Exclusive Q&A with VANESSA PARISE, Director

By Sara Lynne Wright

parise.jpgWhat attracted you to #POPFAN?

Lisa Hamilton Daly, a really smart, accomplished executive at Lifetime, brought the project to me to direct. When I read the script, I could immediately visualize the style I wanted to shoot. I saw pockets of practical light with bits of scenes disappearing into the shadows, and moving cameras shooting through layers of depth as we revealed the characters.

One of Lifetime’s goals is to bring in the twenty-something audience, so this film could be edgy – visually and thematically dark. The script also had very challenging acting roles for the actors. One of my strengths as a director is working with actors, so I love complex roles that actors can really dig into – characters I want to keep watching.

Q. What resonated with you thematically about this project?

A. The false closeness we feel to celebrities because of social media is really interesting to me. In the movie, an obsessed fan [Nolan Funk] feels like this celebrity [Chelsea Kane] should perform her sexy music video for him because he’s watched it in private, feeling like he’s with her. But, of course, the closeness he feels is not real.

Your lead actor, Chelsea Kane, has said you had her write letters with her deepest, darkest secrets. Did you use these working with Chelsea on set?

A. I did! I feel like part of my responsibility as a director is to determine how each actor works and then to be there to not only guide the performance but also provide a safe environment in which actors can be vulnerable and takes risks. Chelsea and I charted her character’s progression throughout the movie and worked together to find personal choices that would bring her emotionally to each scene. She was awesome… very brave – she wrote deep, revelatory letters for each choice. I brought those letters to set with me, so I knew what to use to help her (I made sure to keep them close; they were very private!). I think the best performances come when the audience doesn’t know what the actor is going to do next because the actor doesn’t even know – it’s that real.

Q. Where did you shoot and what was the timeline?

A. We shot the exterior lighthouse and the NYC scenes on Vancouver Island. The interior of the lighthouse was shot at a different location on the mainland – I hope you can’t tell? For me, it was a three week prep and three week shoot.

Q. A lot different from the indie feature world, huh?

parise3.jpgA. Definitely. Starting out, I wrote, directed and produced [and acted in] two features. I’d have to write the scripts, raise the money, prep the movie, shoot the movie, get it out to festivals, and sell the movie. And then do publicity! Each of my features took three years of never-ending, uber-challenging work. The television world is so much faster. I love it!

Q. So it’s been a couple of years in the TV world? What have you done in TV so far?

A. I’ve sold a script to ABCF, set up a pitch at ABCS, and wrote a freelance episode of a Hallmark show called When Calls the Heart. And I’ve directed four television movies. It’s so different and fun to be able to jump in, be creative, and jump out again... and not have to deal with all the business of it.

Q. How has your experience in the indie film world helped you direct TV?

A. I already know every step of the process. I know a lot about every crew job, since I’ve had to do most of them at some point. [laughing] I also know what every line item is, how much things should cost, how much each department can spend, how to negotiate every deal… and how critical it is to stay on time and on budget. Everything from development all the way through publicity. I’m so happy to have done all that. But I’m also very grateful that now other people are doing those other jobs really well and I can just focus on directing!

Q. You’ve worked with a lot of very well-respected actors, including Alyssa Milano, Taryn Manning, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Johnathan Schaech, and Shelley Long. And you seem to develop a close bond with them. Is this because you were an actor yourself? And what made you turn from Harvard Medical School to acting to directing?

A. Yes, I’ve been honored to work with so many talented actors and I do develop particularly close relationships with them. I started acting when I was really young. But I also loved math and science – problem-solving. When I got into med school, I was at a crossroads. I deferred and went to NYC’s Circle in the Square Acting Conservatory. Then I moved to LA to be an actress. I hated sitting around waiting for auditions (yes, I’m type A!) so I jumped straight into making my first feature, Kiss the Bride [which Parise sold to MGM]. I still love the creative process just as much as I did on my first one – bringing a group of super-talented people who are all experts in their fields together to make something that is bigger than any of us could do individually. And I finally not so long ago turned down med school.

What’s next?

A. Today (!) I’m handing in the second draft of a television movie Luke Perry is directing for the Up network called Demo Girl — about a girl who has to enter a demo derby competition to pay for Harvard. I’m in talks to direct my next MOW. I’m also excited to be getting into episodic directing. I’m looking to direct a medical drama. (Half-kidding!)

Q. Any advice you have for aspiring directors?

A. Do it as much as you can. You get better every single time. Especially now, if you’re starting out, you can do micro-budget movies at home and build up your experience that way. However you can, just do it!

Anything else you want to add?

A. A big thanks to Mia Riverton Alpert and the Harvardwood community for always being supportive. I’m so grateful. And for those of you I don’t know yet, I look forward to meeting you someday – hopefully soon!

For more information, please visit: www.vanessaparise.net
#PopFan airs on Lifetime this weekend.

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