“Imposter” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Imposter” (2018) is among the most relatable, beautifully made, deeply symbolic and personal compositions yet from the incredibly talented writer-director Chris Esper. The nine-minute and fifty-four second short film is a series of three interconnected vignettes. They focus on the inward struggles of anxiety and the idea of the Imposter Syndrome. The latter concept, which was formulated by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978, concerns the idea that someone who is known for their accomplishments are afraid of being exposed as a con.

This theme is expounded upon early on in the form of an overworked man, Mike (in a powerhouse performance from Tom Mariano). During a meeting, he is plagued by visions of a young jester (in a quietly heartfelt enactment from Brendan Meehan). This figure can be seen as the adolescent side of Mike who simply wants to enjoy life. After his meeting he gets on a bus. From herein, we follow an artist (Sheetal Kelkar) and her counterpart (Jamie Braddy) to an art gallery. Here Esper wordlessly shows that both parties feel like they are embarrassed and on display. Returning to the aforementioned vehicle, Esper goes among the populace of the transport. In so doing, he often utilizes direct imagery to quickly tell many private stories of worry and woe. This ends on a highly effective note of tragedy that involves two military veterans (William DeCoff and Adam Masnyk).

Esper’s latest mechanizes tremendously well as social commentary and as an almost entirely dialogue free character study. His scripting and guidance of the project is masterful and mature at every avenue. The Stories in Motion and On Edge Productions fabrication, potently edited by Esper, is also a triumphant demonstration of Ben Alexander and Bryce Brashears’ sound. The same can be said of the lush cinematography from Rick King. This is also true of the make-up and special effects from Julianne Ross. The gently used music from Steven Lanning-Cafaro is haunting and evocative. It fits the tone of the project exceptionally.

All of these moviemaking ingredients help make “Imposter” a timely and timeless meditation on the insecurities which secretly bind so many individuals. I especially related to the first two segments. They immediately spoke to both the full-time laborer and the part-time writer within me. Yet, what is just as remarkable is how, when viewed as a whole, Esper creates a portrait of our civilization that is as intimate as it is grand. This is cinematic poetry. It is as open to interpretation as it is credible and layered. Esper wants to prove that beneath each person is an entire world of wounded self-doubt that others may never understand. He has done so with intelligence and grace. “Imposter” is a masterpiece. It is also one of the best ventures of its type I’ve seen all year.

(Unrated).

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“Undatement Center” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

“Undatement Center” (2017), a nine-minute short film from writer-director Chris Esper, is effortlessly charming, consistently humorous and always likable. It carries on the same seamless marriage of upbeat and hopelessly romantic tones that made his prior inventions Please Punish Me (2015) and The Deja Vuers (2016) such an incredible success. This Stories by the River and Stories in Motion co-production is also a fantastic showcase of Esper’s ability, which has been ever-present throughout his career, to project fully fleshed-out, relatable characters. Such transpires in a heartwarming and enchanting, yet undeniably human, manner. This detail is made increasingly admirable with the incorporation of a pace that is as breakneck as view of the world of dating that is the focal point of Esper’s endeavor. Yet, none of the sequences, even the laughter-fueled montage that takes over the mid-section, feels rushed or superficial. There is a breezy demeanor to the proceedings that even makes the most familiar beats of the plot triumphantly sing. This is apparent in the relationship that forms between our twenty-six-year old lead, Jack (in a phenomenal turn from Trevor Duke), who turns to the title corporation in hopes of finding love after a twelve-year hiatus, and Lindsey (in a depiction by J.D. Achille that is consistently marvelous, engaging and authentic). The opening and concluding notes are also evidence of Esper’s mastery in this aforesaid department. Yet, these segments ring with a sweetness, an earnest simplicity and lack of pretension that is genuine and captivating. Despite its often-modern attitude (reflected most readily in the intriguing plot itself), the project feels wonderfully old-fashioned. Such only increases its amiability. Randy Veraguas’ depiction of the quirky desk clerk, Shelley, as well as Shandy Monte’s enactment of the similarly positioned Jennifer enhance the agreeable nature of the picture. Christie Devine is also stalwart in her quick role as Annie. Acei Martin, in a brief part dubbed “Urine Sample Woman”, is also stellar. When combined with the masterful moviemaking and deftly constructed literary contributions Esper incites herein, with his ear for often clever dialogue being another high-quality trait, it’s becomes immediately evident that the Secaucus, New Jersey born maestro has delivered another all-around winner.

This Quincy, Massachusetts recorded endeavor is also graced with illustrious cinematography from Mikel J. Wisler. Such a veneer reiterates the sunny atmosphere of the piece fantastically. Wisler’s seamless and sharp editing fares just as well. Also, assisting matters is Steven-Lanning Cafaro’s cheery and deeply cinematic music. Dominic Kaiser’s sound issuance is spectacular. J.L. Major and Rich Simpson’s assistant camera work is equally proficient.

Esper intends to comment on how intimate associations have become more akin to a business transaction, a one-sided meeting that is based on quick facts and reams of paper, than a personal experience. The conclusion, which hints at the latter method as the more beneficial, is evidence of this bitingly brilliant, but undeniably true, observation. In less capable hands, this is a storyline akin to this could’ve become a bitter, somber experience. But, Esper keeps the jokes cracking and the smiles brimming on our faces throughout. This is without ever diminishing the impact of his thesis statement. Such is, like the totality of “Undatement Center” itself, a tremendous accomplishment. Esper’s latest, an extension of many of the themes present in his earlier photoplays, is an all-out confirmation of his continually broadening talent. It is also a testament to his exceptional skill as a photographic craftsman. The result is side-splitting and deeply transcendent; an endlessly entertaining, quietly emotive must-see!

Premiered on April 1st, 2017.

(Unrated). Contains brief language and some sexual humor.

Stories in Motion’s page for the film can be found here.

The 20 Best Short Films of 2016

By Andrew Buckner

It has been a breakout year for both up-and-coming as well as established talent. This is especially true in the medium of the short film. From heart-wrenching and experimental dramas, to mind-bending multi-genre tales, horrifying chronicles of fear and uproarious comedies, here is the list of my twenty favorite related works in this field from 2016. Please note that the name of the director of the piece is provided after the title of the production. Enjoy!

1. “Maya” (Veemsen Lama)
2. “Araf” (Fidan Jafarova, Tofiq Rzayev)
3. “Strawberry Lane” (Jeremy Arruda, Aaron Babcock)
4. “Chyanti” (Veemsen Lama)
5. “Kinnari” (Christopher Di Nunzio)
6. “Nihan: The Last Page” (Tofiq Rzayev)
7. “Numb” (Penelope Lawson)
8. “Dirty Books” (Zachary Lapierre)
9. “Here Lies Joe” (Mark Battle)
10. “The Deja Vuers” (Chris Esper)
11. “Tastes Like Medicine” (Steven Alexander Russell)
12. “Come Together: H&M” (Wes Anderson)
13. “In a Time for Sleep” (Tofiq Rzayev)
14. “Sisyphus” (David Graziano)
15. “Trouser Snake” (Alex DiVencenzo)
16. “Mail Time” (Sebastian Carrasco)
17. “Hell-Bent” (Foster Vernon)
18. “Hand in Hand” (Haley McHatton)
19. “Menu” (Matt Shaw)
20. “Last Night” (Tal Bohbot)

“The Deja Vuers”- (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

“The Deja Vuers” (2016), an eight-minute short picture from director Chris Esper and screenwriter Jason K. Allen, is a charming, frequently funny and endlessly engaging experience. It is ingenious in the way it takes a commonplace set-up, a man approaching a woman on a park bench, to comically absurd levels. This is without it ever becoming too over the top. Simultaneously, Esper and Allen inject trademark components of fantasy and science-fiction, time travel and dreams, into an undertaking that is consistently fresh and exciting. This is while maintaining its commonplace relatability. Likewise, it never once utilizes humor that isn’t naturally born from the unfolding circumstances of the plot itself. With these un-related items, a balance of the mundane and the fantastic is seamlessly created. It is one that is built on dialogue. The articulations heard throughout are rich in everyday observations, exchanges and quiet insights. Furthermore, Allen’s penned characterizations are accessible. This is without coming across as archetypical or lacking in dimension. Such is certainly a tremendous feat unto itself.

The attribute apparent in the writing of the protagonists is amplified by the herculean strength of the lead performers we follow on-screen. Christie Devine is outstanding in her enactment as Morgan. Kris Salvi is phenomenal in his portrayal of Chuck. Yet, even the comparatively smaller roles, such as Craig Capone as Elias and J.P. Valenti as “Repairman”, offer well-rounded and memorable depictions. Adam Miller as “Teenager” fares just as well.

The potency of these qualities is vastly a courtesy of Esper’s masterful administrative hand. It is just as evident in Allen’s sharply designed and intelligent authorship of the material. The duo immediately establishes, via their respective contributions, a quietly whimsical tone for the piece. It is propelled in the opening moments by the smoothly upbeat music of Steven Lanning- Cafaro. This can also be said for Evan Schneider’s sumptuous, vibrant and suitably cheery cinematography. Schneider’s influence also benefits from taking full advantage of the natural beauty of its budding fall backdrop. The result is a smartly penned and honed, effortlessly enjoyable production. It is one that visibly triumphs from both a technical and narrative stand-point.

Esper, who also produced, and Allen chronicle Chuck coming across Morgan in a chance assembly. He has never met her before. Yet, a reverie Chuck had from the night before, where Morgan is sitting in the precise location she is at that initial instant and with an identical expression of the confused look that overtakes her countenance, makes him come up to Morgan and address her in conversation. While the explanation of such an act itself could easily be perceived as a pick-up line, it is immediately conveyed that Chuck and Morgan both find each other “repulsive”. But, Chuck states, in one of the many efficaciously guffaw-inducing bits herein, that the mutual unattraction between the two doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be intimate. This is just on the off case that a bizarre fate is bringing them together. Soon after this smirk-inducing gag is administered, a chain of circumstances, often built around loose connections and clever ironies, amusingly unfurls. This begins with something as small as a container of fruit cocktail. Soon it evolves into an assortment of individuals from bygone eras and lives. Included in the mix is a personality who could well be conjured from a vision induced through slumber itself. It isn’t far into these episodes before Morgan and Chuck realize that there may be more to this sense of de ja vu than a vague sense of familiarity. It is than a portal unveils. Such an incidence threatens to pull Chuck and Morgan apart from their moment together. In so doing, it promises to bring them to a place and time more matched to their personal desires.

This Stories in Motion production, budgeted for $2,000 and shot in Attleboro, Massachusetts, further benefits from this truly original plot. The single position found in the piece is also impeccable for a celluloid invention such as this. Moreover, it activates intriguingly and ends much in an equivalent fashion. This is on a wildly satisfactory note of paradoxical enigma. This stretch is also striking in that it seems to express the general outlooks of the personalities viewed in this pre-closing acknowledgments succession. This is through decision over exposition. Best of all, it incorporates this without being obvious about its intentions. The construction is just as confident in its pacing as it is in its sly execution of such happenstances. Such an affair issues a commencing and concluding credits segment that is as quaint, stimulating to the eye and proficient as the sequences these portions bookend. Correspondingly, Esper’s editing as well as the optical effects from Robert L. Lopez are outstanding. Andrew P. Marsden provides deftly issued sound. Danielle Schneider’s make-up is expertly fashioned. These ingredients are eye-catching on their own. When combined, these details illuminate and augment splendidly the effortlessly admirable appeal of all we encounter herein.

Esper’s latest accomplishes an incredible amount in its brief run time. It efficaciously juggles a multitude of genres and ideas. All of which are difficult enough to pull off individually. Yet, with all these various foundations at play: there is an undeniable air of gentle romanticism to the proceedings. This is fitting and welcome. The composition is much like Esper’s “Please Punish Me” (2015) in this respect. This is also accurate when pondering its ability to explore human interactions and regressed passions. Such occurs in a package that operates equally well as both an unexpectedly cerebral character study and as a witty comedy. In turn, “The Deja Vuers” is a wonderful display of talent and wise storytelling moves all around. It continually exhibits Esper’s as a craftsman of the photoplay at every turn. The work also serves as perpetual evidence of the equally deft capabilities of his cast and crew. More than anything, the exertion reminds us of the illimitability and experimental nature inherent in arrangements such as these. Because of this, Esper and company have erected a must-see; another fantastic addition to his increasingly spellbinding filmography.

Director, Author Chris Esper Talks “The Filmmaker’s Journey”

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By Andrew Buckner

Today I have the tremendous honor of speaking with writer and director Chris Esper! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?

I was born and raised in New Jersey. Growing up, I have always had a lot of love for the arts. As a kid, I thought I wanted to be an actor/comedian like Robin Williams, who was always my favorite. I tried my hand at acting when I was in my teens and part of the drama club. I also tried doing stand-up comedy. I found some success in both areas, but I ultimately felt it wasn’t for me. I was also really interested in puppetry and tried my hand at that as well. Again, I enjoyed it very much, but I felt my talents were in other areas. All the while, I was always a big movie buff and had a love and fascination with movies and most of the arts that I enjoyed always lead back to movies. I think this when I knew I should be in filmmaking.

What was the path to becoming a filmmaker like for you?

My path into filmmaking came to me when I was about 17 or 18 years old, but before that almost everything I did somehow lead back to film and I never truly realized it. For example, when I was 10 years old, I wrote a thirty page script about a boy and his robot which I called Boy Bot. I think I wrote it because I wanted to act in a movie. I was a big Ghostbusters fan and enjoyed comedy and science fiction, so I wrote this story in a similar vein. I also discovered that two of the actors were also the writers, so that convinced me that perhaps I should write something. I kept telling all my friends in school that I was going to make a movie and everybody wanted to be part of it. I went about sending the script to Columbia Pictures, thinking that if they made Ghostbusters then surely they would make mine. About 6 months to a year later, the envelope came back to me with a “Return to Sender” labelled stamped on it. For some reason, this didn’t hurt or cease my passion, even at age 10.

By the time I did reach age 17, I started to see movies in a different way. No longer were movies entertainment, but it was an art form. I trained myself in learning about classic cinema, different directors, etc. I also received my first camera at that age and started making movies on my own. I made a documentary, stop motion animation pieces and most of the time small experimental films and narratives I would star in while also directing, writing, shooting and editing everything. YouTube was new at the time, so I went about uploading these films to a channel. The films were not good by any stretch of the imagination, but other amateur filmmakers were taking note of my work and started following my channel. It was after making these films that I truly knew I wanted to make movies for a living. I found that I could combine all the art forms I grew up to love into one medium while also satisfying my passion for film and storytelling.

Are there any movies or fellow directors you look to for inspiration?

The movie that made me want to make movies was Raging Bull. Martin Scorsese is easily my favorite director. His passion for cinema is contagious and he’s also a filmmaker that’s taught me about the importance of personal filmmaking. To me, Raging Bull demonstrates all that he believes in in cinema and while also showing his own personality on screen. I love how its shot, the atmosphere, the acting and the overall story and how it unfolds. I recall watching the audio commentary and behind the scenes documentary and hearing Scorsese talk about what he wanted to achieve really inspired me. I feel that the rest of his filmography also follows suit with films like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Hugo, The Last Temptation of Christ, etc. All these films carry qualities of himself as a person while showcasing his deep cinematic desires.

I find that I enjoy movies by directors that are personal stories and also movies that challenge me and take me to another world. I tend to lean towards films by Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining), Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, Vertigo), Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York, Adaptation, Being John Malkovich), Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows, Day for Night), David Cronenberg (The Fly, The Brood, Naked Lunch), Charlie Chaplin (City Lights, Modern Times), Darren Arronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler), Walt Disney, and Jim Henson.

My other favorite films include dark comedies, animation, sci-fi/fantasy and psychological thrillers. I could go on and on!

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You’ve directed many short films. Among them is “Still Life”, a favorite of mine, which you have said is personal to your own experiences as a cinematic artist. How is this so?

I made “Still Life” when I was just finishing college. It’s a film about dealing with criticism as an artist and learning how to grow from it. At the time, I don’t believe I have ever been given an honest critique of my work until I entered college and we would present our projects to the class. I wouldn’t react negatively towards anybody, but I would beat myself up over any kind of feedback, thinking I failed. That side of me would show easily and many would try explain to me that it wasn’t a bad thing. I didn’t see it that way. So, I wrote the screenplay to “Still Life” as a way to express those feelings. In way, it was a therapeutic film to make because I learned something as I made it and it seems that audiences did too. My attempt was to show audiences that everybody faces of fears of criticism, but have to in order to grow as artists.

What is it like to release something that means so much to you individually out into the world?

It’s so surreal. On the one hand, you’re really excited to share your creation but at the same time you’re scared to death of how it’s going to be received. In the end, it’s one of the most gratifying feelings in the world when you’re sitting in a cinema and watching your film play and watching/listening to how the audience is reacting. This is especially true with comedy. You also know you do a great job when an audience member wants to talk with you further about your themes or how you made the film. That’s when you know your film left an impression on them.

You are currently producing your first feature called Higher Methods. It is going to be directed by Nathan Suher. What can you tell us about the project?

Nathan and I have been good friends for going on five years now. Higher Methods was a play written by Lenny Schwartz (who also wrote the screen version) which is about fame and the price we pay to achieve it. The basic premise is an actor, Matt, is in search of his sister who has been missing for 10 years. This search leads him down a rabbit hole where he comes across an acting class in which the professor employs unusual and sometimes sadistic methods in order to get a performance out of a student. The film then becomes an ultimate question of what is reality and what is fantasy.

I hadn’t seen the play, so when I read the script it was a huge treat for me. I was blown away by it. It’s exactly the kind of film I would direct and/or watch. Nathan had contacted me initially asking me to be the assistant director on the project, which I agreed to. Later, though, he asked me to be in a bigger position of co-producing with him. I was flattered and said “Yes”. We go into production next year.

You’re work has played at many different film festivals. You’ve also received a lot of acclaim for your material in these places. For instance, your short, “Steak Knives”, won the Festival Prize for Best Opening Scene in the Stories by the River Film Festival 2015 and In the Bedroom won the Outstanding Achievement Award for Writing in a Drama Series at the LA Web Fest in that year. How important do you think film festivals are to helping indie directors get their work out and recognized?

I think it’s extremely important. We live in an age filled with media saturation, so it’s very hard to stand out among everyone else who is also making movies. By submitting and then being accepted into a film festival, it shows that you’re standing out among the rest and that your piece belongs amongst other talented filmmakers. Awards are great, too, but just being accepted is a nice honor whether the festival is big or small.

You also have done several music videos. Among the most recent of these is Aaron K. Wilson’s “I Hear the Future”. Is directing a music video a lot like shooting a short film? If so, how?

I love directing music videos. I feel that I have more freedom in that I don’t necessarily have to follow a strict narrative structure with a complete beginning, middle and end. I can play with the medium and do something that is a visually narrative and experiment more so than I could with a short film. I also enjoy not having to think about sound when shooting a music video. It usually makes the day go by a little faster without having to worry about that factor. I do also enjoy doing music videos that include a complete story with dialogue as that’s not always done and its fun doing something different like that.

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You have a book coming out on June 24th, which I highly recommend to everyone, called The Filmmaker’s Journey. It is based on a popular vlog of yours. What was this transition like?

I started the vlog earlier in the year. I have been doing this for about six years and I felt that I had a lot experience to share, especially still at a young age. Ultimately, I wanted to help other filmmakers who are either just starting out or thinking about getting into the field. There’s a lot of things that many don’t tell you before getting into it and I wanted to be the one to say what the realities were while also convincing others that this career isn’t impossible and can be done. The transition from vlog to book wasn’t really too difficult. I pretty much had all the information I wanted to get out there. At that point it was just about expanding upon it in book form.

At what time did this occur?

At the time I decided to write this as a book, I had only been producing the vlog for about a month. I didn’t have a big audience for it at all, but felt it had a ton of potential to be something bigger. I also like to keep my videos short at 5 minutes or less as that usually works well for the internet audience. However, I was a bit frustrated in that there was so much more I wanted to say that I didn’t have to say on video. So, I decided that in order to share my larger ideas and advice, it might be best write it as a book. I had never written a book before, so it was different for me, but also easy because I knew the exactly what I wanted to say.

In the book you share a lot of personal stories, experiences and dispense a lot of helpful advice for aspiring directors. Some of this is your definition of what it means to be a director and detailed explanations of technology and filmmaking. You are even kind enough to give A Word of Dreams a shout out in the “Web Sites to Get Your Film Reviewed” section. Thank you! Of all these bits of wisdom can you share one with us that you feel is among the most important?

You’re very welcome! I would say that most important is knowing that everyone faces all the struggles I mention throughout the book. I cannot stress this enough. I would always read so many biographies about my heroes and film idols, but they hardly ever mentioned what their struggles or failures were before they became the success that we know them to be. I think it’s very important to know that you’re not the only one as it puts things in perspective if they could face failure, you can too. We have a tendency as humans to look down upon failure and try to ignore, but I feel that it should be welcomed in order to understand that as much as it hurts, it’s what drives us to become successful in life. Every career, especially this one, has no clear path. It’s filled with detours and by trying to compare your failures to someone else’s successes if just a waste of energy.

What are the differences and similarities between the process of writing a book and publishing it and creating a film and releasing it?

The most obvious difference is one being so visual over the other. With a book, the goal is to keep the reader interested by creating the visuals through your words. Because I have written screenplays in the past and because I tend to be a visual person this was somewhat easy for me. The hardest part for me was writing sentences that made sense while also getting the point across. With a film, the camera work and visuals usually fill in the blanks but with a book the writer has to do that themselves.

In terms of distribution and releasing, I would say the process is somewhat similar because it’s all about independently releasing your work by way of digital technology. I do have the self- publishing process to be a little harder because it’s so difficult to find people willing to review your book. Many of the writers I found either charge an outrageous amount of money for a review or you genre isn’t what they want. With a movie, I can easily get 20 reviews for a single short film for very little money and also find a number of avenues to show it.

You also have your own production company. It is called Stories in Motion. How did that come about?

I started Stories in Motion in March 2016. By that point, I realized that I had making a living as a filmmaker/videographer for 6 years. But, yet, I didn’t have an identity to follow other than my own name. I wanted to create a production company in order to market myself in a better way and perhaps even create further opportunities for myself. In short time that I have had the company, I am finding more success and opportunities than I did in just using my name for 6 years.

You are currently penning your first feature film. What is this experience like?

It’s a very difficult experience. With short films, I do a little bit of outlining and character development, but for the most part I just dive right in and develop as I write. With a feature, I’m trying my best to do more of that before actually writing the screenplay. To tell you the truth, too, I’m kind of impatient when it comes to writing because I like to just get started and see what happens and experiment. I often feel tied down by first formulating what happens on each page and when a certain beat of the story should happen. Perhaps it’s not the best way to work, but I find it works best for me. It gets easier though as I do more pre-planning.

What can we expect from this work?

I’m trying to keep the overall story and premise under wraps at this time, but, much like “Still Life”, it’s a very personal story. The main character is basically myself and it’s also a psychological drama with similar elements as the films of Charlie Kaufman.

What do you want your audience to take away from your material?

I like to make an audience think while also relating to them on an emotional and personal level. I would hope that an audience walks away from one of my films still thinking about it, relating to the characters and maybe even take action for themselves or for somebody else.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?

Yes, there’s lots of exciting things happening. My short film, “Please Punish Me”, is currently making its rounds on the festival circuit and just got into its 13th festival. I’m also in the process of finishing production on my latest short film, “A Very Proper Man”, which I’m hoping to release later in the year. My company also optioned a couple of short screenplays for this year including Pride and Money and Smartphone by the very talented Brian Pickard. Both will be produced in 2017. The company also recently optioned The Deja Vuers by Jason K. Allen. That project will be going into production later this summer. Finally, I’m going into production along with Massachusetts based production company, Stories by the River, this fall on a short comedy film I had written.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Thank you so much, Andrew, for the interview and your continuous support of independent cinema!

Thank you for your time! I look forward to all your upcoming works!

You can pre-oder The Filmmaker’s Journey on Amazon here.

You can connect with Chris Esper on Facebook here.

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“I Hear the Future”- (Music Video Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

Aaron K. Wilson’s experience as a motivational speaker reverberates through every rousing moment of his lyrically terrific and appropriately energetic single, “I Hear the Future”. With beautiful, stirring and well-orchestrated production from Hollywood Legend Beats the message to find and embrace your dreams resonates triumphantly throughout. Released through RMV Records this is a phenomenally done composition. Moreover, it is one everyone will relate to. The power behind Wilson’s wordplay and the incredible message of motivation he provides is given brilliant visualization by director Chris Esper, who also edited this masterful work. This can be found in the six-minute video, set to be released on January 30th of 2016, for the aforementioned number.

The concept by Mike Sanders and Raeshelle Cook found in this cinematic realization of Wilson’s phenomenal musical piece is flawless. It features a bored office hand (played by Wilson himself). Fighting nodding off at his desk, a point of relatability that many fellow labor-a-day audiences will latch onto immediately, the camera seems to enter his mind. In a demonstration of the effects of the record, and its inspirational meaning when played and pondered, it does this by going through his ear. After going through a vortex, one of the many entrancing and hypnotic sights on display here, the song kicks in. From here Esper delivers an optical extravaganza that is bright, striking, joyful and cheery. It is made all the more engaging by some fantastically choreographed dance moves.

There are recurring images which make the representations held within the arrangement come to life. In one segment, we see Wilson in a straight-jacket. He is seen fighting off shadowy figures which surround him. This could personify thoughts of worthlessness or inadequacy. It can even be seen to be an emblematic communication of being confined to treading the pre-set path the world pushes upon us all (much as the office employee must be feeling in the commencement). Maybe it could be all three. The cleverness in adding such a prospect here is that the spectator can easily put their own personal emphasis on what these symbols convey. It helps reach a wider audience. Not to mention, it makes the whole experience that much more singular, personal and profound.

The impact is punctuated in the end credit scene. Here Wilson, Esper and a varied cast of several others express what they wish to achieve in their lives. It is the perfect summarization of all that comes beforehand. This also mechanizes stalwartly with the notion the short film utilizes. It seems to reassure the exhausted individual showcases early on as realizing his own ambitions and pursuing them. In turn, Esper and crew call upon his viewers to ask themselves what they would similarly like to accomplish.

Esper and Wilson have shown their own respective gargantuan talents with this endeavor. They make a tremendous team. The video and the addictive anthem inspired by it compliments one another spectacularly.The proof is in the high-quality product resulting from this collaboration. Every technical facet is staggering. This resonates all the more vigorously with the ardent, caring treatment Esper has given Wilson’s already fantastic exertion. Both “I Hear the Future” and its filmic imagining are guaranteed to mean a lot to a great many individuals. Each item is a masterpiece in its own right. Coming together as one the sheer spectacle and elevating nature of the two entities makes for a necessary, tremendously invigorating exhibition that speaks directly to the soul.

You can check out Aaron K. Wilson’s site and learn more about him here.

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“Still Life”- (Short Film Review)

 

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***** out of *****.

Most of the routes of dreams branch out maddeningly into avenues of failure so varied that we often lose sight of the sharply focused paths ahead. They are departures that can be falsely perceived as permanent. Yet, those who find themselves off-road, staring wide-eyed into the obvious sign posts of their addressed defects, especially if it is engraved in their ultimate ambition, often lose hope altogether.

Soon they find their feet sinking into the mire of abandoned hopes when such an incident transpires. With this they are wrought in disillusionment. This is rooted in what he or she believes to be the reality that they will never rise up. Furthermore, they feel as if they will never better these errors.

They become stuck, some momentarily and most others indefinitely, as the voices of those who pointed out their shortcomings ring forever in a cacophony of eternal humiliation. For many of us, artists especially, such small criticisms cause silent wounds. These forever inwardly scar. They make our once swift movement towards personal reveries immobile.

This is the focus of the 2012 short “Still Life”, a cinematic composition worthy of Ingmar Bergman, by writer and director Chris Esper. It concerns a student of photography, Martin (Timothy Bonavita in a part that perfectly conveys all the layers of vulnerability, intelligence and sentiment his character demands). He wants to be a photographer.

Yet, as we learn in a beautifully wrought early scene, the world around our wide-eyed and ambitious lead puts him in the line of fire for constant criticism. Still, he is devastated yet, optimistic.

The tale walks this fine line of emotion in a realistic, understated manner. It is done in a conscientiously ardent and understanding way. With this modus anyone who has felt defeated by negativity after it is cast at his or her aspirations will undoubtedly find liberating.

An early segment showcases him being criticized in front of his peers. This is done in a manner that suggests he just needs slight improvement to be where he needs to be to achieve the first steps of his intended success.

It is a sequence that is an analogy for how our main character is feeling. This also communicates his own contemplations about himself through emotion and action.

This draws us instantly into Martin’s existence. To further add to this intimacy the camera surrounds Martin like a close friend; one who should speak up in defense. Regardless, he never finds the strength to do so.

“Still Life”, made for only $500, finds the right note and atmosphere instantly and never departs from it. To its further credit, the pace is meditative and cerebral. Still, it is always fascinating.

This characteristic is, like the rest of the tale, appropriate. It also gives us the necessary time to learn and reflect on Martin’s situation. Such is done without the proceedings ever feeling as if it is ignoring the act of moving the story along rapidly.

Esper’s brief film never once steps away from following our starry-eyed persona as he continues on despite a succession of letdowns. The crisp and intimate largely black and white cinematography by Mark Phillips adds to the haunting, downtrodden yet inspiring poetry of this massive achievement. It also heightens the previously stated sense of luminosity amid darkness.

One especially poignant moment involving Young Martin (Charles Everett Tacker) and Martin’s Mother (Carlyne Fournier) are in color. This segment is highlighted by aching reminiscence. It is only amplified by the  stupendous caliber of the aforementioned portrayals.

The gorgeously gentle drive of Ryan Campos’ beautiful score is perfectly in sync with the sentiment expressed on-screen. Jill Poisson’s editing is terrific.

This also issues exemplary acting turns from David Graziano, as Professor Lynch, and Mike Daniels, as Josh. The rest of the cast fares just as well.

All of these elements make “Still Life” a contemplative, deeply felt masterpiece. In but eleven scant, but quietly harrowing, minutes Esper and his filmmaking crew triumphantly executes introspection, drama and sorrow.

These elements all unify in a silent cry to love and understand those around us. Also, it assures us to that defeat is but a temporary obstacle meant to be overcome.

Martin states about a flower he photographed in the first few minutes of this heart-wrenching work that he wanted to “convey a solidarity of loneliness”. That is exactly what Esper and his crew have done.

They have framed the chief protagonist as the lone blossom. His seclusion is the focus of what lies enclosed in the picture. In turn, the work itself and the character radiate a melancholy splendor.

It illuminates the moving photograph it is contained in. From here it touches our core. In turn, we relate and feel unified with the central figure of the narrative.

Maybe Martin isn’t so alone after all.

“Please Punish Me”- (Short Film Review)

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

By Andrew Buckner

We live in a world where often we become so accustomed to a certain stroke of luck, whether it be good or bad fortune, that we almost expect it, feel it and await its presence. Some of us go about our daily routines in this state.

“Please Punish Me”, from director Chris Esper (2014’s “Always a Reason”, “Steak Knives”), is a meditation on such circumstances. It is balanced with splendid performances, beautifully humanized characters and ample doses of humor and heart.

The tale it tells in its quick-moving and smartly paced thirteen and a half minutes is that of a businessman named Scottie Lee (David Sackal in a tremendous and quietly moving performance). He is having a long streak of positive events transpiring in his life.

Among these incidents is climbing the corporate ladder, which he admits in a soul-bearing scene that he hasn’t even attempted to do, and he just can’t understand why. Our lead is a man who just wants to be an artist. But, for his success he feels the need to be disciplined for what he deems to be his “curse”.

This is when he turns to a place that dispenses such treatments at a price. Here he meets the woman meant to incorporate this specific brand of punishment, Michelle (Joanna Donofrio in a role which captures all the layers of her character incredibly well).

From this point on the two find an unexpected bond. With this wells an honesty flourishing where should be an exercise in momentary pleasure.

Rich Camp’s screenplay, from a story by Tom Paolino, is tremendously done. In its sparse runtime we leave this short feeling as if we sat down and conversed with them ourselves and know them intimately.

The first half is full of winning, well-timed, delivered and genuinely side-splitting gags. When we get to the second portion of the narrative we are drawn in by the poignant turn in the chronicle.

Camp has provided a delicate balance of opposite tones. It is one that he has done a phenomenal job of bringing forth on the page.

With Esper’s talented directorial hand bringing the story to life on-screen, with help from Mark Phillips’ sharp cinematography and Steven Lanning-Cafaro’s original score, “Please Punish Me” showcases talent in all technical arenas.

This is further aided by Felipe Jorge’s film editing, Jorge Mario Tobon’s sound work and Chad Kaplan’s delightful contribution to the striking animation in the opening sequence. Make-up artist Stefani Plante and hair stylist Nicole Bertoni do a phenomenal job as well.

This is a work that is emotionally searing, illuminating and beautiful all around. It is light and breezy when it needs to be. Still, it is also ultimately tear-jerking, poetic and heartfelt.

Esper has crafted a gargantuan accomplishment. He has established a triumphant victory juggling the story’s many moods evoked with effortless gusto.

Among its various accomplishments is ending on a note that is both thought-provoking, contemplative, genuine, brilliantly understated and real.

Most full-length films would not be able to establish their characters as well as “Please Punish Me” does in under fifteen minutes. Furthermore, it would not make us feel for them the way Esper and his cinematic crew does here.

This is lively, but potent, material. It is inspiring, gentle and cathartic. Moreover, it wisely finds the right fit to execute the narrative with a sense of natural love. It also incorporates an optimism that is delicate, stalwart and frank.

“Please Punish Me” received great acclaim from the 401 Film Festival. I can see why. It is intelligent, cinematic art.