Q&A with Chris Esper On The Pre-production Phase Of Filmmaking

Chris Esper is an American filmmaker who’s been making films since 2010, starting in college as a student filmmaker to eventually making films professionally since 2012 after graduating. In high school, he tried different things and experimented with the camera, which led him to find his voice as a filmmaker and storyteller.

Today, Chris owns and operates his own production company, Stories in Motion, where he produces, directs and writes short films, music videos, corporate videos. commercials, wedding videos, etc.

Last week, Chris accepted to answer a few questions focusing on the pre-production phase of filmmaking.

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1. Could you say a bit about your view on filmmaking & the filmmaking world? 

I think of filmmaking as being life itself. I strongly believe that everything we see is a camera shot, everything we hear is our soundtrack and ultimately, we are all characters with a story to tell and everyone around us is a supporting character in this crazy movie we call life. As an art form, I think filmmaking is one of the few media that can combine just about anything from photography to directing, acting, animation, writing, music, and so on. It’s an amazing medium that can express so much. The filmmaking world is quite incredible, especially in the independent side of things where just about everyday we discover new and raw talents that get lost under the radar or have yet to make the major motion picture that will put their name on the map. 

That being said, I also see the filmmaking world as a tough one. There are lots of things that you don’t expect when you get into such a career that is so much fun, but yet so difficult to understand.

2. What are – in your opinion – the essential initial steps to make a great film? 

First and foremost, a great script. When I personally read a script, I have to be in love with it. I can’t just like it. I have to love it so deeply. It’s like being in a relationship. You’re going to be spending six months to a year making a project and during that time, you need to love it and stay in love with it. Sometimes it takes just one tiny element to help you fall in love, but it’s there and it can grow very quickly. 

I think once you have a great script, the next phase is getting a great cast. Casting is crucial to any project. I found that when I started out I would often hand pick actors I knew and never actually see if they were right for the part. This proved to be a risky move because then I would find myself on set trying to adjust their performance and even worse, trying to fix it in the editing. There’s no sense in being kind of sure you have the right actor. You want to KNOW you have the right actor. Casting also goes beyond merely just seeing how well the actor sounds when they read for the part, but also body language and how they present the character. More importantly, their creativity as an actor is important. There’s often a misconception that directing means having to literally control everything the actor does. I believe that great directing means looking and listening and very little talking. Often times, actors can bring along amazing ideas that you never saw and it adds so much to your story. These qualities come from casting and seeing how well they can take direction, add to their character and ultimately be honest and truthful in how they portray that character.

I also believe that a great short film benefits in pre-production. Pre-production can make or break your project. It’s the phase where you prepare so that on the day of the shoot, you come in with no concerns or worries and you can make the magic that brews in your head. The magic doesn’t simply happen on set. It takes a lot of prep work in scouting locations, raising a budget, finding the right crew members for the job and answering any questions that need to  be answered prior to shooting.

3. What would you say makes a good story – one worth producing and turning into moving images? 

I believe a great story comes from an unexpected source: personal life experience. I think a good director can make a well-made and competent piece, but a great director shares who they are deep inside to the audience and they in turn find out something about themselves as they watch. Be it a comedy, drama, horror or even an action film. If that story has something to say about yourself in a way that’s relatable, I’m interested.

4. What would you advise to any emergent filmmaker in terms of fundraising? What strategies could you share with my readers and emerging talents to fund your independent film? 

Funding a project is a difficult task. It feels like a second job just trying to do so. In the past, I’ve used IndieGoGo as a crowdfunding source and while I was able to raise the money needed to make the projects I wanted to make, it was very difficult because you find yourself begging friends and family. The sad reality is that we live in an extremely media saturated world. Every crowdfunding site has at least one new film a day that’s looking for money. The trick is standing out among the rest, which is not an easy task and there’s not exactly a formula for doing so.

My biggest advice is if you do decide to go the crowdfunding route, make sure you have an amazing video that showcases what your film is going to look/feel like and share your story and why this film has to be made. By raising the stakes in the video, you will grab the attention of strangers right away. 

Other than crowdfunding, one can achieve a budget through private investors. I have never personally gone this route, so I would be lying if I said I knew how it worked, but if you’re able to find a person who is willing to put up their money to fund your project then that’s great. The key to finding someone who is interested in funding your film is through your pitch. The pitch, much like your crowdfunding video, needs to be tight, cohesive and say what the story is and what your goals are for the film. That’s a tough thing to communicate in a short time. I would say one should go into that meeting with a clear “script” in their head as to how they’re going to present their film. Film is a visual medium, so you have to create the visual for the potential investor. That could even be by creating a trailer to show what you’re aiming to do.

Another way to raise a budget is by way of local businesses and product placement where you entice a business to feature their product or business in your film in exchange for a payment that will go towards the project. Of course, the product or business should somehow relate to the story in a way where its presented in a subtle fashion. One last way of raising a budget is holding a live event where you could show your past films to an audience or get some local entertainment and all the proceeds from that event can go towards your project.

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