Cecilia Copeland: Writer, Producer & Director

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Cecilia Copeland is a writer, producer and director. She is a member of New York Women in Film and TV, the League of Professional Theatre Women, inductee into the Indie Theater Hall of Fame, recipient of the Lennis J. Holm Scholarship at the Writers Workshop and a Screenplay Special Effects Grant MetroScreen Australia. Her TV Pilot TALATRICS was presented by NYWIFT as the winner of the New Works Lab and it won Best TV PILOT LA Femme Film Festival, Finalist LA Indie Film Festival. It was named Semi-Finalist MADE IN NY WRITERS ROOM, Quarter-Finalist ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship, Quarter-Finalist NextTV Writing & Pitch Competition, Semi-Finalist Film and TV Festival NYC. Her comedy WOMG won Best New TV Pilot at Boom! Productions. Copeland is a Kilroy’s List Nominee and Honorable mention for her plays, Light of Night and “R Culture.” Her play, The Next Time has been performed around the world and published in the Gun Control Plays on Amazon. Copeland is the Founding Artistic Director of New York Madness, producing over two hundred and fifty short plays in over thirty “madness” festivals all over New York from 2010-2017.

What do I do best?

Write and tell stories. There are other things that I can do well like produce, direct, drink martinis, eat cheese platters, cut a rug on the dance floor, compete in Martial Arts Kata tournaments, go down long Google rabbit holes researching some small tidbit for hours wasting time calling it curiosity, but really what I’m best at is writing and telling stories.

What makes me the best version of myself?

I have an obsession with writing and an insane amount of discipline when it comes to spending hours in front of my laptop working. I’m not sure if this makes me a good human being or a good daughter or partner, but it makes me a good artist. I think some of that comes from a desire to escape the real world and some of that comes from needing to push myself. One of my teachers in high school called me “intrinsically motivated.” That’s very true. Although I like awards and paychecks just as much as everyone else, don’t get me wrong, but no outside praise can replace the fulfillment of creation or discovery or growth. I think I’ve just really embraced how nerdy I am and take a perverse pride in the individualism of it.

What are my aspirations?

Other than continuing to evolve as a writer throughout the course of my life, I would say a practical goal would be to finish writing the books in the TALATRICS Series and the other series in the 5000 Universe. That’s a twenty-year project, but on the side I want to continue to support theatre, write other projects like the occasional comedy, develop work with friends, buy a house near the beach within driving distance of NYC, move into a larger apartment in the city, adopt two kittens from the same litter, and spend a few vacations each year in tropical places. I used to live in Sydney so living in NYC can give me the SADs sometimes. I miss the beach and the sunshine.

Other aspirations would be to help take care of my family, maintain good relationships with my siblings, and be a good auntie for my nieces and nephews. I want to remain politically engaged and continue to make work that reflects my values.

My Biggest Success?

Last fall, my TV Pilot TALATRICS based on Book One of the TALATRICS Series, won LA Femme Film Festival for Best TV Pilot Screenplay. That experience was incredible. Meeting the other women filmmakers and being recognized by women in my community meant the world. TALATRICS was also a winner of the New York Women in Film and TV New Works Lab, which presented TALATRICS in an industry reading. My director for that was Amir Arison of NBC’s The Blacklist. Working with Amir and our entire cast was some of the most fun I’ve had as a writer. The TALATRICS TV Pilot was also named a finalist for LA Indie Film Fest, semifinalist for MADE IN NY Fellowship and Next TV Writing Pitch Competition, quarterfinalist for Creative World Awards and Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship, and Best Scene WildSound TV Festival.

My Most Challenging Moment?

Picking one that was the most challenging is a little like trying to answer which time I got strep throat did it hurt the most? It always hurt when I got strep throat. I do feel a responsibility to other women especially to be revealing in this interview, because there is a lot of shame around what is most challenging so I’ll say one thing in particular I’ve been through just to show to others they can get through it as well. Divorcing my self-destructive husband was a very hard thing, possibly not the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but it was certainly in the top five most challenging in my life. That said, I did leave and I have never regretted it.

My Motto?

I’ve been in the right place at the right time a lot, and I can tell you the right place was never sitting on my couch. To be in the right place at the right time you need to be working, submitting, and in my case most especially writing.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

Professionally, Madonna is my favorite inspiration. I love her. I dressed up as Madonna for Halloween when I was in fourth grade. Madonna’s fearlessness, her thoughtfulness, her resourcefulness, her drive and work ethic are all gargantuan. That’s appealing. Her unapologetic approach to making art and living her life are exemplary of how I thought women aught to be rather than how we are actually allowed to be in society. I don’t agree with everything she does, but I don’t expect that from my role models. I just expect to be inspired by them. Other role models include Ellen Willis, Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, Justice Ginsberg, Shulamith Firestone, and recently Melissa Rosenberg.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

I am not a cold weather person so anyplace I favor will be warm. I love the beach. I’m terrified of the ocean and am always on the verge of panic when waves come at me. I hate getting water up my nose, but I love the sand under my towel and the sun shining on my skin. The warmth of the sun penetrating into my bones is sublime and even the fear of the water somehow makes the sweetness of the experience realistic. I feel safer swimming in a pool, but I like the ocean better. Once, I was swimming off the shore in Hawaii as a fourteen year old when I got caught in a riptide. The waves kept pulling me farther and farther out and I couldn’t stop it. A lifeguard had to come and save me. He was furious, yelling at me the whole time, but he brought me back to shore safely. I was very embarrassed about it, and yet I still feel drawn to the ocean. I like the awe-inspiring quality of it. It’s so beautiful, the waves, currents, colors, and it’s also beyond our control completely. I find the ocean to be both humbling and uplifting. I like that complexity.

That complexity applies to New York City, which is why I choose to live here despite how cold it gets in the winter. I like being a place that is really diverse. Being someone who is of mixed background I don’t like it when everything is the same or everyone is the same. People acting in unison freak me out. It reminds me of Nazi Germany. I’m deeply suspicious of group think mob mentality. The chaotic nature of New York is reassuring in terms of individualism over nationalism or fascism, which are dangers that seem to rise at particular moment in history, this being one of those moments. I don’t love the loud street noise when I’m trying to sleep, but I do like the unruliness of the city. Suburbia creeps me out. I’m a city mouse, a beach loving city mouse.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

I will admit to having a strong attachment to my Nespresso machine. It’s small enough to pack up easily, it makes the best coffee, and it’s easy to use. If Nespresso wanted another spokesperson other than George Clooney I would do that gig for nothing other than a lifetime supply of Nespresso pods. Also, I would endorse Magnesium supplements and dietary supplements in general. Other products or brands that I’m a big fan of include Spanish olive oil, Babyliss blow dryers, Organix Shampoo, Bowflex elliptical machines, and Lancome.

I don’t have a strong attachment to many objects aside from my laptop, white board, and Uni-ball pens. Everywhere I go for a month or longer I need those things with me. My favorite objects not related to writing are usually artwork or art related, like two little throw pillows from the White Rabbit in Iowa City that I adore. Everything that’s hanging on my walls including some great prints by Mary Frank, Kelly Reemtsen, Rauschenberg, and a Degas ballet poster. I have a mini Val Tone, one of her Onion Rings series in my kitchen.  

My Current Passions?

Definitely Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot. I’m very caught up in the idea of seeing women heroes, especially after the 2016 election. Things felt so bleak for women that night in November and the next day. It was s painful reminder of the precarious inequity of female existence in America. We felt slapped back into the kitchen so to speak, and by other women too. It was personal to me in a way I have never felt about any election before it. Wonder Woman’s arrival on the cultural scene that summer was heartening. I went to see the movie with a big group of friends for my birthday. We had all been under a cloud since the election. I don’t know if I’ll see a female president in my lifetime, which feels like a sad thing to have to doubt. Seeing Wonder Woman with many of my friends, silly though it may seem, renewed my hope for achieving anything close to equality. When I’m writing I want to give a similar ray of hope that Wonder Woman gave to my friends and me when we felt low. Right now more than anything I am extremely passionate about giving joy and uplifting people. I’m grateful to all those who have uplifted me.