There are few young directors with as keen an eye as Elena Parasco’s. Each time she steps behind the lens genuine storytelling comes through. The New York-based film and creative director has been tapped by brands like Red Bull, Nike, and Calvin Klein for her experimental yet refined direction, her work most closely
dedicating itself to intersectionality and exploring the grounds where femininity, sport, and heroism come to play. Through sharp focus on natural human movement and feeling, Elena is amplifying voices and perspectives most often unheard. We spoke with her about keeping “play culture” alive and why this one BTS Space Jam photo is just SO real.
01. How do you describe what you do?
I direct and creative direct. From campaigns, to branded content films, short docs, to photography.
Mainly interested in sports. Unorthodox and/or powerful female stories. The kind of stories that carry takeaway messages I feel we need more of.
02. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Usually the first thing I do is write down some quick lines from the dreams I had the night before in the notes section of my phone. I’m a super vivid dreamer. I swear they’re these detailed, chaptered out films. A lot of shot ideas have come from them.
I’ve tried to consciously do my best to not forget them and dive into them quite a bit. So that’s first, if I have time.
Next, I open my windows, listen to the birds, or put on a soundtrack from the latest film I loved. A quick moment to myself before the madness of the day begins.
03. What’s your favorite piece of work you’ve created?
You know, I think that’s the hardest question ever to ask any creative and or director. Well, I can’t pick one. Trust me, I’ve tried. But, I’d say every one of my passion projects would be “my favorite.”
The Mexico City Ice Hockey Trading Cards series and film, Trade Your Hero For Mine, was just incomparable in its own right. That project will forever hold a special place in my heart, real talk.
Working with all women, the National Ice Hockey Team, our designer, our printers, (but shoutout to our editor who was our only man on the project and who is insanely talented: Carlos Flores).
Taking different storytelling mediums embedded in sport culture and seeing how we can challenge them, as well as use them in a fresh perspective that put women at the forefront. How we can redefine the qualities of what determines the make-up of a hero? What determines the essence of a sport story?
The entire project was one of my most challenging and longest passion projects I think. But both the design, creation, writing, and printing of the cards, along with the teaser film was a good hard.
It also taught me that we can truly make a difference through our side hustles. In how and where we place our time. In the people, teams, and stories we get to know and how these projects have the possibility to be more than a film, more than “content.” It can give back. It definitely was a project I wanted to do, but it surprisingly reaffirmed that lesson for me, as it did lead me closer to who I am as a creative in the process.
04. What’s your biggest influence?
I mean, that’s a loaded question. But, I’d say one of my influences is people. Since I was young I definitely studied human behavior, cognitive behavior. I would study it, analyze it, embrace it, be inspired by it. When I direct or creative direct, I definitely try and go deep into my brain and be that person. Be that idea. Be there. See what they’re seeing. Feel the heat, smell the air. I try and use that influence, that perspective, to lead what I’m doing or inspire my approach.
05. What would be your dream collaboration?
Oh there are so many. I feel like I’m just getting started, so the collaboration game is open and exciting right now. But dream collab, I’d say collaborating with Directors Alma Har’el and Xavier Dolan on an Italian, coming-of-age sports film would be fire.
06. How does movement play into your work?
Movement has somehow grown to be a part of everything I do. From filming sports, to dance, to just the fluid, humanizing movements of characters.
But, what I think some people can miss is that in movement is also innate stillness. Within a frame of a subject moving before you — you’re also framing a moment of honed-in focus. The natural flow of an athlete or a brief second of clear intention in a vogue dancer. Whether it be in film or photography, I look for those moments within movement.
That’s what interests me. Where these important, human elements can be pushed to the foreground, and not forgotten. Where the duo of these elements are subconsciously at play for the viewer. For me, that’s also where sound design really comes, which for me is the fun part.
07. What’s your favorite recreational activity?
I’d say basketball right off the bat, but really it’s just “play” in general.
If you know me, you know I’m just a very “playful” person. I mean, play is a cultural phenomenon. As Johan Huizinga (a very dope 20th century cultural theorist) puts it, it goes beyond physiological, psychological, it is a significant function. It is voluntary, it serves non-material interest. And in my opinion, we need more of it in our adult culture.
Maybe it’s because of our incredibly didactic world, with rules at every turn meant to turn off parts of your brain that compliment balance, compliment the creative process in an indirect way. Or maybe it’s just because I put a lot of pressure on myself. But, I definitely have to be conscious of implementing a balance between work and play in my daily life. Focus and release. Real and the imaginary. I also firmly believe it makes you a better creative.
So whether it’s a late night swing-set moment, backgammon, pool games when one can, or making a sidewalk its own playground—my favorite recreational activity would be just play in general. Play at large. Let’s just say: big fan of play culture.
08. What’s your best tip for Doing Things?
I think #DoingThings is a beautiful concept. What I feel is most special about it though is the reminder to make more time for things that have no rules, or at least feel boundary-less. Something inherently healthy, something that gives back. Something that makes you feel more you.
My best tip is you don’t have to do something to be “doing things.” Just go skip around your neighborhood. Stop the car on your way somewhere and go play in that field that looks really fun to play in. The tip would be to be inhibition-less. To not forget about your ebullient side. I look at it more in the vein that if we lose our naivety, our kid-like sense, there’s a problem. I feel— and I could bet I’m not alone on this — our culture is intrinsically built for us to lose this essence. To be looking right when we should be, and need to be, looking left. So, stop the car. Run it. Do it. Swing it. Play it. (Now I sound like the voice from a Bop It toy, but I think you feel me.)
Just don’t hold back, and make time for this not once a year, or solely when the weather is nice. Make it weekly.
09. What’s your favorite meme?
Honestly right now, it’s one that I sort of made by accident. [It’s not really a meme, but it’s meme-adjacent.] I found some BTS photos from the filming of Space Jam with Michael Jordan. The scenes when they were doing the green screen, and I was amidst a grueling edit.
I don’t know, I feel this is just a classic statement that resonates with our creative community deeply. Also it makes me laugh in like a dark, hilarious way.
Love a good production or creative-related meme in general. Reminds you that we’re all in this together, and to not take feedback or the creative process too seriously. I’m not a meme-maker in anyway but this is just SO REAL TO US.
10. Where is your favorite place to move?
One hundred percent, no doubt, is this pink and blue basketball court with a gymnastics studio right above the court in Mexico City. It has these beautiful skylight windows where natural light floods onto the court. Old iconography from the 1968 Mexican Olympics hung on the walls. I think part of their old Olympic Center. Got a tip from a friend and did a shoot there. It is special. Would live there if I could.
11. What do you want to see more of in the world?
Our society [and societal-based culture] placing more value on play [and play culture]. Huge brands being more trusting in women leading huge projects. Instead of women having to jump through – what feels like – ten more hoops than men to do so. More minorities [put] in positions of power. More playgrounds [in existence] made by Noguchi. Can we construct these posthumously? Can we do this? Let’s do this. I’m going to stop here. [Because there are so many things I would love to see in the world, but in a very topline, knee-gut response, these would be great.]