ROCKINGHAM — Piper Parks’ story is a bit cliché: small-town girl moves to the Big Apple in hopes of starting an acting career.
The Richmond County native currently finds herself as co-star of a web series that’s picking up awards along the festival circuit.
“Check, Please!” is a comedy series about a French woman, Julie, who moves to New York to pursue her American Dream and works in a small French restaurant.
The plot is almost autobiographical for actress, writer and producer Marine Assaiante — a French woman who moved to New York and went to work for a French restaurant.
Parks, who “wanted to be an actress all my life,” started taking acting classes while a student at UNC-Charlotte — an experience she credits for her “pathway to New York.”
“If I hadn’t gone there, I don’t know if I would have ended up in New York,” Parks said.
Parks moved to the Big Apple in late 2015 and met Assaiante later that year at Michael Howard Studios and the two soon started working together at the French restaurant Raclette.
“It was just a hectic experience, but a great experience,” Parks said. “I started as a hostess and Marine was a waitress and I was terrified of the pressure that customers would put on me to get seated at this tiny little hole-in-the-wall in East Village.”
Parks said co-worker Assaiante was “very nurturing.”
“We’ve worked in a restaurant for four to five years … we had so many experiences, so many funny stories that I was like, ‘Let’s just write something about it,” Assaiante said outside Hudson Brothers Deli May 28 while in town with Parks for Memorial Day weekend.
“A restaurant in New York City, I think, is so different from anywhere else,” Assaiante said. “Customers in New York City are so demanding … we had such a good experience, but everything was fast. You had to get as many people as possible to be super efficient.”
In addition to the fast pace, Parks and Assaiante said the restaurant scene is full of immigrants trying to get citizenship.
“That’s the very true experience of it and it’s something that people don’t acknowledge,” Parks said.
When it comes to acting, Parks said that she was always told that her chances were slim of breaking into the business.
“I think I was given a huge opportunity in the school … we met a lot of actors and a lot of other people who are going to be producing work for the next thirty to forty years, at least,” Parks said. “And that’s really what was helpful was providing a network of people to know, because New York is pretty small — even though it’s a huge city — and we all are kind of there to help each other through the process.”
Parks said her first year was a struggle, but she learned a lot about acting and eventually landed roles in “projects that were still pretty admirable and respectable.”
Parks’ other credits on IMDB include roles in the 2018 film “Sarah Q” — also about the “adventures of a young woman who moves to New York City from a small town to become an actress” — and the 2019 short “Naked Ambition.”
“When Marine asked me to be part of this web series it was kind of like a gift because it’s not something that I’m just doing once — we’re now producing it over and over, we’re shooting it over and over,” Parks said. “It’s something that’s going to be continued — hopefully for the foreseeable future.”
Like Assaiante, Parks’ character, the hostess Megan, isn’t much different from herself, according to the character description on the website:
“Megan is fresh out of college from North Carolina. She’s sweet and naïve. New York is everything she’s been dreaming of since she watched ‘Sex & the City.’ She’s all about social media. She has a YouTube channel called ‘A Southern Belle in the Big Apple.’”
As for the rest of the cast, Assaiante relied on other fellow students from their acting school.
“We knew a lot of people … good actors, so it was mostly friends,” Assaiante said.
Both the director and director of photography, like Assaiante, are French.
“It’s a very international production,” Assaiante said, adding that the whole crew from I Hear an Accent Productions is like a family.
Assaiante co-wrote and co-produced the series with friend Daniel Casteneda.
Raclette serves as the shooting location of the fictional restaurant Le Crêpe Eiffel.
According to Assaiante, they didn’t want to make “Check, Please!” a short film because there are “multiple things to talk about.”
“It took us some time to think about the format,” Assaiante said about the decision to turn it into a web series, adding that several factors they considered were whether to do sketches and how long to make the run time. Each episode averages about 7 minutes.
It’s also cheaper, but “not that cheap.”
“We wanted a good product,” Assaiante said. “We didn’t want to just shoot it on our phone … but we decided that we wanted kind of a big production for a web series.”
One thing that keeps the cost down is that most people are working for free, Assaiante admitted. “Hopefully one day we can pay everyone.”
The first three episodes of the project were financed through a crowdfunding campaign that raised around $12,000 — some of which came from Richmond County.
“She did an incredible job raising money from here,” Assaiante said of Parks, “and we’re so thankful.”
Marine Assaiante, star, co-writer and co-producer of “Check, Please!”
Assaiante said they’re not sure if the project will make any money, but it is a resume booster for the cast and crew, “for everyone to say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re capable of. What’s the next project?’”
The crew shot three episodes in January and February of 2020 — just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For us, the pandemic was not so bad because we had all the post-productions during the pandemic,” Assaiante said, adding that production was finished in July.
And then they began sending the series to festivals.
The series has so far been selected for 60 film festivals — the first being the Charlotte Film Festival last September — and has racked up 18 awards, including best web series and best actress.
Several other episodes were shot this spring and Assaiante said they hope to wrap by September, for a total of eight episodes.
“We’re just really proud of her because it takes a lot to create art in general,” Parks said about Assaiante, especially being a mother in addition to her roles in the production — and doing it in New York. “She’s kind of a badass.”
For more information on the cast, crew, and film festival selections and awards, visit checkpleasethewebseries.com.
Assaiante said they want to have a full season complete before it goes online and they’re not yet sure about distribution — whether to go straight to YouTube or Facebook or a streaming platform.
“We’re still thinking about that, but we want, for sure, as many views as possible,” Assaiante said.
The goal is to turn it into a 30-minute series, Assaiante said, “but we need more money!”