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INTERVIEW

Vanessa Parise

Scripts her Own Big Fat Italian Wedding

By MaleÑa Steitler

Kiss The Bride, a Vanessa Parise film, is touring Boston as part of the Boston Film Festival. Vanessa was able to speak to The Tech about the new movie and her experience as a director and filmmaker.

The Tech: First of all, right now all I know about you movie is that it’s called “Kiss the Bride”. Is there anything else that you want to tell MIT students about the movie or yourself?

Vanessa Parise: No, that’s about it. (laughs) First of all, I wanted to reach MIT students because it’s a smart movie and it’s especially about women, strong women, and their struggle with this dilemma that women have been having since they’ve been having careers, which is what’s more important -- to have a family and have some simplicity in your life, or to go out and have a career. It’s about four sisters, and the one who’s getting married has very traditional values and has chosen to stay at home in the small town, Westerly, R.I., where I am from, and then the other three sisters have had more high powered careers but they haven’t found happiness, and it really explores this dilemma. I haven’t found an answer, so I don’t think the movie really gives you an answer.

TT: Does this movie relate to your personal experience?

VP: Yes, it certainly relates to my personal experience, in that I have that question all the time. And also, I grew up in Westerly in a very traditional Italian family and then I moved to Boston to go to Harvard, and New York to go to theater school, and now I live in Los Angeles, so I’ve lived in all these cities, and I just found when I sat down to write that something that was really unique about my childhood and different from all the people I knew in cities was that the family was so important, the extended family even, and we had all these cultural get-togethers all the time -- every week we would have all our relatives over and eat, and we also did the blessing of the bed when someone got married -- you weren’t supposed to have sex before you get married so you bless the bed to wish the couple luck, and the gardens are so important, and just the big personalities that people in my family have -- when you go to cities, especially LA, I think people tend to lose that.

TT: You have a close relationship with your family -- How did they feel about the movie?

VP: Well, there are two sides. At first I was supposed to be a doctor, and had gotten into medical school at Harvard, so for a while they thought I was kind of crazy, but now they feel excited and thrilled for me, and they’ve been completely supportive. I think they were just worried. As far as the subject matter of the film, no one is taking it too personally. It’s not directly autobiographical, so I think they appreciate it’s that I love my upbringing enough to want to capture it in my first film.

TT: Your movie, being about an ethnic family going through a wedding, invites comparison to another independent movie that’s become quite well known lately, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. How do the two movies compare?

VP: Think “My Big Fat Italian Wedding.” First of all, I’m so happy that film is doing well, because it’s perfect timing for us in that we’ve just finished this movie, and it’s the completely same audience, and it’s similar themes in that it’s about acceptance and love and family values, but it’s different in that it’s less broad and a little more edgy. Really really similar, though.

TT: What separates your movie from a typical romantic comedy?

VP: I think and I hope that all of the characters are more real and that all of the issues are more real. I think the performances are outstanding. Sometimes I think in romantic comedies the subject matter is treated more lightly, which I didn’t do. I think it’s very real -- it deals with issues we all struggle with, especially women like I mentioned.

TT: This is your first film. How hard was it to break into the industry and start making films?

VP: Nearly impossible. It’s really hard. Really really hard. It took a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of perseverance. After theater school, which was a two-year program, I’ve been working non-stop trying to get to this place, so it’s been a seven or eight year struggle, although the last couple of years working on the film have been really fulfilling, so it’s a long hard road but totally doable.

TT: I recently read an article about women filmmakers and how it is more difficult for them to get films made. Have you experienced this?

VP: I’ve certainly experienced that it’s difficult as a women director to be able to star in your own movies, whereas there are so many men who do that, who star and direct in their films, I don’t know any women who do that, so that was certainly an issue. When we were getting the financing, there were some companies that wouldn’t give me the financing if I wanted to star in it, so I said no. The next movie I do I want it to be bigger, and I don’t know how much of a struggle it will be yet, because the studios, by and large, are where you find the “boys clubs.” I’m hoping that won’t be the case, but there are so few female directors there is certainly some kind of bias. I don’t know if it comes on the side of the financiers or that women just don’t want to have so much responsibility, and want to have a family. There was no way I could have a family when I was working this hard and this much on the film.

TT: What do you think the hardest part of writing, starring, directing, and producing a film was?

VP: Well, I’m not done yet, because it has to come out in theaters so I don’t have a complete perspective on it, but so far the mot difficult thing for me was the financing because there was nothing creative about it. It seems like you aren’t spending your days in any kind of productive way -- just running around on a treadmill. The whole directing experience was incredibly challenging for different reasons during the different stages of pre-production, production, and post. That was all in a really positive way -- really hard work and a lot of problem solving and using all different parts of me -- but it was all very fulfilling and didn’t feel like hard work.

TT: In your next film do you want to stay independent or go Hollywood?

VP: I think I can do whatever I decide I want to do; I really do feel like that. I’m not sure if the next film I’m writing I’ll make with a studio or if it will be independent with a bigger budget. A much bigger budget (laughs).

TT: When did you first decide that you would like to direct?

VP: I had always intended to direct at some point in my life but I just thought I would wait until I was older and act for a while first. I was living in LA and I was feeling not that satisfied with the work I was doing as an actress. I didn’t want to have to work my way up doing things that I didn’t feel fulfilled by, so instead I decided that I wanted to direct. I directed a short film first and had an amazing experience -- I actually wrote, directed, produced and starred in that one as well. So then when I finished that, I decided I wanted to do the same thing with a feature, so I knew when I was writing [Kiss the Bride] that it was something that I wanted to direct and produce and act in.

TT: Do you have any advice for college students about getting into the industry?

VP: Well, I would certainly say follow your dreams and do what you want to do. Don’t be influenced by your parents or your teachers or whatever adults are in your life telling you what to do. Really listen to yourself because I’m so happy that I did. Specific advice about getting into filmmaking, I would say make a project, make your own film. There’s no reason why I even had to wait as long as I did -- I could have done it right out of college, or if not that, right out of theatre school. It’s such a satisfying experience and so much more fulfilling than trying to find someone else’s project to be involved in. Obviously people who are at MIT are smart and capable, and they should just make their own.

TT: Any final thoughts?

VP: One is that because I made this completely independently, I really need support from people in my home town and I feel like Boston is my home town so I’m hoping that people will really come out and support the movie both at the festival and when it comes out in the theatres here. I hope that the students at MIT will have an awareness of it so that they’ll go see it. The other thing is that, in particular to women, I think it really is more difficult for us but there are more and more opportunities. I hope that we will just all support each other and help each other to continue to raise the glass ceiling.