Finding the right partner is Hollywood can be about as difficult as picking out your new best friend on the first day of school. Vanessa Parise and Robin Dunne seem to understand how to do both. Co-writers and BFFs themselves, this writing team wrote a female buddy comedy about two childhood friends who reunite after having gone their separate ways, titled BFF. An actor, Parise frequents the improv scene at Second City and has also written, directed and produced her own feature films. Robin is also a writer/actor and currently starring in SyFy’s Sanctuary, and he wrote a series of Roxy Hunter films for Nickelodeon. Script sat down with this dynamic duo to find out how they tested their relationship while writing a film about friendship.
SCRIPT: How did the idea for BFF come about?
ROBIN DUNNE: Originally, we kept hearing this term BFF everywhere. We thought it would be a great title for a movie. We were toying with the idea of two friends who get separated and how their lives change.
VANESSA PARISE: I had just finished my first movie which was about my hometown, and I had gone to a lot of screenings and gotten back in touch with a lot of friends from growing up. Even though our lives had become really different, we still shared so much. When you form a friendship in your formative years, there’s nothing like it. Everybody has old friends, and the people you knew when you were still becoming who you were. Even if you go different ways, you will always be friends.
SCRIPT: How do you deal with the structure of this kind of buddy film?
VANESSA PARISE: We kept saying to each other that it’s a female buddy comedy, and the story is equally shared between both the lead characters. We also thought of it as a fish out of water comedy, from the set pieces. We asked ourselves, how do we keep the conceit of fish out of water for the set pieces.
ROBIN DUNNE: Vanessa is very good at the structure. I’m always like, “Come on, we don’t have to be structural about things. It doesn’t matter that much.” But when we try it the way the structure works, it’s great. That’s why there is a structure; structure works.
SCRIPT: What’s it like working together?
VANESSA PARISE: We love working together. We’ve had a consistently easy time working together. We have different strengths that compliment each other, and we’re not ego-driven. It’s about what works best. We make each other better. And, we like to write all sorts of different genres. We’re also writing a sci-fi movie. We’ve written a half hour comedy pilot. We’re writing a sci-fi drama. We have all these different genres, but the dynamic works the same and the rules work the same.
ROBIN DUNNE: We are not overly attached to our ideas. Originally, we imagined two guys doing this. But, we lost that aspect of the idea and were able to move it forward. We were able to bring different strengths to the table.
SCRIPT: How did you become writing partners?
VANESSA PARISE: I was doing my second movie up in Toronto, and Robin came up to help me produce it because I didn’t have much help to produce it at the time. We were up in Toronto, and I was dealing with all the issues of the film, so we decided we would spend a couple of hours being creative. Everyday for two hours, we would go to a café and spend that time writing. Robin and I have been together for four years and we’re very mutually supportive. We also work on projects separately. It’s really creative and fun.
ROBIN DUNNE: I’ve never produced anything before, but the mindnumbingness of producing and figuring out what we’re doing every day can just be exhausting. For hours and hours a day working on this, it’s a lot. So, the time we spent writing BFF was a lifeline. A lot of our friends say, how can you work together and write together and live together? We’re together all the time, but it’s a really good working relationship. We get a lot done.
SCRIPT: How did it get picked up?
VANESSA PARISE: We had written this coming off my second movie, an independent movie, so we thought let’s write something that works in the studio world. It’s so hard to make an independent movie, when you have 1/20 of the budget and you’re trying to compete, it’s tough. Robin had been working with our manager Chris for years, and I started working with him a few years ago. He is fantastic with selling spec scripts.
ROBIN DUNNE: At the time, when we finished the script, Chris said this is the worst time to go out with the script possible. It was right after the strike. Chris told us not to have too low expectations, but to hope that people will read your stuff. And then, when Chris called and said that Wind Dancer likes it, I think they are going to go for it, I can’t tell you how amazing this news is. He’s the guy in the market every day. He was so exuberant.
SCRIPT: What’s your advice to young, undiscovered screenwriters?
VANESSA PARISE: Write what you know. What is unique to your experience? Instead of trying to imagine what someone else’s experience would be, write about your own.
ROBIN DUNNE: Write something that you would love to see on screen. If you’re writing a comedy, write a comedy that makes you laugh. I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s funny. I’m sure if you talked to a guy like Judd Apatow, he would say, I just thought this was funny and I hoped that everyone else would. If you do those kinds of things, people will gravitate to your work. If you think it’s funny, or scary or cool, if you believe in it, other people will do.