Make Out Party
I want to start this introduction off on a personal note: I have not been this impressed, delighted and stirred about an artist’s work in a while. Not only is Emily Esperanza’s vision clear and well put together, but also the young artist’s voice is intensely and remarkably strong. I’ve known Esperanza for a few years now through mutual friends in the LA art scene and was aware that she was extremely talented and working on big things. So, when I heard that she had finished her newest short film I was excited to see it. After watching her short film, Make Out Party, I decided that Esperanza and her work would be a perfect fit for this column.
The 26-year-old artist sent me some of her other, earlier work to watch and it just piqued my interest all the more. There’s a continuous essence of authenticity throughout all of Esperanza’s films as well as a strong sense that everything she’s made thus far is unquestionably personal. You can see and feel her hand on all of it also making the films themselves exceedingly human. Nothing is squeaky clean or trying too hard. The work is coming from a very pure and veritable place therefore comes off as such.
Esperanza has attended several schools over the years including the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Prague Film School in the Czech Republic and the Oxbow School in Napa, California. She states that she’s “happiest when in motion,” so she’s never in any one place too long. This could also be said of her work. Everything she sent me was very different from all the other films, yet they all seem as if they are made by the same artist. There is cohesion to her body of work, partially due to her energetic and steady aesthetic.
For upcoming screenings of Make Out Party and Wretched Woman, visit www.emilyesperanza.com.
You grew up with artist parents. It was around you all the time. How do you think this has affected you and your work today?
It’s really hard for me to differentiate between the way I was raised and the work I do now. It’s all really connected. When I was 3 or 4 my mom took me to the studio of an artist who had a large unfinished painting of Pavarotti hanging on the wall. I was really obsessed with Pavarotti’s music, which I knew from the cassettes my papa would play me. I ran over to the painting yelling “Pavarotti! Pavarotti!” The artist was so surprised that he took the painting off the wall, rolled it up and handed it to my mom to give to me. I have the painting hanging in my house today. Looking back, it’s wild to think that an artist could be moved enough to pass on a piece of personal work to a child, just like that. But rather than being impressed, I think he recognized a shared love and passion for art in another, which moved him to a genuine gesture.
I think it’s an underlying and unspoken understanding amongst artists, regardless of medium, and it can be recognized immediately, though it’s hardly possible to put into words. Simply, artists don’t choose to be artists. They don’t have a choice. Growing up, art was never an option, it was a way of approaching life. I don’t know a moment when it wasn’t there.
What, in your opinion, makes a good short film, or for that matter, good art. Do you see a difference?
The short film format is really interesting because it is a bizarre amount of time to convey an idea. Considering time constraints, the maker has to be especially creative regarding approach in order to tell a compelling story. I tend to appreciate shorts that are self-contained and aware of format, i.e., not trying to be something they’re not. Make a short because the format best suits the concept, not because you can’t make a feature.
I feel similarly about the art I gravitate toward; art that exists for itself and doesn’t try to overcompensate.
Who are some of your biggest influences, early and current?
When I was a kid my favorite movies and
shows were campy and colorful with lots of style—Hairspray, Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, The Wizard of Oz, Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Definitely feel like these early influences show through in Make Out Party.
An ongoing source of inspiration and someone who’s recently had a renewed sense of relevance in my work is Sergio Leone and his spaghetti Westerns. Leone’s use of sound design, pacing and archetype is masterful. I love Jack Smith, especially regarding his guerrilla/DIY approach, Maya Deren, David Lynch, Bill Viola, Roberto Bolaño and Leonora Carrington. Currently, I’m drawing a lot of inspiration from oral tradition and the stories that have been passed down in my family, the light in Giorgio de Chirico paintings, and the writing of Italo Calvino.
Can you talk a bit about your process in regards to creating and directing a film? For me, a film starts with an idea that manifests as a vision of a scene or shot. The visions can come from anywhere—sometimes inspired by a location, sometimes inspired by finding a great costume piece or prop, sometimes they come from nowhere. At a project’s inception, I don’t know what the story is yet; just know how the film feels. The narrative follows and slowly takes shape, pulled from the vision like tar.
Filmmaking’s currency is chaos, as at any moment there are a thousand things liable to go wrong. So much of the filmmaking process is navigating and negotiating that chaos. Directing is a very intuitive process and always challenges me to be more flexible in my approach. I’ve found that some of the most interesting choices or beautiful moments on set have come from a chaotic situation where it seems like there’s no solution. Just changing an approach to a problem can offer a new perspective and reveal options that may have never been presented otherwise.
Can you talk a bit about how the concept of Make Out Party came to you and then became reality?
The idea for Make Out Party came from an idea for a scene, which ultimately became the opening shot of the film. We start on a close-up of two people kissing. As we slowly zoom out, a third person joins them. The frame continues to widen and the camera pans to reveal that we’re at a big party where everyone is making out.
At the time, I was living in Chicago but had decided to move back to California. I wanted to make a really exciting film before leaving and to use it as an opportunity to collaborate with artists I hadn’t yet worked with. I pitched the rough concept to my cinematographer and close collaborator, Greg Stephen Reigh, who was really into it. From there I approached artist Molly Hewitt and filmmaker Eve Rydberg about coming onto the project. I admired their respective work but had never worked with either. We quickly assembled a team of passionate, creative people. There was barely a budget (about $1,500 total) and so we pooled all our resources to make it happen. We filmed around people’s schedules, shot our exteriors guerrilla-style, fabricated props and sourced costumes from our personal wardrobes. Local businesses donated locations and catering, and local designers loaned out wardrobe pieces. The entire process was intensely collaborative. After shooting wrapped, Full Spectrum Features, a Chicago nonprofit production company dedicated to increasing diversity in film, signed on to co-produce Make Out Party. They have since helped Eve and I see the project to completion.
In your other works, such as your
Wretched Woman series, the work is much more nonlinear or storyline based. What made you take a different route this time?
Wretched Woman is a collection of shorts that utilize duration and soundscape to explore female sexuality/sensuality, archetype and gendered spaces through a series of nonverbal video tableaus. I have an arts background but also work in the film industry. I’ve found a lot of skepticism from each world about the other—the former criticizing “movies” and the latter criticizing “video art.” I’m somewhere in the middle, so the series is an attempt to reconcile the two worlds. I’ve found that people’s reactions really vary depending on how the works are being exhibited (i.e., a sit-down screening versus installation) but I think that narratives can emerge from even the most experimental or nonlinear films. I wanted Make Out Party to be really entertaining and accessible, which in this case translated to a traditional story structure.
Stills from Make Out Party.