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Northampton resident Wade Wofford holds East Coast premiere of his new movie, ‘Perception’ at Academy of Music

Wade Wofford, who wrote and directed "Perception", stands in front of the Academy of Music in Northampton Thursday where his film will premiere.
JERREY ROBERTS

Wade Wofford, who wrote and directed "Perception", stands in front of the Academy of Music in Northampton Thursday where his film will premiere. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

If you’re dreaming of making it big in Hollywood, you’ll have to develop a thick skin. That’s one of the lessons Northampton resident Wade Wofford, 37, says he learned as he pursued his dream of becoming a filmmaker. Here’s another: If you want to get somewhere in the film industry, sometimes it pays to do things yourself — which is exactly what he finally decided to do.

After spending years trying to break into the movie business in Los Angeles and New York City as an actor, writer and set builder, Wofford decided to make his own film. He spent five years writing, casting, directing, designing and distributing, “Perception,” which will have its East Coast premiere, and last public screening, Oct. 13 at the Academy of Music in Northampton.

“I’m really happy to have the last public screening of ‘Perception’ here,” Wofford said. “It’s kinda cool that it’s in my backyard so my neighbors and friends can be there.”

It’s been a long, often tedious haul, he says, but, in the end, the process was well-worth the frustrations.

“What I love about film is its ability to affect you and make you think about your own notions as a human living in a world of 7 billion people,” Wofford said in a recent interview. “For anyone to leave “Perception” thinking or debating, is incredibly flattering.”

The film tells the story of Clarissa, a young artist who chooses to live on the streets of New York City and support herself by selling her photography from a blanket in Central Park. When she meets Tobias, a principled philosopher, waiter and student of the world, a romance blossoms. But, Clarissa’s brother, a successful real estate salesman, disapproves of the relationship. The film tells the same story from the viewpoint of each character, detailing how presumption and mistaken intentions can lead to misunderstandings.

Making ends meet

Wofford, who is a 10th-grade English teacher at the New Leadership Charter School in Springfield by day and a film producer by night, began toying with the idea of being a filmmaker when he was in the 8th grade, growing up in a suburb of Atlanta. Even so, he thought he’d end up being a cardiologist. Then, during his junior year in high school, he auditioned for the play, “The Crucible,” and, after that, he says, all thoughts of being a doctor were quickly forgotten. By the time he’d graduated from high school he had performed in five more plays, and had written, designed, directed and starred in his own original play, “Origin of the Vampyre.” He was, he says, hooked on theater.

After studying English for two years at the University of Georgia (UGA), he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of working in films. But after a while, when things weren’t clicking, he moved to New York City, and took night classes in filmmaking at the City College of New York. Finally, he decided to go back to college, and received a bachelor’s degree in drama in 2003 from UGA, where he honed his skills as a set designer.

But he wasn’t done, yet, with the movies.

He moved back to L.A. for one more shot at Hollywood. He got work as a scenic fabricator, doing what he describes as “boring and flat projects,” building walls with the same dimensions over and over again, while working as an administrative assistant for ABC Disney, among other jobs, to make ends meet.

And he wrote scripts — about 40 of them — submitting them to production companies. Finally, after a string of rejections, he decided to cut his ties with Hollywood and head back to New York, where he hoped to parlay his set-building experience into an entree into the New York film business.

Even there, he says, he couldn’t catch a break.

Undeterred, he decided to make his own good luck — and his own movie.

In 2006, Wofford reached into his own pocket to produce “Perception,” a film that explores the breach of human perception, an idea that has always fascinated him. Wofford developed the story from an idea about a screenplay on perception that he had been toying with in which each character perceives the world in a different way.

“One of the things that is appealing to me about putting together my own project versus going through the traditional Hollywood machine is that you have a lot more say in who you work with,” Wofford said. “In as much as you lose a lot of sleep and you lose a lot of money, independent filmmaking is great in terms of building that family. I love it.”

Nights and weekends

Most of the filming for “Perception” was done on weekends and at night, while Wofford worked full time in event production and office management at Creative Good, an efficiency consulting firm, during the day. It was shot in New York City over a six months, from January to June in 2006.

Eighty actors appear in the film, many of them friends or friends-of-friends. Though all agreed to work for free, he says, it turned out that not everyone was equally onboard. More than once, Wofford was forced to replace an actor at the last minute, often recruiting passersby to join the cast, signing contracts on the spot.

“When you are an artist, you tend to be idealistic,” Wofford said. “I had been doing art for free for so long that I thought that every collaborator I worked with would be as willing to work for free as I had been. ... You are sort of reminded that not everyone is in [filmmaking] for the art.”

There were other worries, too, like the time Wofford was about to shoot a pivotal scene in an art gallery owned by his wife’s best friend’s boyfriend. But then the couple broke up and the guy wouldn’t take Wofford’s calls. (The gallery scene was finally shot a year after postproduction, in the summer of 2007.) To make things even more interesting, the sound specialist, the only person who was getting paid, quit five months into postproduction. But, Wofford says he was undaunted by the monkey wrenches and refused to give up on the film.

With a limited budget, many of Wofford’s production decisions were necessarily pragmatic: He developed the film’s plot based in large part on actors he already knew and on available filming locations. When he discovered, for example, that he could film in public spaces in New York for free, Wofford decided to base his script on events that happen outdoors. He also found out that it’s cheaper to rent production equipment in the winter so, presto, the film takes place in winter.

In the end, the 107-minute-long film cost Wofford $30,000 to make, most of which came from his own pocket.

“When you have given five years to it and run up your credit card and drained your savings account to make a movie, that’s a painful reality,” he said. But, he added, “It’s been a great learning experience and great journey and I’m so glad I did it. ... I have a few regrets but they are not anything that’s going to haunt me.”

Last year, Wofford submitted “Perception” to a dozen film festivals, winning awards at two: The Royal Reel Award in Filmmaking at the Canada International Film Festival in Vancouver and the Best Dramatic Feature at the DIY Film Fest in Hollywood. Saturday’s screening will be the last public showing of “Perception,” says Wofford, who’s already planning his next film, “The Answer.” The showing will serve as a fundraising kickstarter for the new film.

“I like that this screening kicks off our fundraising for the next movie,” Wofford said. “There is something very symbolic about that. I’ve come full circle because it’s like one [project] goes to bed and another wakes up.”

Showtime is 8 p.m. A Q & A with the filmmaker will follow the screening. To purchase tickets, call the Academy of Music box office at 584-9032, ext. 105, or visit www.academyofmusictheatre.com. The film’s trailer can be seen at www.PerceptionTheFilm.com.

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