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Vanessa Parise on Writing and Directing for Women

Vanessa Parise directing

It’s been said over and over again that Hollywood is a man’s business. And the statistics are there to prove it. According to a report from the WGA, women made up 30 percent of TV staff writers in 2013. So, what does a female writer/director have to do to get noticed in this town? Vanessa Parise has the answer. In the past two years, she has helmed four films geared for a female audience. Her latest, Status: Unknown is set to premiere on Lifetime starting February 22 at 8 p.m. The film is about a two women who attempt to find their missing friend by digging through clues found on social media sites. Script sat down with Parise to get the skinny on how such a production takes shape.

Script: You've directed quite a few features as well as TV movies, what makes this one stand out?

Vanessa Parise: Status: Unknown (formerly titled Facebook Detectives) has a fresh, contemporary feel. The script, written by Marcy Holland, came in strong, and we had a great time collaborating on the revisions. In fact, the entire creative team was unusually tight. Also, we shot in Louisiana in the middle of the summer – which adds its own unique (and humid!) energy.

Script: As a writer, how can you advise others wanting to write a TV movie?

Vanessa Parise: I would recommend young writers get into television – series or movies – as there is so much high-quality work being done now. I come from the feature world, which is quickly polarizing to be either tent poles or micro budgets and not much in between.

Script: Describe what it's like to work with the writer on changes, being that you're a writer yourself? And is there anything you focus on?

Vanessa Parise: I always love working with the writer. Marcy and I immediately had a quick, facile language. I’m very into structure, character work, and making each moment essential either to story or character development (well, that’s the aim, at least!).

Script: Do you suggest changes that might fit the Lifetime model, and if so, how do you know what they are looking for?

Vanessa Parise: With Lifetime or any other network, you can look at what they are making as well as what is on their development slate. The more aware you are, the better.

Script: How does it feel to be one of the very few female directors in Hollywood?

Vanessa Parise: I hadn’t thought about it too much until recently, when I noticed the dearth of women nominated for Golden Globes and Oscars this year. So I did some research and the numbers are alarming: In 2012, men made up something like 95% of directors, 92% of writers, and 80% of producers. And zero women were nominated for Oscars or Golden Globes in directing or writing categories for film.* In 2013, those numbers apparently went down even further. **
* Huffington Post Media
**Celluloid Ceiling

Script: Do you feel you have a different way of directing because you’re a woman?

Vanessa Parise: Hard to say! I do love communicating (laughs). And so, I like directing actors, but that might also come from my background in acting. I’m definitely committed to creating a positive, affirming set where everyone feels heard, respected, and motivated to work. And I get very involved with the look – from camera to design to wardrobe to hair/makeup. I’d guess the hair/makeup might represent a female bent.

Script: What else are you working on and what’s next?

Vanessa Parise: I just finished writing an episode of the new Hallmark show, When Calls the Heart. I’m going to act in a director friend’s television movie, and I’m about to start prep on another thriller for Lifetime.

Script: Advice to beginners?

Vanessa Parise: Write what you know! Write about some experience or POV that is unique to you. And… Do it!

Script: Anything else you want to add?

Vanessa Parise: Please help spread the word. Status: Unknown Saturday, February 22nd at 8:00PM. I’m so grateful!

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