Greetings readers! It is with continuing and humble privilege that OneFilmFan.com is able to bring to you our newest interview, harkening from the world of independent film yet again. This time, we had the chance to pick the brain of award-winning videographer and filmmaker Chris Esper, based out of Massachusetts, who is preparing to unleash his most recent short film, “Please Punish Me” onto the film festival circuit. In its abbreviated, 15-minute running time, Chris has delivered a modern comedy that strays away from the current paradigm of “how crude and vulgar can we be?” in favor of a story with surprising heart at its core. So, without any further ado, here is our chat with Mr. Esper as he weighs in on life to this point, how he got there, the making of the film, the state of indie cinema, and everything else we asked him! Mr. Esper, take it away!
One Film Fan: Born in New Jersey, moved to Rhode Island, ultimately ending up in MA. Through these moves/transitions, in a broad sense, how were you first drawn to the film industry? When did it become evident that it was going to be your career choice?
Chris Esper: I’ve been a film fan since I was young boy. When living in New Jersey, I lived very close to a mom & pop type of video store. From a very young age, I would go to the store and rent movie after movie and just filling my mind with all these great images. My parents would also take me to the movies as well. At one time, I actually wanted to be an actor/comedian because I loved Robin Williams so much. By age 10, I even attempted to write a screenplay and send it Hollywood. It’s just something I’ve always loved. I did acting and comedy until my late teens. However, somewhere along the way, I felt that it wasn’t what I was truly passionate about. My true passionate, I felt, was film. Throughout the time of acting days, I was becoming a movie buff and got my first camera when I was 17 and started experimenting. I was also starting to fall in love with many great directors and their work, especially Martin Scorsese. When I saw “Raging Bull”, I know I wanted to make movies for sure.
O.F.F.: How have you further learned the industry (ie: mentors, influences, and schooling)?
C.E.: I’ve been doing a lot of learning for the past couple of years, including going to college at New England Institute of Technology in East Greenwich, RI, where I studied Film & Video Production. I also learned a lot by being on set of local productions. I’ve done it all from being in the camera department, to editing, to being a production assistant and much more. By far, though, I think my best learning experience has been interning at OddLot Entertainment in Culver City, CA. They’re responsible for such films as “Drive”, “The Way, Way Back”, “Draft Day”, “Rosewater” and many others. While I was there, I got to do script coverage on tons of screenplays. It was a tremendous learning experience, not only about script writing, but also about the industry and how it works. I got to meet some amazing people.
O.F.F.: From reading your bio, you have truly covered a lot of ground within the film business, having tackled writing, editing, camera/electrical, and now primarily producing and directing. Tell us how all this has shaped the direction you are heading currently.
C.E.: I think that while I do not directly operate the camera, edit or do the sound on my own projects anymore, having done all that stuff has helped me understand what goes into making a project on little to no budget and also helped me in setting a standard I hope to reach. It has also helped me in seeing where my passion lies. Even though I’m not doing most of those and simply directing, it feels as though I am doing those things, but just communicating what my vision is to everyone on set. The same goes for my love of acting, animation and puppetry. I’m not acting, but by directing, I feel as though I am doing it but I have an actor in front of camera giving their take on what I see.
O.F.F.: You’ve directed short films, corporate videos, and web series as well. Have you found one genre/style strikes you more than another?
C.E.: I really don’t have a love for any specific genre or style. I love any story that’s personal to me and can have that same connection to an audience be it a drama, comedy, sci-fi or anything. I’m willing to try any genre. As for style, for me, that depends on the material. For a web show, I tend to keep the camera loose and hand held for the most part only because the majority of the time a web show will be viewed on a cell phone or a computer and you don’t really have the time to get that great shot you would love to get. It just won’t be absorbed by the audience the same way as it would on TV or in a cinema. Whereas with a short film, you have more room to breathe and do more cinematic things with the camera that you would like to do.
O.F.F.: You’ve had the benefit of presenting your efforts at film festivals along the way, which have garnered you several awards. How does it feel to have your work recognized in that form?
C.E.: It’s a very rewarding feeling. It’s often extremely hard to get accepted into film festivals as it is, but when people get to see what you’ve created, it’s just amazing. The awards are great, too, but just hearing the reaction from the audience is one of the best things to experience.
O.F.F.: So, onto your current project, the indie short film “Please Punish Me”, currently preparing for its festival run. What drew you to make this film?
C.E.: Tom Paolino’s script treatment really attracted me and Rich Camp’s writing just elevated it. Not only was it a funny story, but also the core of it really touched me and I found myself relating to it. As a recent college graduate, it’s hard to try to make a living in this business and you can sometimes find yourself doing work you do not enjoy or settling for a career that is not related to film. I have found myself battling that. I often film events, weddings and work with video clients. I enjoy it, but not the same way I enjoy doing filmmaking. So, I felt a lot like the character of Scottie, succeeding down a path I’m not particularly interested in. I also felt that everyone in this world is Scottie in some way and Michelle also.
O.F.F.: For those who have yet to view it, give us an overview of the story.
C.E.: “Please Punish Me” is short comedy about a businessman who is overly blessed in life and seeks to be punished for his “curse”.
O.F.F.: The film actually takes comedy to a different kind of place, especially in the way the story resolves, as well as keeping it relatively free of the blatant crudeness and overt vulgarity of a lot of modern movies in the genre. Was this all intentional?
C.E.: Absolutely. The last thing I wanted to do was tell a story that was only about the punishment stuff. It’s funny, but it should not be the main focus. To me, it was more of a metaphoric thing. Scottie feels like he’s being punished literally and figuratively at work by always being promoted. I remember being a little weary about even keeping the title as what it is now. I wasn’t sure how it would perceived by the public, but in the end, I thought it may draw some curiosity and then when they watch it, then we got them and they’ll be seeing what’s underneath the surface of the comedy.
O.F.F.: How was it gathering and working with the wonderful talent for the film, including David Sackal, Joanna Donofrio, Lorrie Bacon, Bradley Rhodes, and the others?
C.E.: The whole cast was incredible. We held auditions and found them all through that. Each cast member bought a lot to the table and worked hard and got along great with each other, which was nice to see. We had a great time discovering these characters from doing different exercises to writing bios as to where these folks came from. It was terrific to see what they came up with and it just added to their performances.
O.F.F.: Any humorous, but clean, anecdotes to share from the set?
C.E.: Doing the punishment scene, for obvious reasons, was humorous and a lot of fun. The funny thing about doing that scene was that David had to wear a woman’s padding on his bottom so he wouldn’t get hurt. To our surprise it actually worked. He never felt a thing.
O.F.F.: What other projects are on the horizon or would you LIKE to be involved in?
C.E.: I’m always thinking of something new to do be it a script that someone else wrote or one that I wrote. I have a new short I’m preparing for and also trying to get working on my first feature film. So, a lot of exciting things happening.
O.F.F.: Despite it being an overall, albeit somewhat hidden, presence in the industry, indie films and filmmaking seems to be making a new resurgence, or at least getting a little more notoriety. Do you feel this is true and how important to the world of film is it that it gets recognized and promoted more?
C.E.: I think it is very true and very important that the world know about it. Indie films have some of the most amazing hidden talents that many haven’t discovered yet and so many stories that they want to tell. All they need is a chance to show what they can do. The problem used to be trying to get a movie made, but now the problem is trying to get it seen. Making the movie is hard, but nowadays it’s becoming increasingly easier for people to pick up a camera and make a movie. Literally anyone can make something with an iPhone and get decent quality. The point in the end, though, is the story and the people behind it and the passion and heart that goes into it. When the people of the world see that, indie films will once again get recognized.
O.F.F.: What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the film industry in general?
C.E.: The biggest thing, I would say, is to find your niche. Find that very thing that interests you most and that one thing that you happen to be very good at. Don’t try to write, direct, star, shoot, edit your whole movie on your own. Learn a specific craft and go from there. Another key thing is networking. This is a business all about who you know. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t know somebody, then nothing happens. It’s all about hustling your name and making it known.
O.F.F.: Ok, the classic ending question. What is YOUR favorite film of all time? Why?
C.E.: I would say my favorite film of all time is “Rocky”. Loved it since the age of 14. What I mainly like about it is how it was made. Very low budget film that cost only $900,000 and the fact that Stallone would only sell the script if he starred in it, just show what hustling and tenacity can do and now it’s considered a classic movie and went on win some Oscars. Of course, too, the movie itself is great. Each character in the film has a emotional arc and are all fighting in some way both in a literal and figurative sense. The boxing stuff, for me, was more a metaphorical element in the story and the character just happened to be a boxer and the focus was not about the boxing.
And that’s the story so far! A special “Thank You!!” to Chris Esper for taking the time to indulge our interviewing wishes. As it becomes more and more important to support indie filmmaking in its many forms, please take a moment to check out and “Like” Chris’s Facebook Page, “Follow” him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, and also peruse his personal website. And in the meantime, get out and see “Please Punish Me” as it travels the festival circuit, as we think you will be pleasantly entertained!
Until next time, thank you for reading!