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  • Jay DiPietro


    Writer-director Jay DiPietro. in Jay DiPietro
    Writer-director Jay DiPietro.

    "Intimacy in conflict"

    First-time writer-director Jay DiPietro talks about his play-turned-film, "Peter and Vandy."


    "Peter and Vandy" is the debut film by writer-director Jay DiPietro, an ill-fated romance set in New York City. Jason Ritter (son of John Ritter and cast member of "Joan of Arcadia, among others) and Jess Weixler star as young lovers whose story is told out of order, so that scenes from their meeting, their breakup and whatever lovers do in-between are jumbled, often strikingly, together.


    Related links: "Peter and Vandy" official site
    "Peter and Vandy," playing at:
    Village East
    187 2nd Ave at 12th St.


      Review: Peter and Vandy
    "Peter and Vandy," once an acclaimed off-off-Broadway play about a mixed-up romance and break-up, suffers in its new incarnation as a film.

    I talked with DiPietro in New York this week about his first feature, which had its origins in off-off-Broadway theater before being made into a film.

    Q: Tell me about your background, first of all.

    JAY DIPIETRO: I grew up in Massachusetts, went to high school and college — that stuff's boring. I was a theater major — theater and English major — in college, and did a lot of improv, and came to the city. I came with this show — we made a pilot that we were trying to do on MTV, and that didn't work, so I ended up going into studying in William Esper Studio with Maggie Flanigan, so it was like a two-year program.

    And right after I got out of that, I started working with a guy named Tom Noonan at his theater. And I did a lot of acting with him there over the years, and I started to write a little bit with him, and that's where, actually, "Peter and Vandy" originally was a play. I had been working with him — I had been writing, and he liked it, and he said, "Here's a theater. Do something with those characters.

    Q: Tell me more about how the play first came about, and then how it became a movie.

    JAY DIPIETRO: Originally, we were working with doing some writing workshops and stuff with the theater, kind of a company, and I had written this scene with the two characters — the scene that's in the movie where he's getting ready for the job interview. And it worked really well, and [Noonan] was like, "You know, I really love these characters, and I'd like to keep watching them." And the second he said it, I just knew in my head, all right, I'm writing this story about these two people and it's going to be out of order.

    Jess Weixler in Peter and Vandy. in Jay DiPietro  
    Jess Weixler in "Peter and Vandy."
    And we did it there, and it was — I don't know if you've been to that theater before, but it's like you could probably fit a hundred people around a living room. So that's what it was — this little living room. And I was one of the actors and this other woman, Monique Vukovic, played Vandy, and it was just us — 10 scenes in a living room. But people really felt like they were eavesdropping on us. You know, it wasn't kind of big theater where you were emoting to the back row. And that's a lot of the stuff that Tom does there as well.

    So that was the play, and it did pretty well, and it got optioned to be a film shortly after that, and then I went through about two or three years of having the movie not get made with those people. And then got the option back and found these guys and was able to get some initial funding through people in theater that I know who knew the play pretty well and knew what I could do and trusted me with a little money and then hit the ground running from there.

    Q: Tell me about working with Tom Noonan. How did that influence you?

    JAY DIPIETRO: He — I saw a play called "Wang Dang" that he did, probably like in '97 or something like that. I just remember seeing it and thinking, like, oh, this is the kind of stuff I would want to be doing. It looks and feels like it's being improvised right there, but it's actually scripted right down to the last ellipsis. So I didn't know what [to do]. Afterwards I wrote him a big long letter talking about ... you know, very, very flowery. [Laughs.] Like how when I was a kid I can remember thinking about acting and like it felt like those are the kinds of things that would come out of me. And so he was like, "All right, you don't have to go that far. You know, like ... I teach classes." [Laughs.]

      "You're much better off just getting on camera the first time, because it's going to have a certain energy and that's what it's all about. Film is about watching people come to life on camera, and you do everything you can to do that."
    So I'd taken some classes with him and it became a little more of a mentoring relationship with this company. Our work is different — his is all, really, verisimilitude. You know, with "What Happened Was ..." or "The Wife" — these are all things that happen in real time, and it's not something I did, obviously.

    But I think I picked up a lot from him. I picked up a lot from him just by how ... he writes stories that are personal, and it's about also the relationship that the actors have is almost as important as the script story. You give them good dialogue to work with, but don't pin them in a corner where they have to get somewhere. You know, they have to get to, "At this point I have to start crying and calling you a jerk." You know what I mean? Like, let them find the places to do that within the confines of the scene that still works.

    Q: So did you prepare that way for this film? Or how did you prepare with the actors?

    JAY DIPIETRO: With the actors we really only had about two days of rehearsal. A film like this is very different, you know. We rehearsed quite a bit for the play, but with film ... they had a lot of dialogue — you know what I mean? So even in those days it was just like, "Let's just run. Let's just run stuff, you know, and get the dialogue down as much as you can." That's as important as anything.

    You also want to have a certain feeling of it as coming out of your mouth the first time, and living through it — you want to catch that sometimes. Some of these small roles, these other actors, they come in and they're just such pros and they're so incredible. They know it. You know, like, you're much better off just getting on camera the first time, because it's going to have a certain energy and that's what it's all about. Film is about watching people come to life on camera, and you do everything you can to do that. And you can do everything, again, with the writing, with preparation, with all these things. The last thing you want to be doing is telling the actors what to be doing. It's very hard to tell somebody how to come to life on camera. So you just try to have restraint, and prepare.

    Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler in Peter and Vandy. in Jay DiPietro  
    Jason Ritter and Jess Weixler in "Peter and Vandy."
    Q: You said that the play was in the same kind of mixed order as the movie. How much of that was in the writing process and how much was in the editing process? Did you discover it in the editing process?

    JAY DIPIETRO: You always discover some new things in the editing process, but no, the play was always out of order, and the screenplay was always out of order. It's pretty close to how it was written. One of the things that I learned in the editing process is just, the big difference between theater and film is, someone watching a film is craving new information at a rate that's much different than in a play.

    Q: What does that mean?

    JAY DIPIETRO: When you're watching a play, you have everything there. You have these two characters, and they have this relationship that you're feeling out right there. And they have a relationship with you. And it's all these things, and you can just watch things play out for a much, much longer time. But on film, there's something about it — your mind is just pre-registered to try and want, like, "What it is it I'm supposed to know now?" You know what I mean? "I want this new information." And that's something I learned a little bit in the editing process.

    So one of the ways we dealt with that, like, some of the scenes that get revisited a couple different times — that we found in the editing room. That wasn't necessarily scripted. The wedding was [scripted]. But a lot of the other scenes, we kind of just showed the first half here and then the second half here, because, again, your mind wants to be reassured a little bit more in a film — with information, basically.

    Q: There are times when the characters are talking about one thing, they're having one conversation, and just for an instant there will be an image or a line worked in from a different point in time that suggests what they're thinking. Was that even written in, or was that discovered?

      "I think it's a little bit more hopeful. I think they both find intimacy in conflict, and I think a lot of people are wired that way."
    JAY DIPIETRO: No, no, that was discovered in the editing process also. It was just, you know, you want to make sure that you, you know ... yeah. The short answer is yes. [Laughs.]

    Q: So your bio mentions that you're married and have two children, so I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that you have a happy relationship ...

    JAY DIPIETRO: [Laughs.]

    Q: ... and ask you if this film grows out of your relationship.

    JAY DIPIETRO: You know, it's personal — it's not autobiographical, by any means. To me, I look at it ... Some people look at it, their relationship has something that it's a doomed relationship or something like that. To me, I think it's a little bit more hopeful. I think they both find intimacy in conflict, and I think a lot of people are wired that way. They need to keep probing into whatever's going on with that person, or they need to hold on to their identity in some way, or they need to fold under their individuality in some way, and they create conflict with the other person. It's a learning process to start letting some of that go. And I think by the end of the film they start figuring that out.

    Continued: 1 | 2 | Next

    OCTOBER 9, 2009

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