At the beginning of this year, I had the good fortune to interview Chris Esper about his lucrative internship at an important Hollywood production company, OddLot Entertainment. (You can read the two-part interview here and here).
I’m excited to have a second crack with Mr. Esper. This time, we talk about his latest short film Please Punish Me, the benefits of delegating key positions, and why it’s a great idea to do a webseries. Check it out. We’d love to know your thoughts or if you have any questions.
When you take on a new project, what is your first step? How has this changed over time?
One of the major things that has changed is why I choose a project. I used to just make almost anything, but now I have to love the script. I don’t mean just really enjoy it. I have to be in love with it in order to have the passion and drive I need to make it. My first step is reading the script and seeing what I can do with it. I then read it again to break it down into ideas I have in my head such as shots. Once I have all that, then I start attacking by getting a crew together and start going over ideas and then table reads, etc.
You have over 20 credits as a producer and director under your belt. Were there any special challenges new to you on Please Punish Me?
A few, yes. For this project, I had a bigger crew than I ever had for most of my projects. I also had a producer. For the most part, I would be doing everything in the past. This time, though, I had a bunch of people. The challenge, for me, was to delegate these tasks instead of having to do it all myself.
What are continual challenges on your film shoots? What are some of the best creative solutions you’ve discovered in your experience?
The continuing challenges on my shoots tends to be finding the right location. Either the location is not what I imagined, or it’s too noisy, too small, etc. With this project, I did not get the office building I was hoping to have. So, I ended up finding a decent small place that my father’s accountant had and just used wide lenses to make it a little bigger than it actually is and we also made great use of sound effects and design to make it seem like a lot of activity was going on. In the end, it works pretty well.
I noticed that you haven’t been a producer on the last couple of shorts you directed. Could you describe the transition of working with a producer?
It certainly makes things easier as I can just focus on directing, which is what my goal really is. I do every once in a while need to step in and take on a producer role to make executive decisions as opposed to creative ones, but for the most part, I only had to direct on this project and some of my more recent ones. It gives me the chance to be fully creative and focus on my actors and story without having to worry about scheduling and trying to rush. The same goes for having a cinematographer, editor, writer, etc. These were also positions that I had to take on when I started, but I now have someone else do these things for me so I can concentrate on directing. I got similar advice when I was in LA, I would often ask what I would need to do to be a director and get paid for it. The simple answer was to keep directing and only direct. You won’t get to where you want to be if you are doing different jobs and not growing in one skill.
How did you meet the folks at Macremi (The production company for Please Punish Me)? What was their role in this production?
Creusa Michelazzo is the founder of Macremi, which is a great platform for PR work and production. I met Creusa about 4 years ago. She wanted to interview me about my work for her website, so I did and it blossomed into a friendship. Since then, she has helped me in putting together my premiere for Still Life, got me many jobs on film sets and produced Please Punish Me in a hands-on day-to-day way. She also served as a production manager on the set and making sure we were on track with the script and on schedule. More importantly, she is also my rock in any situation and one my best friends. So, it’s been a great benefit for me to have met her and have Macremi be a part of my career.
What types of venues have your films been most prolific/warmly received?
Lately, film festivals have been the most prolific outlet and any types of public showcasing. I’m a firm believer in going to the cinema or screening in order to see your work. I do use the internet as well, using platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, my own personal website and also VHX, which is a digital distribution site. All have proven to be great platforms, especially for the short film and web show medium.
You’ve had a key role in at least two web series – In The Bedroom and A Guy Going Crazy. What attracted you to these shows?
The simple answer was the concept on both ends. For A Guy Going Crazy, the creator and writer of the show was Rich Camp. He and I have been great friends for about 5 years. I started working for him as an intern and helped in doing camera work and editing. Eventually, he started having me direct some projects for him such as comedy sketches. Then, he came to me with this web show idea that he wanted to do and I really loved the scripts and found myself relating to the characters. So, we went ahead and made the show happen. In the Bedroom came to me through its creator, Seth Chitwood, who is a well-respected web creator here in New England. He had heard my name from a few folks and wanted to work with me, so he asked me if I would interested. I loved the idea, so I said yes. I served as a writer of 1 episode, co-produced the show along with a few others and also directed 2.
What are some of the advantages of doing web series?
I think the great thing about the web show platform is being able to create something in a short amount of time. Also, because it’s for the web, you don’t have to do any slick camera work. I tend to approach web shows by using handheld work. In my opinion, audiences who watch web content just want the content very quickly and most likely watch it from their phone, where great camera work can’t always be appreciated like you can in a cinema. So, you have that advantage. Also, and more importantly, doing web content is great training for bigger projects such as making movies. The web show gives you the ability to make those early mistakes or discover new techniques and improve upon them as time goes on. Then, when you have more money and time, you can do anything you want and hopefully you have a better understanding of what to do.
Describe the community of the web series world.
The community, I think, is a big one and continues to grow year after year. There are tons of creative people who produce great web content and now it’s starting to be taken seriously as a form of video and filmmaking to the point that we now have film festivals dedicated purely to web shows. It’s a great way to celebrate these independent artists and what they do.
What kinds of skills have you learned from doing web series and how does it apply to other types of filmmaking?
I learned a lot about scheduling and pre-production more than anything else. With web shows, you’re dealing with multiple episodes with the same characters in different locations. That needs to be carefully planned out in such a way that makes sense and of course works for everyone involved. With A Guy Going Crazy, we shot the entire first season in one long week for about 8-12 hours a day. We would be at a location filming all the scenes in the season that took place there. It was tough, but ended up working out. I’ve started applying these skills more and more to my film work. Pre-production is the most important step in the process of filmmaking, I think. It can make or break you. Everything depends on well prepared you are.