Photography by Debra Gagnon
After recently watching Chris Esper’s short film ‘Please Punish Me’ we were more than happy to sit down and talk to the director about this short movie, along with his recently released book ‘The Filmmaker’s Journey’ and much more…
Hi Chris, its great to finally sit down and catch up with you.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking?
I was born and raised in New Jersey. I have had a love for film and TV ever since I was a child. I recall going to the movies often with my family, but most of all I used to love going to the video store. At the time, I lived across the street from one and used to walk there all the time and just rent multiple movies. My mind started to fill with movie trivia and images from great movies. When I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to get into entertainment somehow, but I wasn’t sure how. I wanted to act, but I also wanted to write. So, after seeing Ghostbusters (1984) and being so inspired by it, I decided to write a sci-fi/comedy much like Ghostbusters. It was about a boy and his robot. I even went as far as to submit it to Columbia Pictures, since they produced Ghostbusters and it seemed logical in my 10 year old mind. Of course, the script got sent back to me, but it never stopped me from dreaming. As I got older, I started to develop an appreciation for the artistic side of cinema and not just the entertainment. That’s when I knew for sure that being behind the camera as a filmmaker is where I wanted to be.
Ghostbusters had a big impact on you, like many of us. What a classic.
When did you realise this is ant you wanted to do for a living?
I think it was after seeing Raging Bull and seeing what Scorsese set out to accomplish with that film. To me, it was the near perfect film and truly inspired me to want to tell stories the same way: Personal but true and honest. I was 17 years old. From that point on, I started experimenting with the camera and making these small YouTube shorts that all starred me, basically going through trial and error with each and every film and finding my voice.
YouTube is a fantastic tool for filmmakers developing their talents.
Do you find short film rewarding?
I do find short films rewarding. You can tell a simple tale while also testing the waters in your craft and finding your voice as a director. Short films are a great way to make mistakes and find new, creative ways to tell your stories. That can be great training for making a feature. More importantly, it’s a great way to give yourself exposure on the festival circuit and network your way in.
Thanks, that’s some good advice.
How did you get into short film?
I got into making short films simply because I knew I had to start from the bottom and work my way up. I knew I couldn’t be so ambitious early on, I had a lot to learn and grow in the craft (and I still do). I also find short films to be a great way to tell stories in such a short period and still create that full cinematic experience for an audience.
We agree, short film is a fantastic way to tell a story in a in a relatively short space of time.
You have made quite a few shorts over the years, do you have a favourite?
I would say Still Life is probably my favorite because it was so deeply personal and not just because I wrote it, but because when I directed it, it was truly coming from my heart and soul and it was the kind of stories I wanted to tell in my career. This is not to say that the rest of my films are not like that. They are, but in a much different sense. Still Life was basically a self-portrait of myself.
That’s an interesting note. If you haven’t seen it yet the I highly recommend you take a look at it HERE.
Can you tell us about Stories in Motion?
Stories in Motion is my production company which I formed in March of 2016. I call it that because for me, that’s what film is, it’s storytelling told through moving pictures. I find that concept so fascinating that I knew I had to incorporate it into the name.
What made you start Stories in Motion?
I started Stories in Motion mostly because I really didn’t have an identity to my work other than myself as a director and filmmaker. So, I decided that I should start a banner to have all my work under to help identify where the film came from. Plus, I work full-time as a videographer when I’m not making movies, so it’s also helped me in that sense as well that there’s a company that provides the service rather than just an individual name.
That is a great idea. It definitely gives your films its own identity.
You have recently wrote a book – The Filmmaker’s Journey – What inspired you to write this?
The decision to write the book was quite something. The Filmmaker’s Journey was originally a video blog on my YouTube page (which I still do). Basically, my goal with the video blog was to give advice to filmmakers based on my own experiences in making movies for nearly 6 years and experiencing both success and failure and hardships. My goal was to share these things with the world and show that it’s not just them going through the ups and downs of filmmaking, but everyone does. However, I discovered very quickly that while the video blog was successful, I couldn’t say everything I wanted to say in such a short amount of time and thus the idea of the book was born. I wrote it in February 2016 and finished it in April 2016. It was a very different and difficult process for me. At first I was writing it much like a personal journal and slowly with the help of my three editors, it evolved into a more cohesive piece.
Your book is an excellent idea, I am sure there are a lot of people who would appreciate all your excellent advice.
Were you surprised with the great feedback the book has been getting?
I was extremely surprised. I had confidence in it, but no clue how it would be received being that I have never written a book before and one of my editors found it nearly unreadable when I finished a draft, so needless to say I was nervous. I knew I had something good here, but no clue how it would be seen as literature critics look for different things than a film critic does.
Can you give us a little bit information about what the book is about and what it covers?
Ultimately, I wanted to write the book because I felt that there wasn’t enough information out there about what independent filmmakers truly go through on a daily basis from submitting to festivals to dealing with clients, rejection, success, criticism, etc. I didn’t want to write about how to make a movie, because there’s plenty of information out there on that subject and there’s nothing I can possibly add to that. I knew it had to be personal, but also relatable in talking to the reader rather than at the reader. I wanted to show that its okay to fail, start in humble beginnings and make mistakes. Everyone, even our idols, had to be an amateur before being a professional.
We love your idea behind this and think it will be really useful for budding filmmakers out there.
Photography by Debra Gagnon
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest short – Please Punish Me?
It’s a comedy about a businessman who is overly blessed in life, so he seeks to be punished for his “curse”.
What attracted you to this story?
Please Punish Me was written by Tom Paolino. It started out as a 7 page script. At first, my impulse was to turn it down because of the subject matter, but as I kept reading it and got to the ending, I then knew I had to do it and found the heart of the story. I was attracted to the idea of a man who felt he needed to be punished because he had a great life, but ultimately was unsatisfied with his success and being in a career that he hates. That is such a universal message and I thought the punishment stuff acted as a great metaphor while also being funny. So, I then reached out to my good friend Rich Camp, who reworked the story and added more depth and comedy to it. I always saw it as a drama first and comedy second. I knew it was going to be a farce type of comedy, which I didn’t mind at all, but my main focus while directing it was keeping it grounded in reality with the character of Scottie anchoring the over the top comedy.
It definitely works and it came across very well on-screen. Good job!
Where can we see Please Punish Me?
Currently, it’s playing on the festival circuit. It will be playing at its 18th film festival, New England Underground Film Festival, in October in Connecticut. Most recently, it won the Best Indie Film award at the LA Film Awards, which was a very nice surprise. It was also nominated for Best Comedy Scene at the Action on Film International Film Festival. It’s been a great ride for this film.
That’s great to hear, and the film is certainly worthy of those nominations and awards.
Have you got any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Yes, quite a few. I’m doing a short comedy in October called The Deja Vuers followed by a short I wrote called Undatement Line which will be a collaboration with Massachusetts-based production team, Stories by the River. I also have a couple of other shorts lined up for the winter and next year all of different genres. I love being able to try new things and tell interesting stories.
Sounds like you have a some very busy months coming up. But you have some very interesting projects on the go, so good luck with them.
What does the future hold for Chris Esper?
Aside from these short films, I’m also in the process of writing my first feature film which I hope to make in coming year or so. I also would like to write more books be it a follow-up to The Filmmaker’s Journey or other types of material both non-fiction and fiction.
What advice would you give anyone looking to make short films?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Give yourself permission to fail and fail again and keep creating. If you have a story deep inside, tell it. Pick up that camera and start shooting. Nobody is going to give you the chance unless you create it for yourself.
That is some awesome advice, thanks for that Chris. I am sure our readers will really appreciate your words.
That you for spending some time chatting with it and we wish you all the best on your upcoming films.
We highly recommend you check out Chris Esper’s YouTube channel HERE.