Cecilia Copeland is a successful screenwriter, writing in different genres but especially science fiction and fanstay. Her current project, 13th Street Scare, is about a vampiress. It has recieved several awards already and will be read as part of NYSeeing2020 on October 21.
However, it's not all about vampires. Cecilia endured a most unusual and tragic childhood, having been kidnapped by her dad. She writes about this in her script The Copeland Case. She is also an advocate for women and Latinx woman, though she is quick to point out that she does not write for Latinx women but writes stories reflecting life with Latinx experiences in it.
Read on to find out how her life has affected her stories and what she is doing to help promote the arts in New York City.
It's always interesting to hear how people landed in the world of entertainment. Tell me how you got here.
Cecilia Copeland: Wow. That’s a great question. I’ll do my best to be brief though and hopefully interesting. For sure, a big part of why I create art or entertainment, hopefully both at the same time, is because I had a really unconventional childhood.
I can go into more on the specifics later as I talk about one of the projects I’m developing, but the end result of having an unusual start to life was that it gave me a really different perspective on things. I looked at the world with a profound level of confusion regarding other people, their motivations, their behavior, and the basic rules of society, which seemed often hypocritical and ludicrous.
I wish I could say the world makes more sense to me now than it did then, but even though I understand more and how it functions I still feel there’s a lot about humanity that really weirds me out. By making films or theatre I get to reflect that strangeness back out to the world in a way that helps me connect. It bridges some of the gap of estrangement between myself and the world. In the most basic sense, it helps me feel less alone and I hope it helps others feel more connected as well.
What is 13th Street Scare? it's about vampires, right? I see it was selected for the Underground Indie Film Festival and Horror Haus Film Festival. Congrats!
Cecilia Copeland: The script has been getting a warm reception, which is always encouraging. I have been a vampire fan since I was a kid. There’s something appealing about the vampire myth that calls to us. I think it’s a shadow version of the hero’s journey. Especially for someone who feels like they are an outsider or powerless, a vampire’s abilities, sexual prowess, and immortality are very appealing. Nobody bullies a vampire.
So you have a vampiress in this?
Cecilia Copeland: In this particular story, I’m taking a page from Brahm Stoker in that I’m drawing upon a historical figure to seed my vampire origin story. The head vampiress Zilla in 13th St Scare is based on the biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes. For those unfamiliar with her, Judith was a young, wealthy and beautiful, Jewish widow in the town of Bathia around 576BCE when Nebuchadnezzar’s army, led by General Holofernes, was conquering the world.
The army surrounded the town and demanded Bathia surrender. The elders planned to comply, but Judith disagreed and disobeyed. Instead of surrendering, Judith went into the enemy camp armed with her beauty and wine. She charmed General Holofernes and got him drunk. Then she chopped his head off with his own sword. When Judith returned to Bathia she put Holofernes’s head on a pike on the town walls. The next morning, the army below saw their general’s severed head and retreated in fear.
When I was learning about Judith, I couldn’t help but to see a similarity between her and Dracula aka Vlad the Impaler who also put his enemies on pikes and saved his people from an invading force.
In 13th St Scare, Judith is living her best life as a vampire going by Zilla and is the Artistic Director of the horror themed Scare Theater in New York City in present day. My background in theater and internship many years ago at the real 13th Street Repertory inspired the setting where we meet our protagonist Clara, the unsuspecting acting intern who gets drawn into Zilla’s irresistible orbit.
Who are you collaborating with on this project?
Cecilia Copeland: Oscar Winner Brigitte Broch is our Art Director. Broch’s gorgeous work on Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet combined with the gory realism from her work on Amores Perros is perfect for 13th St Scare. Emmy Nominated Producer Tiffany Fisher-Love, a longtime collaborator of mine for over ten years, has joined the team as well. Our incredible Executive Producer Perla Martínez, formerly of Netflix, has chosen 13th St Scare among the first projects that she will be producing with her own company.
Who is in the cast?
Cecilia Copeland: Our cast includes Natasha Coppola-Shalom, who I met shortly before Covid-19 hit New York, is playing Clara. Coppola-Shalom did a developmental reading of my award-winning screenplay, The Copeland Case. She has that magical quality of making you fall into her performance, which is exactly what we needed for Clara. It’s hard to cast someone to play the role of a good actress. Like finding someone who can act and tap dance at the same time. It’s a layered challenge to artistic craft that requires a sophistication of technique, which Coppola-Shalom makes look effortless. We’re so lucky to have her.
For Zilla and Miguel, the playwright-in-residence at The Scare Theatre, we’ve brought in Katarina Morhacova and Guillermo Ivan, who is also on the producing team.
Making my feature film directorial debut on 13th St Scare, I couldn’t ask for a better team. The challenge now is to move forward safely while keeping a constant eye on Covid-19 and protecting everyone involved.
You have lived through some extraordinary events as a child. You were kidnapped by your father. Tell me about how you told that story in your script The Copeland Case.
Cecilia Copeland: My autobiographical script, The Copeland Case was named Best Dramatic Screenplay by Female Eye Film Festival and Queen Palm Film Festival among others. It is based on the true story of the Copeland kidnappings and the origin of the Uniform Child Custody Act.
When I was five months old, my father kidnapped me and my brother. Our mother had to search the world to find us and change US Law to get us back. I wrote The Copeland Case out of a need to do something about Child Separation at the US Border.
As a kidnapping survivor, I know what is ahead for these children and families. I wanted to find a way to advocate for them without getting caught in the political quagmire that has gripped the nation. The Copeland Case is my only autobiographical work.
What other work have you done? I see you gravitate towards science fiction and fantasy.
Cecilia Copeland: I much prefer to work in the genre worlds of vampires and science fiction. My award-winning TV Pilot, TALTRIX is based on my Sci-Fi novel SURVIVING THE GAUNTLET. The script was named Best TV Pilot by LA Femme International Film Festival and was presented in a reading as one of the winners of New York Women in Film and Television’s New Works Lab Directed by NBC’s The Blacklist Amir Arison and cast with Golden Globe Winner Regina Taylor.
I see that you are involved with the Latinx Arts Community. Tell me about some of what you work with or do with them.
Cecilia Copeland: Coming up on October 21st I will be joining a special live zoom event for the historic Nuyorican Poetry Club, where I have presented work for years, to support the Nuyorican and the Artist’s Relief Fund. Natasha Coppola-Shalom will be performing my piece, which will be among several others by New York Artists including Neil LaBute who is headlining the event and Romy Nordlinger who is co-producing with the Nuyorican. I live a few blocks away from the Nuyo on the Lower East Side and am a witness to what Covid-19 has done to the community. You can get tickets here:
Tickets for October 21st Reading of 13th Street Scare
Going back many years, the very first production I had in New York was for my play Light of Night at IATI Theatre, a Latinx based theatre company. Light of Night was a Latinx retelling of the Persephone myth that went on to be produced by Venus Theatre among others. As an Artistic Director, I’ve advocated for other Latinx writers with my own theatre company and collaborated with the Latinx theaters like INTAR, Nuyorican, and several members of LAByrinth Theatre Company.
Do you see a brighter future for women in the Latinx community in film? Have you encountered any challenges - besides the normal ones from just being female?
Cecilia Copeland: Absolutely, the future for women in the Latinx film community is bright! Industry leaders like Tanya Saracho (VIDA) and Glora Calderon Kellett (One Day at a Time) are paving the way for innovative content and they are advocating for other Latinx women who are coming up behind them.
That being said, I personally feel there is a kind of litmus test around content that is restrictive. As a Latinx writer, sometimes my work focuses on what it means to be Latinx like with my play Light of Night and my comedy TV Pilot White Girl Latina/Latina Gringa.
However, most of the time my work is focused on some other main storyline and my perspective as a mixed Latinx person is represented by the nuanced complex characters that populate my worlds. Being Latinx isn’t the story. It’s a story that happens to have Latinx characters in it. On the one hand, my work isn’t generic enough to be “white” and on the other hand it’s often not Latinx enough to be representative of the “real Latinx.” The challenge is getting folks to recognize the nuanced view as a valid Latinx expression instead of just focusing on the immigrant experience.
Romy Nordlinger and Rachel Collins in Copeland's play "R Culture" Photo by Jody Christopherson
What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?
Cecilia Copeland: The first goal is to get 13th St Scare into production, post and released safely. Next is the development of The Copeland Case and Taltrix. Beyond those projects, I would love to write in a room and direct for a genre show like What We Do in the Shadows, Witcher, Utopia or Umbrella Academy.
There’s a lot of great TV being made right now that lands in my sweet spot of being subversive, entertaining, and fantastical at the same time. In the next five years I want to be contributing to that with my own stories and on those created by others. Lastly, I would love to be living the bi-coastal life. Although I consider myself to be a New Yorker, transplant, I love the beach and warm weather. Especially now, I think it’s important to be able to get away from the city for a little sanity. Working on both coasts is the goal.
What is the first thing you will do when life goes back to being a little bit more normal?
Cecilia Copeland: Go to a movie in the theater!! Ideally, with hot buttery popcorn, Milk Duds, and a Coke.
Tell me about those adorable cats.
Cecilia Copeland: I adopted Hedy Lamarr and Greta Garbo, litter mates, from the ASPCA as a birthday present to myself during the pandemic. I had been wanting to get kittens for a while but wasn’t home enough during the day and worried about them being alone. When I started working from home and knew that would be the case for several months, it seemed the perfect time to take the leap. They are the cutest kittens in the world and absolutely hilarious. I’ve always had an affinity with cats. To me, a home isn’t really home unless there is at least one cat. Two is best so they can keep each other company.
Top Five Favorite Movies
Dune, Young Frankenstein, Near Dark, Fantasia, The Godfather
Favorite shows to Binge On
X Files, Schitt’s Creek, Witcher, What We Do in the Shadows, Battlestar Galactica
Favorite Places to Eat in NYC
Tre, Vaselka, the food court under Essex Market, Katz Deli, Serafina.
To Connect with Cecila: