Adam Morse was just making the initial steps in his film and TV career in 2009 when he saw the first pinprick of light appear in the middle of his vision.
Over the next few months, that one light multiplied to become trillions of neon dots that obscured most of his sight, and he was declared legally blind.
But the 30-year-old has not let it stand in the way of his dreams, in fact quite the opposite. He directed his debut feature film ‘Lucid’, starring Billy Zane and Sadie Frost, that was released in the US last year and the UK this month.
And he is also starring alongside Jason Momoa in the second season of the Apple TV+ show ‘See’, about humankind losing their sight, as his career flourishes on both sides of the lens.
Here Adam tells his inspirational story about surpassing expectations placed on him by others, and how his so-called disability has given him a new perspective that has helped him shine in his work.
Words by Adam Morse
I don’t like to say I’m disabled because in what I do, telling stories and entertaining people, I feel more enabled than ever before. I feel I have an edge.
Since losing my eyesight, my hearing has become sharper and I have a better sense of taste and touch. But there are also many mental enhancements I’ve experienced, that are not typical of the five senses, things that are less understood.
I have such an acute sense of other people’s emotions now, and am able to tap into what someone else is thinking or feeling far better than before. And I trust a lot more in my own instincts.
As a human race, we have an innate talent to be able to communicate non-verbally. And since losing my sight, it has definitely turned up my telepathic connection to anyone I encounter. We have this subconscious bias of how we treat people based on how they look, and this has been removed from me. Now I’m highly sensitive to energy and am going purely off of vibrations. And that’s pretty cool.
It sounds like Marvel superhero stuff, and it kind of is, but for me it’s real.
I can use these enhanced senses in my job as a director. When there’s an emotional scene to tackle, my job is to help the actor get to that place. And so, I won’t just tell them what to feel, I’ll feel it myself. And then by osmosis, I know they’re feeling it too.
I’ve always been a perfectionist, but striving for perfection you can sometimes waste a lot of energy fixating on details, and lose track of the bigger picture. I’ve heard Martin Scorsese say that movies aren’t made on set, they’re made in prep, and I completely agree. And I always have to be thoroughly prepared, I can’t afford to not be. And I have learned to trust my team, whether it’s the assistant director, the art director or the production designer, to take ownership of their responsibilities. I’m only focused on the camera and the talent and the tone that I’m trying to capture. Which is really everything you are striving for as a director, to create an atmosphere.
Until I was 19, I had full 20/20 sight. I was working as a production assistant on a film called ‘City of Life’ in Dubai, and I was writing the script for my first short film ‘The Window’ on my laptop, when I noticed the first small pinprick of light in the center of my vision.
The next day it was bigger, and it got worse and worse over the days and weeks and months that followed. These lights kept multiplying and within three months my site was pretty much all gone. I’m seeing them right now, these flashing lights constantly exploding in my eyes like microscopic neon fireworks. The central part of my optic nerve is dead, and that’s how the mutation represents itself visually to me.
It’s a bit like when you’re tuning an aerial TV and it looks like snow on the screen, only neon and multi-colored, and the world is behind all these flashing lights for me. There are trillions of them in the middle and they dissipate as you go outwards towards the periphery. It’s like a filter I can’t turn off.
It’s a rare hereditary condition called LHON (Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy), but I didn’t know I was carrying it. And then my brother Jake, who was three years younger than me, started losing his sight about a week after me from the same condition.
He learned to play the guitar while he was going blind. He managed to cram in enough music theory into his head before he got to the point he couldn’t see a computer screen anymore that he’s an absolute wizard on the guitar now, without being able to see the fretboard. And he wrote and performed a piece of music we used in my debut feature film ‘Lucid’, which was released in the US last year and has just come out in Britain.
When I was pitching ‘Lucid’, I didn’t tell anyone about my condition. And when we started shooting, the only people who knew were my producing partner, lead actor and cinematographer. So there were three people who were all sworn to secrecy.
I used a huge 65-inch monitor, and when Billy Zane walked in on the first day on set, he said: ‘What’s with the f****** IMAX?’ I put my face an inch away from it when I’m looking at a shot, with my nose touching the glass. The closer I am to something, or the bigger something is, the bigger it becomes in my field of view so the easier it is for me to see something. But a lot of people just thought I was this eccentric young director, with crazy attention to detail, walking around with sunglasses on.
After a couple of days, I did pull Billy aside and tell him. I wrote the movie about lucid dreams because I can still see in my dreams, there are no dots. And I felt like if he knew what was inspiring me to tell the story, it would make him commit harder to the process, and it did. And he’s been just such an incredible supporter of mine ever since, a real big brother. He believes in the film and also the message I am trying to promote.
I came out of the blind closet just before the film’s release in the US, and it was a big relief. It was hard work trying to keep it quiet, and the anxiety attacks I’d been suffering from stopped.
Lucid has just come out here in the UK, and already I’ve had so many people reach out to me, strangers who have messaged me on social media, and said hearing me speak about my experiences has given them a lift.
I have a unique perspective on storytelling due to my experiences. There’s something called Charles Bonnet syndrome, which is something that most visually impaired people deal with on a daily basis.
It’s basically where the brain compensates for what you can’t see and the mind fills in the blanks, so I have daily hallucinations.
There’s really mundane examples that happen all the time, like when I’m in a shop waiting to pay, and the person behind the till will call me over and I’ll get there and that person won’t be there anymore. The cashier that has called me is actually behind a different till, but my mind is showing me something else.
But there are more extreme situations too. Last year I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard with my producing partner, Julia Varvara, with all those guys dressed as Superman and Batman and all that stuff. There was a guy holding a snake a couple of feet in front of me and as he turned, the snake jumped at me, hissing and tried to bite me. I leapt backwards into the road and I almost got hit by a car. Then I realized, what I had just seen didn’t really happen. It was just my subconscious trying to protect me. I thought I was in danger and my mind showed me the snake jumping at me. But it was still calmly wrapped around the guy’s neck.
This was one of the experiences I told Apple about before I got a role in their show ‘See’, starring Jason Momoa, which is set in a future where humankind has lost the ability to see.
I have a recurring role in season two as Frye, a bad guy hunting down Jason’s family. We shot in Toronto in February and I learned to horse ride and to sword fight. I was adamant that I had to do as many of my own stunts as possible. I wanted people to see it was me doing it, because I know there aren’t that many other blind actors working at that level in TV and film right now. So for me it’s important that I can prove that I’m as capable as other actors to do the physical stuff.
I just want to encourage everyone to be ambitious and not give up on what they’re passionate about, whether they have a disability or not. Because I see so many friends of mine who are settling, and it’s usually because they’re scared of failing. And if they don’t try, then they’ve got an excuse.
We’re all capable of so much more than other people give us credit for. And I know that if I can exceed the expectations that are put on me by the system and the gatekeepers, it can hopefully make a change in the way that people think and remove that negative stigma from disability.
And maybe I won’t be the one to make a huge difference. But it could be a ripple effect, and if more and more people that are differently-abled start working in the arts, maybe I can be a catalyst to making a huge difference in the long run.