'First Kiss' Director Opens Up About 'Most Insane Moment,' Favorite L.A. Spots (Q&A)

"First Kiss"; Tatia Pilieva (inset)

Filmmaker Tatia Pilieva tells Pret-a-Reporter about working on the three-minute viral sensation for L.A.-based fashion label Wren, debuting her first feature film and where to get the best Italian food in Silver Lake.

A black-and-white film with the simple concept of 20 (good-looking, it should be said) strangers kissing for the first time on camera is being hailed as the most successful viral fashion video of all time, with 69 million-plus views since it was posted on YouTube last Monday.  

Whether you're a teenager craving your initial embrace or a long-married spouse seeking to recapture the anticipation of kissing your beloved on that first date, "First Kiss" succeeds in conveying that awkward, joyful, and ultimately tender moment in all its various stages.

The person responsible for the three-minute short is director and producer Tatia Pilieva. Originally hailing from Georgia (the country, not the state), the Los Angeles-based filmmaker says she was inspired by her drive to reproduce the most intimate moments of people's relationships on camera: "Human connection -- the vulnerability between two people -- is something I'm interested in generally. It's a hard thing to capture."

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The film, made in less than a week in collaboration with Melissa Coker, a longtime friend of Pilieva's and founder of L.A. fashion label Wren, has certainly succeeded in capturing people’s imaginations. As well as a number of spoof versions -- from the ridiculous to the pornographic -- the film has spawned conversation and debate across the Internet.

The 35-year-old Pilieva has also just completed her first feature, Forever, a drama starring Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) and Luke Grimes (Fifty Shades of Grey), and is in discussions to premiere the film at forthcoming movie festivals. A result of her winning a filmmaking grant from nonprofit organization Art of Elysium, the drama tells the story of a young investigative reporter (Woll) going into a commune where she learns to live and love again. It continues Pilieva's exploration of human relationships, revealing how love can be found in the most unlikely places. 

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Pret-a-Reporter spoke to the filmmaker about her crazy week in the spotlight and her favorite spots in Los Angeles:

What did you love about making "First Kiss"?

I love the humanity and tenderness that came out of it. It made the world look so much sweeter for a moment. The best projects are when you come up with an idea in your head, you execute it, and then it takes on a life of its own.

There's a vulnerability in the strangers' interactions in the video. Is this something you're interested in as a filmmaker?

Absolutely. Life and people's relationships are so complicated. To capture on film that moment where one sheds one's inhibitions is something I've also tried to do in Forever.

When did you realize you had a hit on your hands?

Melissa [Coker] first posted the video on Style.com as part of its Fall 2014 Fashion Week film series. Being a filmmaker dork, I then put it on Vimeo and then made my first-ever post on YouTube. It started to spread pretty quickly and by the evening it was on the homepage of Reddit. The most insane moment came when the editor woke me up on Tuesday morning and said, ‘This is crazy, we have 5 million views already!' We've had feedback from all over the world, and it's been a very humbling experience.

The participants in the video are your and Melissa's friends and colleagues in Los Angeles, and you shot the video in a downtown studio in just one day. How and when did you come to live in the city?

I've been here almost 10 years. I came from New York to study for my master's at the director program at the American Film Institute -- an experience that I loved.

Which neighborhood do you live in? And what do you like about it?

I'm an Eastside girl, having lived in Silver Lake and Beachwood previously. I now live in the Hollywood Hills, which is the farthest west I've ever had a home. I love my street as it's in a cul-de-sac. Even though it's right in the middle of the city, it feels like an escape. You can work quietly indoors and then be in the middle of things when you leave.

Who do you share your home with?

I live with my husband, cinematographer Andre Lascaris. We met at AFI. We'd been together for just four weeks when at the end of our first year I went to New York and he went to Europe for two months. When I got back, I lost my apartment in Silver Lake and moved in temporarily with Andre. I never left! We collaborate a lot. He worked on First Kiss and Forever with me.

What are your favorite restaurants?

The places I go to most frequently are Little Dom's in Los Feliz, Speranza in Silver Lake and Cafe Gratitude on Larchmont.

Where do you like to shop?

I don't actually like to shop! I love beautiful clothes -- including those from Wren (there's one particular cream coat from "First Kiss" that I particularly love) -- but I'm a notoriously terrible shopper. Even when I was in high school, I'd be sitting outside on the stoop while my friends were inside the clothing store. I do, however, like window shopping at Opening Ceremony and I love Nicolas Ghesquiere's line.

Favorite place to bring visitors to L.A.?

I really like the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Palms. It's a really beautiful place that everyone should check out.

Favorite place to buy gifts?

I often go to OK and Skylight Books because I love books and they have great art books and design elements. I often buy things I've read if I hope someone else will enjoy it. We have a giant shelf of art books at home. When we lived in a smaller apartment, it was always my and Andre's dream to be able to sit together and read from our collection.

You must have had an insane week with the massive response to First Kiss. Where's your favorite place to unwind?

At home with Andre.