If you haven't heard of Hesperidian Productions, odds are you will soon enough. Started in January 2011, this Chicago-based multimedia production company already has more than 2,500 likes on Facebook. Its latest short film, Stilettowhich next screens for the public at the "RAW: natural born artists" showcase May 24 at the Double Doorpremiered before an audience of more than 1,000 back in March.
That kind of growth in less than a year and a half certainly stands as testament to the drive, business savvy and talent of openly gay president and co-founder Kyle Thomas, who just celebrated his 25th birthday last week. But listen to Thomas talk about Hesperidian and its clear that the art and the creative process are paramount to the success.
"We would be nowhere close to where we are now if we didn't have such an awesome team," Thomas said. "The staff that we have just completely blows me away every day because everyone is so talented and passionate and it makes me so much more fiery and alive to be doing this."
Thomas refers to everyone working for or with Hesperidian (including its fans) as part of the "tribe." The self-explanatory term emphasizes the collaboration-driven nature of the company and expresses the way Thomas and his co-workers cherish each and every connection they make, be it professional or with fans and admirers.
But Thomas understands the infectious team-first attitude starts with the quality of the work.
"If people did not like what they were seeing and didn't like the energy of being involved with it they wouldn't want to be involved with it," he said.
That energy starts with Thomas. Growing up in Milwaukee, he explored all kinds of art before focusing on playwriting and psychology as a student at Loyola University. After two years, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in effort to save money. There, he started to gather some fellow artists and began to film his own plays as well as work with musician friends on music videos. Then he had his epiphany.
"I'm writing plays; I'm working with the performers; I'm creating the aesthetic; I'm developing how the project is made," he said. "Eventually I was like, 'Ha, I'm a director, that's what I want to do with the rest of my life.'"
After graduating, Thomas bought all his own equipment and started doing all his own work, but he wanted to do something bigger. He met with financial advisors and attorneys to learn everything he could about how to make a career of his passion.
"Bridging the gap between amateur and professional is what I wanted to do, he said. "In order to do that I had to study, I had to meet the right people and I had to work harder than I ever worked in my life and that working harder has not slowed down, it's just getting more intense, but it's great."
When Thomas moved back to Chicago he met an equally hard worker in Jane Morson, a writer with a development, marketing and communications background that shared Thomas' sentiments on collaboration. Together they cofounded Hesperidian Productions.
The company began with a short film to set the tone for its brand. Awakening, a story entailing the origin of the company's name, won the Excellence in Filmmaking award at the 2012 Canada International Film Festival. The short can be viewed online at www.hesperidianproductions.com/awakening.
Stiletto, the second and most recent short film, boasts even higher production quality. A neo-noir (because that's what the tribe decided it wanted to make at the "Awakening" cast party), Stiletto centers on a district attorney named Pete who is trying to bring down an archbishop on trial for sexually abusing a child. After the victim/key witness commits suicide, Pete enlists the help of an old flame, the madam of a high-end brothel, to help him take down the archbishop.
Thomas and his company are bringing the film to the RAW showcase because of their commitment to reaching out to the Chicago art community.
"There's an untapped creative potential in Chicago," Thomas said. "I think it's really disrespectful for the nation at large to only think that the great art comes from New York and L.A. because that disregards an entire population of people that lie outside of those places that have a voice too."
In addition to film, Hesperidian showcases a fashion department directed by Michelle Sam. Over the next six months, the company has big plans to roll out a music department with top-notch talent already lined up to work with them.
"People that are award winning all over the world want to be involved in the productions we're doing," Thomas said. "Right now we're in this huge growth period and it's like everything is coming to life. I just feel really blessed."
Although a proud and openly gay man, Thomas says he avoids terming himself a "gay filmmaker."
"It instantly creates a conception in [a person's] mind that I do gay love stories or that I do gay smut films or things of that nature," Thomas said. "I'm very proud to be who I am. I love who I am. But it's more important to me to be a filmmaker than a gay filmmaker."
Thomas said he will absolutely someday use gay characters in a film, but when the time is right and the story calls for it.
"Ultimately, the way I look at characters it shouldn't matter if they're gay or straight," he said. "I like gay films, too; it's not about that. I want to reach people and I want to touch people and it shouldn't be about who is falling in love with who."
In fact, Thomas and the film department of Hesperidian have started working on a romantic comedy, which Thomas has gleefully announced will be their first feature-length project. The film will focus on the impact of a musician's rise to fame on his long-term relationship. Casting took place last week and approximately 800 people auditioned.
The company also hopes to begin turning Stiletto into a feature film some time next year.
Visit www.hesperidianproductions.com for more information.