Indie Film Focus: Chris Esper’s “Still Life” (2012)
Still Life is a dramatic short by Chris Esper, a freelance videographer/filmmaker who is based in Attleboro, MA. The film is based on Ira Glass’ well-known quote about the “gap” between beginning artists’ taste and the quality of their work. Glass counsels patience and persistence, practices that I have found to be important to maintaining both growth and sanity as a writer.
What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Esper uses the art of still photography (a medium in which he also works) as his subject in an expanded, cinematic portrayal of what Glass was getting at. Martin (Tim Bonavita) is a photographer who has reached Glass’ “gap” phase. Acutely aware of the difference between the work that he imagines and that which he produces, Martin becomes so self-critical that he cannot accept constructive criticism from others (e.g., his photography professor [David Graziano], a sympathetic classmate [Mike Daniels], and even a well-meaning, established, professional photographer [Peggy Passarelli]) without becoming morose and dejected. When he revisits what got him so passionate about photography in the first place, he is able to integrate this feedback into his love for composition and move on with his work.
Written, directed and produced by Esper, this film takes an experience that he undoubtedly went through himself and turns it into an artistically-rendered object lesson for all creative types. The acting is good. Although I felt that Bonavita somewhat overacted his character’s frustration at times. he nevertheless captured convincingly the emotional whipsaw that every young artist must suffer through in order to make art that meets his or her own high standards. The quality of the cinematography (by Mark Phillips) is particularly evident in a key flashback sequence. Its “Super 8” quality accentuates its status as a memory and clearly demarcates it from the “present” of the rest of the short film. Editor Jill Poisson neatly weaves this sequence into the overarching narrative and makes particularly skillful use of dissolves with jump cuts. The film’s musical score (by Ryan Campos) both matches and accentuates the overall tone of the movie. The combined effect of all these professionals’ work is to create a convincingly emotional short film. I actually started tearing up at the film’s conclusion.
Still Life was accepted and screened at NewFilmmakers New York film festival and the Stories by the River film festival, where it received a nomination for Best Use of Color Correction. It will be screened at the Sanford International Film Festival at the end of this month. Furthermore, it was nominated for Best Director and won the Best Editing award at the 2013 Motif Magazine Theater and Film Awards.
For the past three years, Esper has directed a number of successful short films, web series and corporate videos. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Recording Arts from New England Institute of Technology and continues to work in developing his skills. His work, including his demo reel, can be found on his professional website. I recommend that the reader go there now to check it out.