Category Archives: Interviews & Profiles

Interview: Jason Fisher Writer-Director-Producer

Making movies isn’t for the easily discouraged. Ask Jason Fisher who is about 250 drafts into a feature film script that he’s been revising and revising for the past 20 years.

The screenplay was inspired by a colleague (who I’ll call “Jamal”) with whom Fisher worked at Pizza Hut at Cincinnati. They had a cordial relationship on the job, which organically developed into a friendship. One day Jamal told Fisher that one day he would reveal what brought him to Cincinnati. At the time Fisher thought it would be something along the lines of a bad break up.

Jamal’s confession was a bombshell, and one that immediately got Fisher’s creative wheels spinning. He told Fisher that he grew up in an impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood and got involved in the drug ring transporting drugs from Brooklyn to Ohio. One day, he got busted, though comparatively speaking, he got lucky. “Had they caught me like 24 hours before, I wouldn’t be speaking to you today, because I had way more [drugs]. I took the first plea bargain they offered [which was 2 years in prison].”

Fisher’s script approaches this subject from the point of view of “an average middle man…who isn’t making millions of dollars…how [most] likely if you stay in it long enough, eventually, it’s going to be your turn to get caught.”

Although Fisher has always loved films and filmmaking, it wasn’t always the dream goal. He initially pursued what he thought was a more realistic career in college, sports management. It didn’t stick. This would be the case with most of his majors. In the midst of his indecisiveness, he met a woman involved with local theater who thought he had acting potential and invited him to audition for upcoming productions.

He didn’t click with the material. “I had this one audition” he remembered “I was playing a waiter who was a male, or not a male… or androgynous? It was some sort of comedy.” Unsurprisingly, he didn’t get the part. “I believe I was not yet confident enough as an actor, nor mature enough to handle the material, but today I think producing a project like that would be hilarious” he added.

“I was living in a house with a lot of friends and whining about the plays which were either the classics or this off the wall stuff. They said, ‘you have a lot of good ideas. Why don’t you start writing.’”

He took their advice. Early on, he knew he wanted to write for films, not theatre. Like all aspiring filmmakers, Fisher did trek out to LA, though he didn’t stay long. He realized that not only were industry jobs competitive, but all jobs were highly competitive. This made paying the rent a real problem.

Next stop, Vegas. Not knowing anybody, he figured he try to connect with fellow writers via Craig’s List. The response rate was high, and he eventually formed a writers group, which remains a tight knit community. When Fisher was ready to take the plunge into making a movie, a cinematographer of note reached out to him and offered to shoot it.

A.K.A The Surgeon, a 25 minute action short was initially conceived as a modest low-budget one or two day shoot. While filming, Fisher decided to rev up the scale- increasing the budget, the shoot time to 20 days (over a year and a half), and 18 locations. He is grateful that he had “the courage and stubbornness” to go the “mini feature” route because it was a closer simulation to the logistics and budgeting of making a feature.

Although Fisher made a lot of contacts and projects in Vegas, he eventually gravitated towards Georgia because its East Coast culture and weather was more similar his home state of Ohio. Naturally I asked if he was optimistic about Georgia’s ability to sustain itself as a filming hub. He is.

What about the fact that most of the people down to the caterers are transplants from New York and LA and that very few people working on sets are Georgia residents? Fisher admits that is a problem and that most of the people attached in his upcoming projects are non-Georgians (though he does have a few locals in the Atlanta and Athens area on his team).

He plans to include Georgians on the action, including the possibility of shooting films in Athens and Atlanta. But “the thing is I need to get a cast and crew that have some sort of track record to go with mine – mine’s not strong enough by itself.” Fisher is working very hard to up his street cred. A script he co-wrote was a semifinalist at the well-known Slamdance screenplay competition. Another was optioned by Paramount. He has involved himself with several projects in various capacities. The scale of the projects vary too from the micro budget art movie Crossing Flowers Motel to a higher budget, popcorn action flick Bounty Hunter (which has had nibbles from fairly famous actors).

Producing is a natural fit for Fisher who has been a manager at various companies for several years. He is no stranger to the hectic duties of coordinating with loads of admin, overseeing lots of different departments and ensuring maximum cost effective productivity. One of his most arduous, but rewarding stints was at a sheet metal manufacturing firm. “Each quarter (three months) was the equivalent of a feature” Fisher remembers.

At one point Fisher’s company bosses were frantic about fulfilling a large order with a looming deadline and a relatively small operation. Fisher found the solution by delving into the frugal filmie side of his brain. Instead of overtime, he proposed staggering shifts where half the workers would take a break while the other half continued working so that parts continually moved throughout the day. During his tenure there, the company’s revenue went from $5 million to $15 million.

Fisher has seen several of his friends and colleagues take indefinite hiatuses or leave the film scene altogether. Why hasn’t he given up too? “I love it too much.” He pauses briefly. “While I’ve run into frustrations, I continue to go at it because I keep thinking, OK, I trained myself all these years to get from one mountain range to another one and another one and all I can see in the horizon is more mountain ranges.” He adds, “What if I’m really close? And I think I am.”

UPDATE 31 AUG 2017. An earlier edition of the article stated the sheet metal company’s profit’s went from $5 to $15 million. Those figures were actually the revenue.

Music: Interview with Music Video Director-Editor Michael Daye

I’m proud to present my second music video interview. If you want to read my first interview, check it out here.

Courtesy of Michael Daye

Courtesy of Michael Daye

If you don’t know the name Michael Daye, there is a good chance if you’ve ever read Cracked, that you came across his article “9 Terrifying Old Movies That Put Modern Horror To Shame;” if you haven’t, you should. (His knowledge of classic curios puts me to shame).

When I did more research on Daye who is “based in the south-west of England,” I discovered that he also makes and edits films. I was particularly taken with his music videos, many of which are artistic homages to silent films, experimental cinema, and found footage. To get an idea of his aesthetic, read this interview (duh) and visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter and Vimeo.

Courtesy of Daye

Courtesy of Daye

Onward to the interview!

When did you first become interested in making music videos?
Probably as a teenager. Something about coming of age and realising what songs are really about made me think about how the same piece of music can be experienced differently by each listener. I have synaesthesia as well, which means I experience a crossover of the senses (I “see” letters and numbers as specific combinations of colours and think of music in terms of shapes and colours), so I think after being exposed to some cool videos in the early noughties I got excited about the thought of trying it myself.

How much does experimental filmmaking inform your music videos and how much do your music videos inform your experimental filmmaking?
I actually see them as being one and the same. I love to use music as a counterpoint and it’s how I originally got into film and video production. The only difference for me is that the music videos are made to serve the artist’s purposes as well, whereas in my films I am using other people’s music for my own purposes.

What role do you have in devising the concept for the music video? How much does your creative control fluctuate?
I’ve mostly been given the creative reins for each project. Sometimes the client will give me key notes on the song itself and the themes it presents, and I’ll use that as a jumping-off point to pitch ideas back to them. I like to leave some things up to improvisation so occasionally I have pitched one idea and veered off towards another, but I’ll always keep the client in the loop.

I noticed that many of your music videos are comprised of found footage from various historical periods, though the 80s VHS footage seems to be the most prominent. Describe your selection process of matching the footage with the music. What is the significance of the footage?
Well to be honest, I started with “found footage” at a time when I wasn’t confident enough around people to coordinate an actual shoot. I would always be able to find videos that represented images I wanted to create, and eventually I just started putting them together on a timeline trying to find out what it would look like to edit in time with the music. Sometimes the video image would be very poorly connected to what I had in mind originally, but I’d just end up following that image and seeing where it led. The Run video for Police Academy 6 was the first video I made in this style, and there wasn’t really much significance to the footage beyond it all being very eighties. It’s always been a moodboard effect, trying to present an overall theme rather than telling a story with individual clips.

What has prompted the move away from the VHS/found footage aesthetic in your most recent music videos?
As I mentioned in the last question, the found footage aesthetic was born mostly out of my lack of confidence to shoot new footage and just seeing what I was capable of doing with other people’s footage. Over time I developed that confidence and as I worked more on my own material, I came to realise that found footage has a specific effect on a viewer and should be used sparingly. I still enjoy using little hints of VHS noise here and there just because it brings me back to my childhood. I remember finding lots of VHS cassettes my parents had recorded onto over and over again, so there were little moments of various TV shows and music videos all blending together, like a dream.

Describe the dynamic of directing a music video commissioned by a band or performer versus a record label (like Decca Classics)?
Well, independent artists tend to have a specific idea of what they want as they have a personal connection to the song, and you tend to work pretty closely with them, while labels can be both more calculated and less focused. With Decca Classics, I was given a choice of which track to make a video for, from an album of classical pieces that had been used in films. The brief asked for a video that seemed cinematic without referencing the specific film that the track had been used in (in my case, The Big Lebowski), but that was the only instruction.

How did you find the lush locations for Mariettas Lied? What was the transition between filming in the wide exterior versus working with existing footage or sparser locations?
I knew a lot of those locations from scouting for my grad film project. The video was actually shot chronologically as we travelled from the coast up through the country over the course of a day. We had to time things carefully and be wary of daylight, so all of the locations were pretty “in-and-out”, basically driving to a location, hopping out the car to shoot for a half-hour then getting back in.

I thought that the concept of the missing dancers for Purrple Splazsh was haunting and original. How did you come up with it?
I got hooked watching clips from The New Dance Show, an actual show shot in Michigan in the eighties. They’d have a hall full of upbeat people dancing non-stop to disco and early Detroit techno, and so I just tried to think of a way to adapt those images to fit how Actress subverts those genres.

In most of your music videos, the artist/band doesn’t appear. Who’s decision is that? What are some challenges that arise when making a video without the performer(s) present?
Sometimes, like with the Run video for Police Academy 6, it was a case of me having made the video before even getting in touch with the artist. Other times, I’ve just not considered the idea of featuring the artist because it seems a bit too literal. It’s all dependent on the track. If a client has required the artist to be a part of the video then I’m always ready to adapt my ideas to that, although I find it easier if I don’t have to include them.

How does being an editor inform the way you direct music videos? At what points are the two sensibilities in conflict with one another?
I do tend to have an “edit” of sorts prepared in my head at the first stage of production, so if I know I want to use one frame of a weird image to quickly cut in at one point, I’ll make sure that image is factored into the shoot. I hate the thought of “fixing it in post” but in practice it’s always a possibility, and I’m confident enough in my own style that I know how to get a troublesome sequence to fit that style. I don’t know if there are many conflicts between the two, I see them as part of the same procedure in a way. I like feeling that I’ve controlled the whole video from start to finish.

How have your influences like David Lynch, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Béla Tarr, and Björk informed your music videos? What are other artistic influences in your music videos?
David Lynch has a way of making the weird seem natural and vice versa, and that’s definitely my biggest influence for everything I do. R.W. Fassbinder is inspiring for the fact that he was damn prolific and he never let a low budget hold him back. I love how Béla Tarr uses time and space to afford more room for the viewer. And Björk is a musician who I think has a consistent body of music videos, her music is very visual and she’s always pushing forward in terms of the viewing experience (the Biophilia app, the Stonemilker video).

I’d say Chris Cunningham is a humongous influence in terms of how I edit. I watch his work all the time and I can’t really think of a video director I like more. I also love video artist Takashi Ito for his editing style.

What are your top three favorite music videos of all time? What elements do you like about each?
I have to include Chris Cunningham’s Windowlicker video for Aphex Twin. Although his video for Björk is phenomenal, I think the editing and the subversive aesthetic of Windowlicker have had more of an influence on me. I just remember seeing it as a kid and finding it incredibly disturbing.

The Sugar Water video for Cibo Matto that Michel Gondry directed is pretty spectacular. On paper it’s quite a simple concept, a palindromic video with a split screen, but in practice there is such attention to detail it’s incredible.

And I guess it predates music videos but A Phantasy In Colours by Norman McLaren really inspired me. That’s a very synaesthetic film if ever I saw one.

What, if any, are the biggest problems with music videos today?
It’s really a gripe with pop videos but there’s too much concern with looking cool and attractive. It seems like in the nineties a lot of artists were fine with being ugly for the sake of a good concept, and that led to some pretty legendary videos.

How, if at all, do you see music videos as a gateway to other types of film production?
A music video at its most basic is like a call and response, a visual created for a piece of audio that already exists. I think if you can give great ideas to another artist like that, it advertises your ability to take the helm of a film project. There has been some criticism over the last decade of feature films getting too much like music videos, but I think that needs to continue. Directors like Spike Jonze and Jonathan Glazer have proven time and time again that they can extend the surrealism of a music video to feature length without losing the audience’s attention.

What were some of your proudest moments in your music video career so far?
I’ve been massively surprised by and grateful for each and every opportunity, but the most exciting was getting the Charles Bradley gig. I had been a huge admirer of his before and couldn’t believe I had been invited to work with him. He was an absolute dream to work with, so humble and ready to get involved.

What do you think are the most essential components to a music video?
Definitely good editing. I love videos that edit very closely to the rhythms and sounds of the song, and conversely I love one-take videos, but in each case there has to be a good reason for that decision. Music naturally conjures up images out of the blue just like dreams do, so I’m most attracted to videos that aren’t too literal.

What do you have on your bucket list in regards to music video making?
I’m working on a music project at the moment myself and I plan to direct the videos for it, so if that goes the way I want it to then that’ll be one bucket list requirement crossed off. I would love to work with Björk, even on a five-second ident or something, as it’d be a major career highlight to say I’d been a part of her visual catalogue. A more general goal would be to direct for a wider range of genres, just to see how I would adapt.

Interview: Chris Esper

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.

Courtesy of Chris Esper

Courtesy of Chris Esper

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.

Courtesy of Chris Esper

Courtesy of Chris Esper

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.

Courtesy of Chris Esper

Courtesy of Chris Esper

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.

Interview with Musician Louis Romanos

Louis Romanos

Louis Romanos

Jazz is arguably the first American musical form, yet it has always existed out of the purview of mainstream society, in large part because of its pioneers, but also because it is intricate, mindful music. There isn’t a clear cut definition of jazz since its practitioners refuse clear cut classifications for their work and rightly so. Throughout its history, jazz has been an amalgamation of various styles, and it is constantly evolving.

Louis Romanos is for lack of a better word a jazz musician. An internationally acclaimed drummer and bandleader, Romanos has embarked in a multitude of musical endeavors from scoring video games to live dance performances throughout his career. This January he released a CD entitled Take Me There, a pensive and melodic collection of original compositions. If you want to know when the quartet will be coming your way, check out their tour schedule. If you love jazz music, or any kind of music for that matter, you should make sure you invest in the best listening equipment. 1. Graham Slee HiFi is definitely worth a look; offering innovative additions to your HiFi.

Read more in my interview with Romanos.

When was the first time you were exposed to jazz?
I started listening to jazz in 7th grade. John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” album was my first and most formative jazz album that I fell in love with. It was and still is powerful, transformative with unparalleled expression driven by spiritual transcendence.

When did you first decide to pursue music as your career?
This happened gradually. When I was at the University at Loyola New Orleans I was gigging with my professors at various clubs and earning decent money while learning to play. My goal was always to become a great player and gigs were a way to perform and work through my issues and earn money. I never really thought about actually becoming a professional musician, it just happened. After a while it was apparent that all my effort was going towards music and I hadn’t acquired any other job skills outside of my craft, so I just went with it. Within my craft I have expanded to acquire many new job skills: composing, MIDI programming, engineering, mixing, mastering, producing, orchestrating, arranging, scoring, and then lecturing about these skills. With this being said, if you don’t have these skills, knowing that there are always options to use services that companies like Mix and master offer could help you out when it comes to recording, mixing and mastering your music.

Who were your musical influences? How have they changed throughout your career?
When I first started I was too young to go jazz clubs so records were my only means to explore and learn music. I listened to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Monk, Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd, The Police, Peter Gabriel, Billy Cobham. The list goes on and on. Now I am influenced by everything. Music is everywhere, sound is everywhere. All you have to do is listen. Life is music. The technical aspects of performing no longer interest me so much but the science of sound is now endlessly fascinating to me. Why does something sound “good?” What does “good” mean? The definition invariably changes over time.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

What was special about living and performing in New Orleans as opposed to other places?
The Community. The people make the place. I met and performed with musicians of all ages. Many of them became my friends and they were and are some of the most gifted, talented and humble people I have ever met. I learned how live well from these friends, that life could be rich even without money. And that learning never stopped. If you are truly in music for the long haul then you have found the fountain of youth because learning never stops. Our bodies age but our minds don’t have to.

What inspired you to choose a Music and Philosophy double major? How has it influenced your work?
I only minored in music. I was a music major for nearly three years and dropped it because I had a disagreements with the music department heads. So I switched colleges and majored in philosophy. This enabled me to take control of my education in ways I never could have as a music major. I had time to study recording engineering, poetry, history, law, religion. As a music major I had to take about 24 credit hours a semester to graduate in four years. As a philosophy major I had to take 16 which left me lots of room for electives. Learning recording engineering was priceless. I also learned that I could compose music because of this. Much of the time I was searching for material to experiment with and I ended up writing my own music to explore the MIDI technology at the studio. Priceless. Philosophy was also a great major for me because it was very freeing. Like Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix, “free your mind”. If you don’t you’re trapped. Once you learn how to deconstruct the institutions that formed your thought patterns you can take control of your own life and live and think for yourself. The ability to change your thoughts is powerful.

How did your composition work for video games come about? Could you describe this process?
I started writing for games because I love some of these games that come out. Max Payne had a great score. HomeWorld used Samuel Barber’s adagio for strings as its score. Hit Man2 had a brilliant electronic score. It just seemed like a wide open playing field for creativity and I wanted to get in on it so I started going to game developer meet ups and also meeting developers in online communities. I have scored about a half dozen games but haven’t achieved yet what I want in this venture. I am still working on it.

Could you describe your work with the Dance Company in Athens?
I accompany and compose music for modern dancers. I play a hybrid percussion kit that I built and I also use a sampler that I can trigger textures and other sound tones with. This week I accompanied the Urban Bush Women during their workshops at UGA. Fun! And next week I will be giving my own workshop at Brenau University to teach Dancers about music, communication and cross discipline collaboration.

Are there any other interesting ventures for which you provided musical accompaniment?
I have worked with Dancers from all over the US and some in Europe and I will say that they are all interesting in their own ways and have very colorful personalities. I learn from dancers. They put motion to sound and I put sound to motion. The relationship is reciprocal when done well. I use what I learn and apply it to scoring. Accompanying dancers is like being asked to provide a live score.

What attracted you to your fellow quartet members Dan Sumner, Alex Noppe, and Neal Starkey? How did you meet them?
Dan and I met at a jam session and then started a band in New Orleans together called Permagrin where we composed and performed the music together in a duo format: Drums and guitar. Dan was triggering music loops and I was triggering samples and sequences and our gear would talk to each other so everything was synchronized perfectly. We released three albums. That band went on the back burner after Katrina flooded New Orleans. We got together for a few more tours and recorded one last CD but we couldn’t grow as a band living in different cities so we ended it. I met Alex through Dan and I met Neil Starkey at a jam session in Atlanta. Neal is brilliant and I always wanted to record with him. I was delighted that he accepted my invitation to be on my CD. Alex is a really fine musician who can bridge the gap between classical and jazz. Luca Lombardi, our newest member, is a beautiful player who also bridges the gap between classical and jazz; he can swing, he can groove, and he can bow. As a composer this will give me new freedom to create in new directions.

Romanos jamming in the studio on his latest album

Romanos jamming in the studio on his latest album “Take Me There”

What was the inspiration for Take me There? How does Take me There differ from your other recordings?
All my songs are inspired from life events and stories. The title of the record is actually a title of a song I wrote for my mother, which does not appear on the album. The CD was released after she passed so she never got to hear it. Take Me There is my first studio recording of the Quartet and another chapter in my life as a developing composer. I would like to take my quartet in many directions compositionally and I am in the process of figuring this out. Take Me There is different than my other recordings compositionally and stylistically. I look at it as an exploration of four instruments and four personalities. The resulting music is for you to enjoy.

What do you think is the future of jazz?
It’s an open question but the success of this art is in its finding ways stay alive and relevant. Much of jazz is wallpaper music, i.e., music that is intended as back ground music but no one is really listening. Many jazz musicians get stuck being in the background because it pays well but this is where jazz goes to die. Another problem is they get used to being background music so when they have an actual concert where people are listening they play the same way. This background music is labeled as “jazz” but so is Brad Mehldau and they couldn’t be farther apart in spirit. Brad is working off a tradition and expanding upon it, creating with it and keeping it alive. Performing is an art and there is always a reciprocal relationship between the performer and the audience: one feeds off the other in symbiotic harmony. This element is missing if you are just using your gigs as a place to practiced because you think no one is listening. All musicians feel ignored at one time or another and it sucks, just understand what the gig is in context of the larger picture, do your best, collect your bread and move on. My attitude is always to play as if the audience is listening and then they will because music is powerfully seductive: You can’t help but listen to it if it’s good.

We need a new way to brand this music. “Jazz” as a label at this point is meaningless and counterproductive. Tell someone you play jazz and see what their reaction is: they think of the wedding they just went to or the lunch reception at work where the band played nothing memorable. Or maybe they think of the student jazz band they just heard their child play in. Basically, it is not helping market the music. Jazz used to be like punk music: on the fringe, breaking the boundaries of sound and culture. Now it’s wedding music. One solution I see happening is that the artist becomes the brand. Brad Mehldau is labeled “Jazz” in ITunes but he is branded as Brad Mehldau. This is what I am doing with my quartet.

Jazz is a vocabulary within a historical context. Like all languages it changes over time. Jazz has been through many different phases:traditional ragtime, swing, bop, big band, combo, cool, free, infused with other styles and each of these styles represents a new growth on the vocabulary. However many jazz musicians don’t take the time to do their homework and understand where the music they are playing came from. Jazz has a rich historical context: Study it, learn it, embrace it, and then move away from it. Maybe you will come back to it, maybe you won’t. Don’t call yourself a jazz musician just because you can play some jazz standards out of a real book. Jazz is a language and learning it is a long process. It takes time to learn to speak it well and by that I mean years. But in the meantime you need to eat and gig so people label themselves as jazz artists. Just don’t believe your own hype and stop growing; it’s a long journey in a culture that seeks instant gratification. Always keep an open mind; learn from those better than yourself, help those who seek more knowledge if you have it.

Louis Romanos Musician

Where do you hope to go next with your career?
Onwards and upwards! I have scored a really great TV Pilot called Odessa and a local comedy called Forked and am currently scoring a full length film called Above the Fruited Plain.

I am releasing another LRQ CD next year. I would like this band to go far! And I am working on expanding my scoring chops and composition skills. And I have much more in the works but I won’t say at this juncture what they are.

Chris Esper’s Hollywood Journey Pt. 1

East Meets West: New Englander Chris Esper’s Star-Studded LA Journey

Chris Esper at iconic Hollywood sign

Chris Esper at iconic Hollywood sign

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.

Still from Ghostbusters movie. Courtesy of

Still from Ghostbusters movie. Courtesy of

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.

OddLot Entertainment Sign

OddLot Entertainment Sign

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.