Sunday, March 10, 2013

Amplifying Some Very Wise Ira Glass Advice

The short film Still Life, currently available for paid viewing and download at, could have easily turned out differently. If not for some advice about storytelling from This American Life public radio host Ira Glass.

“Originally, the main character of Martin was very angry and defensive,” writer-director Chris Esper tells FilmStew. “He didn't have any redeeming qualities. Then, when I was in school one day, my motion graphics teacher showed my class a kinetic typography piece.”

A protagonist finding his way

That 2011 piece is based on something Glass first told an interviewer in 2009; it's all about the “creativity gap” at the beginning of an artist's career. As the radio maestro explains, though an individual's taste may already be "killer," it naturally takes time for a person's finished artistic products to catch up to the vision. Glass confesses that he himself “took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met.”

The Glass quote is title-carded in full at the beginning of Still Life and informs the drama of photo student Martin (Tim Bonavita) taking in feedback and beginning to find his way as an artist. “I think it was the passion in Glass's voice that intrigued me,” explains Esper, who graduated from the New England Institute of Technology last fall. “So I went back and rewrote Still Life from scratch and the character changed along with it. I even got permission from Glass's company to use the quote. So, the quote really helped in the end.”

Esper, working as an assistant cameraman

The short also benefits from some melodic piano soundtrack music provided by Ryan Campos , a very clever title (given the name of Glass's beloved weekly program) and crisp black and white cinematography by Mark Phillips. "Martin sees things very black and white,” notes Esper. “He doesn't think that he's growing or anything, he thinks he has to be either bad or good.”

“That's also why the flashback scene is in color, because as a child things are happy all the time,” he adds. “Martin is very much based on myself... I'm always nostalgic of my childhood because I think as kids, we aren't told when something we do, creatively, is bad. Anything we did was amazing and this is why sometimes when we enter the "real world" of being an artist, we are hindered and taken aback by being critiqued, because we grew up thinking we could do no wrong.”

Still Life has not screened at any competitive film festivals. However, after showing the short through some local filmmaker showcases, Esper was put on to TwistFlix by a friend. “It went live last month,” Esper says (at $1.99 to view, $3.99 to download). “I sent the film in, not thinking anything of it. That very night, I got an e-mail from the head of the company and he really liked Still Life and asked if I'd be interested in distributing it. Of course, I said yes.”

Esper says he is currently at work on a comedy short as well as the script for his first feature-length project. He also continues to direct music videos and freelance on other projects. Purchase Still Life here.

[Chris Esper]


  1. Excellent review, Chris Esper is an extremely talented individual.

    1. If I'd had more time with this item, I might actually have tried to talk to Ira Glass. I cover a lot of short films, and half the battle is coming up with a really original, powerful "hook." Esper has certainly done that with STILL LIFE.