Celluloid, Center Stage
Brooke Pierce talks with Tony Vellela about playwriting, screenwriting, and bringing his new Movie to the Fringe.
The New York International Fringe Festival has been good to writer Tony Vellela. Last year he took the Fringe's Excellence in Playwriting award for his drama Admissions, and this year he's back with a new play called Buddy Movie.
Buddy Movie? Strange name for a play, eh? "It's about two guys who get together to write a screenplay," says Vellela. Namely, a buddy movie. In case you aren't familiar with the genre, Lethal Weapon, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Thelma & Louise all fit the bill. They're films where two friends (or would-be friends) go on an adventure together. In his play, Vellela doubles the fun by creating a story where two friends venture into writing their own buddy movie, and uses this premise to explore gender identity, betrayal, and friendship.
In order for a buddy movie to work, the two main characters need to be as different as night and day, and the two guys in Vellela's play fit that description. One is older, gay, and a more experienced writer; the other is young, straight, and actually learned to write from his friend. Once closer, the two men have drifted apart over the years, but join forces to write a screenplay. And they don't have much time to do it in, either.
Vellela is by no means new to the world of film; he has real-life experience in the industry to inform his story. Years ago, while working as an entertainment journalist, he came across a man named Nigel Noble. "Nigel hired me to write the first feature he wanted to direct," explains Vellela. He has since been commissioned to write other screenplays, many of which, in the grand tradition of the film industry, sit on the studio shelf. And though he just completed another screenplay (for MMI Productions), Vellela still prefers the theater. "I certainly like playwriting more than screenwriting. People care about what the words are." In Buddy Movie, Vellela pokes fun at the fact that film is a primarily visual medium, where the words and their writers aren't held in the highest regard.
Interestingly, Vellela didn't start out with writing ambitions. He had a "bad liberal arts education. I was never trained as anything." But after starting out as a reporter at a town paper, he worked his way up and now considers himself a playwright and a journalist. He's even dabbled in musical theater, having written two successful musical satires on politics. Currently, he is developing a musical for Anthony Rapp about "a young, Ivy League-educated rich white kid who decides to teach in the inner city." Vellela is writing the book and lyrics to composer Misha Piatigorsky's music, which will be flavored with jazz, Latin rhythms, and traditional musical theater styles.