Gavin wakes to a flirtatious encounter with his wife, Jessica. He goes to work at the University of Georgia, where he teaches poetry in the Creative Writing wing of the English Department.
Harry – Gavin’s younger brother – works on his dissertation for his PhD in Literature. Alex, a childhood friend of Gavin and Harry, works his usual twelve-hour day in Hartford, CT, then comes home to his large house and distant wife in Longmeadow, MA.
Gavin’s wife dies suddenly in a car accident. Six months pass; he can’t write a word, and has a violent altercation with a student that lands his job in jeopardy.
Harry, Alex, and three other friends from Gavin’s past decide to take Gavin into the woods, on a sixty-mile leg of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont that he wanted to hike in his youth. He once felt at peace in the wilderness, and his friends hope that backpacking through this calm will help him return to balance.
The men set off on the journey. Being in such close proximity, personalities clash. These men, after all, have only one thing in common: their friendship to Gavin. Harry and Gavin are seasoned hikers, but many of the men have never even been camping.
As the six men get deeper and deeper into the forest, they find that they are all facing their own monsters in life. And just as one must shed their weight in hiking a long distance, the men find their inner turmoil bubbling to the surface – to be processed within the group.
The Answer is a tribute to fraternity in the modern world that tips its hat to the beautiful and often overlooked bond between men.
Inspiration / Director's Statement
In 2009, Writer/Director/Producer Wade Wofford wrapped production of his first micro-budget feature film, Perception. He had written it to shoot in New York City using “locations and actors he had access to.” The shoot forced him to re-define “access,” and the project forced him to take a hard look at what “produce-able” even means for the micro-budget filmmaker. Wofford decided his next shoot would have a small ensemble cast of meaty roles so there were less schedules to manage, and to guarantee that every actor was equally excited by his/her role.
Perception also had over 60 locations, including a crowded restaurant scene and an art gallery – and was filmed in New York City, where the friendly “Hey man, mind if we shoot on your property?” approach fell largely on deaf ears. One thing Wofford had felt confident about, however, was the choice to shoot the majority of the film outdoors, to avoid time-intensive/costly light setups. He decided his next project would do the same.
It was during this time that Wofford went to a party. He was surrounded by men who liked sports and drank stout beer, who looked blankly at him when he spoke of the genius of Ang Lee’s latest venture. Later, when the sexes co-mingled, the subject of movies came up. One couple had gone to a movie the night before, and the wife had won the usual gender battle of “this-or-that.” The husband had been convinced to see something he never in a million years would have seen with his male friends, a film the majority of American culture might label a “chick flick.” The husband spoke openly that he’d really liked the movie, that it “wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” and conversation moved into the men speaking about several “chick flicks” they had seen over the years that were actually quite good. Several spoke with fondness of the first Sex & The Citymovie; others confessed at having cried in The Notebook, and others still quoted Julia Roberts’ lines from Pretty Woman verbatim.
Wofford left the party, delighted, yet stuck on the social implications of the “chick flick” label. He found himself asking the question: “What exactly makes a film a ‘chick flick’?” Was it the presence of a predominantly female cast? No, because most chick flicks have male characters – oftentimes as 50% of their emotional centers. Was it just the fact that those films’ plots relate largely to human relationships, and do not focus on more action-driven story development? Why does our culture have no “dick flicks”? Sure, there’s the suite of summer action films, which the film industry heavily engineers toward male audiences – but they are given no social title as offensive or dismissive as “chick flick.”
“What would a male equivalent of a chick flick look like?,” Wofford found himself asking. He found himself thinking about the numerous male friendships he’d had during the many stages of his lifetime, and how meaningful each of those relationships had been to him. He also found himself turning to the canon of modern film, looking for representations of these deep male relationships. He found very few: Braveheart and Black Hawk Down, but those are films rooted in violence; the hysterical City Slickers or Superbad or I Love You, Man, but those are films that make light of male friendship by rooting it in comedy; 2003’s thought-provoking The Barbarian Invasions, but that was a foreign film that few U.S. citizens saw; in American Drama, there was the 1997 favorite Good Will Hunting, but while Will had close friends in the film, all they did was drink beer, and the heart of the film was a romantic one. In his entire library of over 600 films, Wofford found only one American drama about male friendship: Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society – which is nearly 25 years old!
Where were the recognizable men Wofford had come to know in his own life? Not men cracking witty one-liners in outrageous situations, and not men who bond over war or the carrying of weapons, and not men from other cultures…but the 150 million modern American men who walk our streets, live next door, and raise our children? Wofford took on to write a film about these men, and his personal experiences sharing with these men. He named each of the ensemble after several of his own close friends, and their closest friends. He based several of the characters’ voices on men he knew or on male actors he had delighted in working with in the past. He set the film in the woods, where the London-esque Call of the Wild seems to rumble in every man. The Answer was born…
Cast and Crew
Perception was shot in a very unconventional manner, especially for its time:
- The entire cast & crew of the film worked for free.
- Rather than shooting in uninterrupted succession, Perception was filmed part-time over the course of nearly four months - so the change of seasons could be an character in the film, and so its cast & crew could maintain their dayjobs.
- Whereas even the lowest-budget independent films have dozens of crew, Perception often shot with a crew of only three or four.
- The following production notes provide a glimpse of the struggle to make a truly independent film.
Concept & Script
In the fall of 2005, writer/director Wade Wofford was gearing up to begin his fifth feature-length screenplay. He had recently completed production of his production company's (Dedalus Films) first work, a short entitled Assailable. Nearing thirty and frustrated by the rat-race of trying to get screenplays into the hands of producers and agents, Wofford decided to produce his next script himself. To make this possible on his limited resources, he structured Perception around locations and a cast he had access to.
The idea for a script based on the breach of human perception had always fascinated Wofford. He had formed a theory that there are three primary "modes" of perception: aesthetic, social, intellectual - and decided the story would be best split into three distinct pieces, with each character representing one of the modes. The characters immediately revealed themselves: an artist (aesthetic), a businessman (social), and a student/thinker (intellectual). Conflict was immediately birthed, as history dictates that the artist is at odds with the businessman, and the thinker is at odds with the entire world.
Being set against the backdrop of New York City automatically gave the story texture, and Wofford wanted the film to be hyper-realistic. He scripted the majority of the story to take place during winter, when equipment rentals and crew would be less expensive - and decided that the brutality of winter would be an actual character in the story.
In order to afford the project, Wofford had to hold down a full-time job during the shoot, so he would need to shoot most of the film on nights and weekends. He used this to his advantage as well, deciding that rather than battle the change of seasons, the story would span a similar period of time - winter's transition into spring.
Wofford's experience as a gaffer and light designer had taught him that indoor shoots require complex light setups, and lighting can stretch out a production. Therefore, he wanted most of the action of the film to take place outdoors. "Who spends a lot of time outdoors in New York City in the winter?" The answer was a simple one - and the principle character was decided to lead a homeless life, which enriched the story further, and added great complexity to the artist's struggle.
Even more of the characters' personalities and lifestyles within the story were born from similar logistical/budgetary necessity. Acquiring locations within New York City on a shoestring budget is no simple task. "A friend manages this restaurant on Chelsea Piers," Wofford reasoned, "so there's a key location. And another friend's parents own this great apartment overlooking central park, so there's another location." Tobias became the struggling thinker waiting tables for a living, and Ralph found a home overlooking Central Park - one that suited a successful real estate salesman.
Once Wofford had the outline, the script was finished in less than a month, then workshopped over the next four months while working on pre-production. It was during these workshops that Wofford found Lauren Gleason, an actress who attended his screenwriting workshop. Her cold reading of Clarissa was gutteral and complex.
Robert DiScalfani was the next to sign on. An old acquaintance of Wofford's and a talented still photographer, he loved the script and signed on immediately to direct photography. Robert's colleague within the world of photography then introduced John Loughlin to the project, whose care-free charisma as our only gaffer helped maintain the family vibe Wofford was striving to create.
Wesley Wofford, Wade's elder brother, was a shoe-in for make-up effects from the very start. As a matter of fact, were it not for access to Wesley's abilities, the script likely wouldn't have taken the course of climax that it does.
Wofford acquired all of the 90+ locations himself, with the help of his wife and Executive Producer, Catarina Costa - whose roles were numerous.
One of the greatest challenges of the shoot was acquiring an art gallery for the scene where Tobias and Clarissa meet. At the time of authoring, Wofford had access to a gallery through an acquaintance's boyfriend - but the relationship ended shortly after production started and the bridge was burnt. It took the film nearly a year after principle photography wrapped to locate the location and finally shoot the gallery scenes.
Perception shot its first frame at first light (before work) on February 15th, 2006 - on the 21st floor of an apartment overlooking Central Park. When viewing the few shots captured that day, one would never know that only 3 people were present... It was a humble beginning that was representative of the entire shoot.
The film's first full day began on a desolate street in Soho a week later. It was twelve degrees and windy. When the cast and crew packed into a tiny Honda Civic to drive to the next location, shudders and calls for hot coffee were heard by all. Such sentiments would be common throughout the entire shoot, which some days shot for 14 solid hours in the freezing cold with no trailers to warm up in, and no bathrooms within a 15 minutes of walking.
The entire cast and crew worked for free, with the exception of production sound recordists. Ironically, the paid crew created more problems during production than any of the other collaborators. The production went through three recordists in the course of the shoot before finally finding Dan Izen - whose passion for sound and eagerness to laugh became an asset to the film.
The final day of shooting was also eventful. Clarissa and Ralph's fight in the streets of Manhattan was written to take place in the pouring rain. It floated on the schedule from February to May - to be scheduled on short notice during a storm, when cast & crew could be assembled. Through the fifteen weeks of scattered shoot dates, the opportunity never presented itself. In late May, a torrential storm hit, and the scene was finally shot, with a crew of three (sound, director/camera, umbrella-holder Executive Producer). Cheers to Lauren Gleason for surviving hours in the soaking wet cold with no place to warm up!
Editing began while still in production. Eight months after principle photography wrapped, our first editor vanished. Wofford promptly replaced her with a new editor, who then started over from scratch.
This proved to be a blessing in disguise, because through this setback we found Matt Ludvino, whose vision with the edit actually re-structured the narrative, and improved the film immensely.
Aaron Meicht, whom Wofford had collaborated with whilst designing sets for an off-Broadway play (Meicht was doing Sound Design), was brought on to compose the score, and Chuck Previtire - a friend of a friend and radio DJ in LA - signed on as music supervisor.
In its final months, David Gladstone came on as colourist and Jim Rieder brought his talents to sound design.
Post-Production dragged on for three solid years, picking up when Wofford saved enough to pay the next collaborator.
Perception was completed in the summer of 2010, . In the time it took to complete the film, the film industry had lept forward from standard definition to high definition, and many film festivals were not open to standard-def submissions. Having been shot on the Canon XL2 (in theatrical 24 frames per second, but at standard def), this closed many doors for our film.
Perception went on to win The Royal Reel Award in Filmmaking at Canada International Film Festival and Best Drama at DIY Film Fest in Hollywood.