East Meets West: New Englander Chris Esper’s Star-Studded LA Journey
Ever since Chris Esper graduated New England Tech in 2012, he has perused a filmmaking career with a vengeance. When I met Esper at various film events during my time in Rhode Island, I was taken by the multitude of projects he has made.
In addition to his freelance gigs as a photographer and corporate videographer, a mere few of his creative projects include Still Life (my review here), a relatable short film about the struggle of the creative process. A Guy Going Crazy is a comedic webseries he directed about an actor trying to go Hollywood and his crazy friends: according to Esper he shot “the entire first season in one straight week, putting in close to seventy hours of work. It was like a marathon, but I loved it.”
He made Always a Reason, about an important phone call that saves a man from committing suicide, for Project Greenlight. It didn’t make that contest, but it was accepted into three film fests. You can check out more of Esper’s work on his Vimeo page and his website.
Even as a child, he showed considerable ambition and gumption. After watching Ghostbusters at age 10 he was possessed to write his own 30 page script called Boy Brat, about a boy who invented a robot to fight aliens. “I even sent it to Columbia Pictures (now owned by Sony Pictures), since they produced Ghostbusters. I just read some producer’s name off the credits and addressed it to him. It came back to me with “Return to Sender” stamped on it.”
Instead of letting that get him down, he persevered harder, spending much time on his acting and stand-up skills and puppetry like his childhood idols Robin Williams and Jim Henson.
His hard work paid off in a big way when in September of 2014, he won a paid three month internship with a major LA-based production company OddLot Entertainment.
Here is my interview with Esper about his journey westward bound. First things first.
At what point did you know that you wanted to make films?
After venturing in all these different art forms, I knew for sure that being a filmmaker was ultimate goal when I was eighteen years old and I saw Raging Bull for the first time. There was something about the story and the cinematography that just blew me away and when I watched all the making of documentaries and commentaries, I was hooked not only by the movie, but also by Martin Scorsese describing the cinematic techniques he used and why. His love for cinema is contagious and rubbed off on me. I knew right away after watching that movie that I wanted to be a director.
What was your first film project?
I got my first camera at age eighteen. It was simply a mini DVD camcorder. I made some little movies for YouTube which included some stop motion animation I did, a little documentary about stand up comedians and these small pieces where I was essentially the writer, director, actor, cinematographer, editor, etc. It was a one-man band. I would set up the shot, hit record, go in front of the camera and perform as the actor, set up the next shot and do it all over again. I would then edit on Windows Movie Maker. Those were some of the first things I did before college.
What attracted you to New England Tech? What were your biggest takeaways from your time there?
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I made the right choice when I first decided to go there. I really wanted to go a film school or art school in New York or something, but it proved to be too expensive and competitive so I decided to stay local and go to New England Tech. They’re not a film school by definition, though. They just happen to teach video and audio production, focusing more on the technical aspects of production rather than the artistic side. I found that my professors encouraged the students to hone their creativity through the skills they were taught. I ended up enjoying it a lot. I think the biggest takeaway for me was that it is not about the school you go to, but how you apply what you learn to your craft. Another thing I took away from that experience the artistic side cannot be taught, but can be honed. So, by learning mostly the technical side, I became a better artist I think.
Was this your first time in LA? How difficult of a decision was it for you to venture out there?
I had actually gone to LA earlier in year, through the Moving Picture Institute (MPI). I was accepted to be part of a three day seminar they had about economics in filmmaking, but I actually stayed for two weeks so I can get to know the town and try to meet people. It was a very difficult decision to be out there. In New England, I not only have my family, but also my collaborators and network for the most part. I had plenty of days during my three month stay where I was homesick and did not believe in myself sometimes. It was certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but so worth it in the end.
How did you get the internship at Odd Lot Entertainment?
I got the internship through the MPI. They have a program called The Hollywood Career Launch Program, where you are given the chance to work as an intern for a company in either New York or LA for a two to three month period and MPI pays the intern for their time. So, I applied and got accepted and ultimately decided to go with OddLot Entertainment and luckily they accepted me, too. Primarily, my job at OddLot was to write script coverage and perform administrative and office tasks. It was a wonderful learning experience.
What attracted you to OddLot entertainment?
The thing that attracted me the most was their filmography. With movies such as Draft Day, Ender’s Game, The Way Way Back and Drive, I knew I was in good hands. It also helped that the folks who worked there were kind and patient, willing to show their interns the right way to go.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where Esper goes into more detail about his stint at OddLot and other exciting industry-related events.