that you work with in your spare time?
Poetry. I have a portfolio of over 2,500 poems. I started writing poetry before I fell in love with the dramatic arts. I also really enjoy designing and building furniture.
What is your favorite piece of art?
My brother is a professional sculptor (Wofford Sculpture Studio), and his piece “Yen and Yang” takes my breath, mind and heart away – like I’ve just dropped the big hill on a roller coaster.
Did you ever consider another career besides filmmaking?
I have a dayjob as a teacher of Drama and English in Springfield. It pays my bills, and inspires me. Plus, there’s a non-stop train of voices coming through my room – experiences and scenarios that I can feed on when writing and directing.
What sparked your interest in becoming a filmmaker? Was there a specific moment/experience that encouraged your interest in this artistic field?
Not really. Just a general love for other worlds, seeing it through others’ points of view.
In what ways have your friends and family supported you?
The most enormous and the tiniest – from showing up for guerilla shoots in the NYC subway at 10pm on a Sunday night, to stopping by set with meals for ten people, to offering up their homes for a location, to listening to me ramble on and on about frustrations, brainstorm script ideas, and anything else. I never could have done it without so much love around me.
What advice can you give to aspiring filmmakers or artists?
Don’t wait for rich people to determine whether or not your art is worth making. Build a community and make it happen. You’ll lose some sleep for sure, but ultimately you’ll go to bed respecting yourself.
If you had an unlimited budget and could shoot anywhere, what would your dream project be?
I’ve recently written a film called Plus 50 – set fifty years into an imaginary, yet realistic (heavily-researched) future – when many of today’s hotly-debated environmental problems have come home to roost. I’m a staunch environmentalist, and wanted to address the cultural norm that I see more and more every year: “This won’t be a problem in our lifetime; let future generations deal with it.” Plus 50 paints a portrait of what our future might look like in our lifetime, without an emphasis on the technology and gadgetry of that future, but on the daily human reality of how things might be different. It would require $20 million, I’m guessing, and is written to shoot in New York, Colorado, Atlanta, China and Mali. If I could get it into the hands of a George Clooney or Leonardo DiCapprio, it would win someone an Oscar for sure, and hopefully build awareness via mainstream audiences.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hopefully working on my third feature project, with a proper budget that doesn’t necessitate deferred pay contracts.