Burbank, CA — Nia Vardalos conquered Burbank Saturday speaking to a ballroom filled with aspiring writers attending The Great American Pitch Fest. Head cold and sniffles, be damned.
The former Box Office Girl at Second City has a great Origin Story, and it goes something like this:
When her then-agent at the time told her there were no parts in Hollywood for a Greek woman, Nia took that proclamation of defeat and turned it into a declaration of triumph.
She created and starred in a one-woman show which would become a predecessor to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, producing a run at one of LA’s Equity Waiver theatres.
Cut to the home of Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks where Wilson was flipping through the LA Times and saw Vardalos’ $500 ad for her show and decided to go see it.
The rest is modern-day Greek history.
Wilson sent Hanks who sent producing partner Gary Goetzman of Playtone Pictures (That Thing You Do) and they signed Vardalos to adapt her show into a screenplay.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the most successful independent romantic comedy of all time. Vardalos both starred in and wrote her own breakthrough movie (and its sequel).
Timing Was Everything.
Vardalos has 27 first cousins and each of them has an idea about a 3rd Greek Wedding film. Her mother is one of the first people who read her scripts. Nia Vardalos is authentic.
A few headlines emerged from the actor/producer about her writing process and her thoughts on Hollywood:
- Write for Motivation. What the characters want creates their journey to achieve that desire.
- Tired of Focus Groups that want Women to be likable in film. In the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a teenager was deemed unfriendly, but Vardalos rejected the studio’s note because “all teenagers are unlikable.”
- Love for Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and The Catch featuring Vardalos). “Shonda is pro-Women without being anti-Men.”
- “You have to live Life to write Life.”
- Piracy is a big problem. Don’t support films being streamed illegally on popular Apps.
- Exposition. Don’t give it to your Lead Character.
- Re-writes. “It’s a luxury to get to re-write.” Oftentimes, the screenwriter is not invited to be on set, so it’s a luxury for Vardalos to be able to re-write a scene even when she’s sitting in the makeup chair.
- Table Reads. After the 3rd Draft.
- What To Watch On TV: Casual and The Catastrophe are two of Vardalos’ favorites as they are two shows that are “fresh takes on tired premises.”
The odds of achieving success were not exactly stacked in Vardalos’ favor but that did not stop her from telling the story she wanted to tell and seeing it become an Indie hit film series.
“You have to live Life to write Life.”
UP NEXT: Origin Story, Part II