Valerie Weiss's first film, Dance by
Design, is about an architecture student who wants to be a professional
Have PhD, will make films
Valerie Weiss 95 started a film program for Harvard graduate
students like herself
By Rick Klein 98
If theres a nexus between biochemistry and filmmaking, Valerie
Weiss 95 has found it, and shes not moving away from
it any time soon.
For Weiss, its simply been a question of following two of
her passions: science and drama. That's led her to a PhD from
Harvard Medical School, a post as "filmmaker in residence
at a brand-new film program for Harvard graduate students, and completion
of first feature-length film.
"I thought that if I could do a PhD, I could definitely
make a film," says Weiss, a Philadelphia native who now lives
in Boston. "It was sort of a dream to always be doing this,
but I wasnt sure how to make the transition."
The answer, essentially, was to avoid the transition entirely. While
working on her doctorate in biochemistry, Weiss petitioned Harvard
administrators to allow her to purchase the equipment needed to
launch an extracurricular film program for grad students. They agreed,
and three years ago, the Dudley Film and Drama Program began, with
Weiss in charge.
And so, while completing work on her dissertation for the
record, she solved the X-ray crystal structure of an arginine methyltransferase
involved in nuclear transport she also launched production
on a feature film, Dance by Design.
Its about an architecture student who harbors a dream of becoming
a professional dancer, and more specifically, her emotional and
professional struggles as she decides which path to take.
Weiss notes that the film program attracted a bevy of similarly
situated grad students would-be filmmakers who were pursuing
advanced degrees in genetics, Spanish literature, graphic design,
and urban planning. All brought their own perspectives and helped
develop the script, which she describes as "collectively autobiographical."
"Its a common thing for people in their 20s," Weiss
says. "You have this present path, but you also have other
potential dream paths. The philosophy behind the program is to teach
people who are studying unique subjects how to use film to express
themselves and their ideas."
Weiss has always been interested in science, but shes never
been far from the theater, either. At age 9, she cowrote a musical,
and she acted throughout high school. At Princeton, she majored
in molecular biology while earning a certificate in theater and
Most of her out-of-class time at Princeton was spent directing plays
at the Forbes, Wilcox, and Intime theaters. And while she only makes
a cameo in Dance by Design the film uses mostly professional
actors who live in the Boston area she still harbors an ambition
to be on the other side of the camera.
For now, at least, Weiss is making a living as a filmmaker. She
described a recent job shooting a fundraising film for the United
Way as a "way to pay the bills," and shes looking
to debut the feature film at a nightclub in Boston this fall, with
the hopes of attracting the eye of a distributor down the line.
She's also at work writing her next feature film, tentatively titled
"I wouldnt trade my experiences for anything," Weiss
says. "Its just been a really exciting time."
Rick Klein 98 is a reporter for the Boston Globe.