On 23 May 2021, the collaborative group WRIGHT premiered their new feature film Watch the World Go by to a sold-out theatre. A spectacular display of performance art, the event was neither a film debut nor a fashion runway but an intersection of both. Through the collaboration of designers, filmmakers, writers, and musicians, Watch the World Go By analyses the importance of fashion in a cinematic context and how it can serve as armour in everyday life. The film's protagonist, Heritier, engages in a series of enlightening interactions with an array of idiosyncratic individuals, all purposefully steering him away from a life of grey mediocrity. Throughout this journey, his plain brown suit transforms into 13 different iterations as he collects the wisdom of these different characters. SHOWstudio spoke with the collective WRIGHT about the process behind filming Watch the World Go By, how the idea came about and challenging the ordinary conventions of a runway presentation.
Christina Donoghue: What is Watch the World Go By about?
WRIGHT: The hero, Heritier, engages in a series of enlightening interactions with an array of idiosyncratic individuals that steer him away from a life of grey mediocrity. The film has an episodic structure consisting of 12 vignettes that address different aspects of identity and self-expression. As the narrative progresses, so does the hero's costume; deconstructed, built upon and manipulated as a literal representation of metaphorical growth. On a broader scale, the film serves as a critical conversation about personal identity, integrity and individuality versus establishment, corporate culture and social structures.
CD: How long did the film take to make, and what was the process like?
W: The film was completed over 14 months, including five months of pre-production, sixteen shooting days, and a further six months of post-production. Although there was a structure to our schedule, pre-production was very much a freeform process in that the screenplay was being written while the costumes were being constructed. This cyclical process quickly became our preferred way of working because we discovered that writing could help the design process and vice versa. It became commonplace for our own work to strengthen itself. A great challenge was manipulating the hero's costume between filming every scene; because of this rule, we had to shoot the film sequentially, which was at times both demanding and exciting. The writing started at the beginning of the pandemic, and by shooting time, COVID had most of the world in lockdown. Living in the most isolated city in the world for once worked to our advantage - having the privilege to shoot an entire feature film (and ultimately sell out a premiere) during a global crisis was afforded to few others. This also made us more proud of our independent approach; the film was entirely self-funded, we used our own resources and community to put Watch the World Go By together. Our fashion design practice is informed almost entirely by up-cycling. The available resources sourced locally are a natural constraint on our potential output. The fabric guides the design just as much as our mood board and script. The DNA of our locale is inherently weaved into our work. For example, we found two matching couches being dumped into a landfill and the floral upholstery fabric demanded to be made into a robe. This costume design decision informed the writing of the character and, ultimately the scene. The way this character and scene was written further informed our casting criteria.
CD: Who came up with the idea for the film, and what are the main inspirations for its concept?
W: The film, like all WRIGHT projects, was an entirely collaborative effort. Our core members (Harrison Gerhardy, Loki Surma-Litchfield, Josh Rees and Declan MacPhail) come from various disciplines, so our ideas are always multifaceted and reference all forms of art and design. Watch the World Go By's primary reference was deadpan photography, specifically the work of Alec Soth and Lars Tunbjörk. Their approach to capturing an image was captivating, and we were fascinated with the concept of translating their photographic treatment into the moving image. In terms of the story and characters, painting, photography, and sculpture served as relics that inseminated the script with metaphor, perspective and ultimately a more complete world. Birds and birdwatching culture were also subjects that were consistently iterated throughout the narrative. Rather than setting out to make a fashion film, we actively decided to look to other areas in the hope that we could rework the genre to suit our modes of storytelling and to expand its possibilities. Having completed our first feature film in this system, we feel comfortable in our cinematic and design voice being unique and innovative, and all of our future films will adhere to this structure.
CD: What do you want viewers to take away from Watch the World Go By?
W: Ultimately, Watch the World Go By expresses WRIGHT's desire to project its ideals onto a high fashion platform. The viewer's interpretation of each vignette is their own; however, as a whole, we hope to communicate the importance of genuine authenticity in both fashion and film as two separate entities coming together. We spent a lot of time exploring the world-building component of the project to provide depth to the narrative and act as a piece of the 'larger puzzle' in the WRIGHT universe. The intersection of fashion and film language allowed us to disguise the models as actors, the runway event as a premiere, the show-notes as a script and the costumes as looks. This method of design in disguise functions to hide the imagined experience from the viewer and allows them to immerse themselves in the WRIGHT universe. We also wanted to create a sense of timelessness and longevity, allowing the underlying concepts to remain relevant beyond its release in an industry where seasonality causes work to become rapidly obsolete.
CD: Any final comments?
W: It must be mentioned that WRIGHT encourages a culture of community and collaboration - we believe that this is the only method of true innovation. Our total cast and crew consisted of 50 people that not only helped realise our idea but imprinted and imparted invaluable insights onto the finished project. Although the core group is only four people, our larger ideas can never materialise without the aid of a much bigger community.