Tomorrow night – Tuesday, August 23 at 7:30 p.m. – brings the August selection of the Made in the Triad series to a/perture cinema.
I had heard about Clay Hassler’s film HOMELESS for quite some time but never had an opportunity to screen it until now. So glad that I did, and you won’t want to miss this chance (one night only) to see it for yourself.
By way of preview, here’s a little interview with Clay Hassler.
Mary: First of all, congratulations on a fine film. It is difficult to make a film under any conditions, but I almost wonder if your constraints — tight budget and limited shooting time — might actually work to your advantage by mirroring the circumstances of our protagonist in the sense that the tone and mood are consistent. What do you think?
Clay: Thank you! Yes, those limitations/constraints gave us a sense of freedom. Because we were filming in a working shelter and using minimal lights, we could pretty much point the camera anywhere. We didn’t have to dress the set; we were standing right in the middle of it! In a way, the process felt a little desperate because we were begging businesses for resources (locations, etc.), begging the community for meals and support, and clawing and scraping our way through the film.
Mary: To dig a little more into tone and mood, the grittiness of the locations (recognizable to people in the Triad) is juxtaposed with a softness toward your main character. In wide shots, Gosh is set against his cold, harsh environment with lots of texture and hard edges clearly depicted with deep depth of field. In the closer shots, however, there is a shallow depth of field that — I believe — intensifies our empathy for the boy and reinforces his inherent sweetness by softening his surroundings. Your work has been compared to Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, and I did think briefly of L’Enfant while watching HOMELESS, but I don’t find the same soft and sweet elements in the former. What drives your visual choices?
Clay: Subtlety and understatement. If there was one thing I wanted to avoid more than anything, it was melodrama. By keeping the focus razor sharp on the close-ups and dialogue scenes, you could focus on the characters and their expressions. Gosh, played by the brilliant Michael McDowell, had so much going on, and without saying a word of dialogue, he could command the screen. The shallow depth of field was also used to visually isolate him against his backdrop — the city, the shelter, the bus station, etc… In the long shots where there is great depth of field (particularly when he is walking), we wanted to show audiences what he was up against and the great distances he had to conquer.
Mary: You co-wrote the screenplay with Anna Fields. This is the type of small, slice of life narrative that I have a predilection for, and I particularly appreciate the understated qualities of the writing. Tell me how the story came together.
Clay: I loved working with Anna. We are good friends, but at the same time, there’s a lot of healthy tension in our relationship as writers. We keep each other accountable, and we’re very hard on each other, but at the end of the day, it’s never personal, and we have a better script because of it.
I had been friends with Josh (the real Gosh) for awhile, and when we decided to turn his story into a screenplay, Anna, Tif, and I met with him at Camino Bakery to get a sense of how he talked and where his POV was in the story. The real Gosh is very sweet and kind, and we wanted that to come across in the narrative. By the time we started writing HOMELESS, we had already written two feature scripts together, so this particular story came together very fast.
Mary: There are so many Winston-Salem connections for this film from the fine score to the costuming to the editing, not to mention what happens in front of the camera. Tell me a little bit about how you assembled the cast and crew and your community partnerships for shooting.
Clay: We did an open casting call through ads in the Winston-Salem Journal and on Craigslist. We wanted local people with local color. You wouldn’t believe the talent we have in the Triad! After three pretty intense weekends of auditions, we started to gather our cast and build our crew through my connections as a professor at Wake Forrest. The majority of our crew were former students of mine! They were so accommodating and great to work with.
Mary: What do you hope viewers will take away from the experience of watching HOMELESS?
Clay: We wanted to bring a sense of dignity and individuality to the cause and encourage audiences to take a different look at homelessness through the eyes of someone young who’s a victim of circumstance.
Mary: I think you have succeeded. Thanks so much, Clay. I enjoyed the film very much.