American Art Collector - - Contents - By Sarah Elise Abram­son

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.emi­lyesper­

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.

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