Chris Esper Is a graduate of The New England Institute of Technology who recently directed the short film Still Life; here is a link to his website:
Q: What made you interested in filmmaking?
A: I’ve been into filmmaking for most of my life. When I was young kid, growing up in New Jersey, I lived across the street from a video store. I would always go there and rent a movie and would just be filling my mind with all these films. Then, with the advent of IMDB, I started researching these movies and learning who was in the movie, when it was made and sometimes who directed it. I even attempted to write a screenplay when I was 10 years old and send it off to Hollywood, Columbia Pictures in particular because they had produced my favorite movie, at the time, Ghostbusters. It was returned to me with “Return to Sender” stamped on it, but it made me want to keep going. I started doing some acting and tried experimenting with other forms of art like animation and puppetry, until I got my first camera and realized that I could combine everything I love into one craft. That and I started becoming quite a movie buff and started exploring more directors and such. That’s why I chose filmmaking, essentially.
Q: What do you hope to express though your craft?
A: Through my craft, I hope to express myself, really. I like to share personal stories on film and perhaps something an audience could walk away with and continue to think of it after it’s over and not just for the duration. I also hope to entertainment through my work. After all, that’s what a movie should be to an audience first and foremost.
Q: What is Still Life about?
Still Life is a personal story that was based on a quote by Ira Glass. It’s a short film about a photography student who struggles with his thoughts about his creativity and talent.
Q: What inspired you to make it?
A: Again personal experience. I based the film on, not just the Ira Glass quote, but also my own struggles, doubts and growth as an artist. I wanted to share what every person in a creative or non-creative endeavor goes though and how accepting feedback and constructive criticism must be used to grow rather take it as defeat.
Q: Do you think inspiration or technique is more important to an artist?
A: I would definitely say inspiration is more important to an artist. The thing with technique is that everyone is different in their approach to how they achieve their results. I may make a film one way and someone else may do it another way. It doesn’t make either person right or wrong as long as you’re getting the results you see in your mind’s eye. Inspiration is important because that’s what separates one artist from the next. What they’re inspired by reflects in their own work and through that inspiration, you develop a voice. You could learn all the techniques in the world and use that in your craft, but the craft should have a voice. That voice comes through inspiration.
Q: What made you chose the New England Institute of Technology?
A: I chose NEIT for a few reasons. It wasn’t an easy choice at first. Originally, I was very adamant about going to an art school and major in film in New York City. However, that proved to be too much for various reasons. So, I decided to stay local and go to NEIT. It was while I was there that I realized that I made the right choice. If I went to a film school, I would learning a lot about theory and not so much the practicality of filmmaking. Nothing wrong with theory at all, but I really wanted a more hands on experience. My first day at NEIT, I was on the camera. While it’s not a film school by definition, I think it’s important to learn the technical side of film/video to communicate your vision to others. You can’t teach someone to be an artist. That creative side can be honed, but that’s within you. By learning the technical side, my professors would encourage myself and my classmates to use the techniques in a creative way and it helped me a great deal.
Q: Who are some of your filmmaking influences?
A: I have many influences in filmmaking. Martin Scorsese, automatically, comes to mind. I would say he’s my favorite director. His contagious passion for cinema and his variety and range in his storytelling is just incredible. I love all his films. Other influences include Alfred Hitchcock, who is, of course, a genius. Stanley Kubrick, Walt Disney, Jim Henson and David Cronenberg also comes to mind. I have many more, but those gentlemen are the ones whose films I go to the most for inspiration and draw a lot out of as filmmaker.
Q: What do you think is the most overused device in film?
A: That’s hard for me to say, because there’s a ton of overused devices in film. Everything has been done and everything, to a degree, can be considered a cliche. The challenge then becomes how to take those overused devices and make them your own or different in some way. This is where your creativity as an artist comes into play very often.
Q: What was your most frustrating filmmaking experience?
A: I’ve had a number of frustrating experiences in filmmaking, but none of which were bad. They were more challenges in presenting the story the way I envisioned it. For example, I currently direct a web series called “Puppatics”. It’s a web series starring puppet characters. One of the most difficult and sometimes frustrating things about making the show is trying frame a shot with a puppet character. You see, the puppets are cut off by the waist and don’t have any lower limbs. So, you have to try to frame out the arm of the puppeteer as well as their heads. Occasionally, you’ll see someone’s head pop up and you have to fix it. Then, to add to that, we shoot the whole show against a green screen so then lighting and keying can become a bit of an issue as well. It’s a fun challenge though that I look forward to every time we film an episode.
Q: What would you change about Hollywood?
A: I also find that hard to say since I’m not an insider. I don’t fully know how the Hollywood system works. As an outsider, it seems to be, and I could be totally wrong about this, that most studios are run by business folks rather than folks who know film, film history, etc. I’d like to see more creative individuals run these studios, if that’s the case. Nowadays, the director or producer have very little say in how they want their movie to be seen or what their vision is. There’s so much emphasis on focus groups and demographics, which is understandable of course, but how much of that takes away from the motion picture in question? That’s why it’s called show business, I guess. It’s a business first and foremost.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)