Kemmer Cope ’17 brings web series to campus

Kemmer Cope ‘17 is a Swarthmore admissions counselor’s dream, justifying the college’s brochure-advertised proclivity for cultivating a community where the academic seamlessly melts into the social.  Kemmer Cope is a junior at Swarthmore majoring in Film Studies. Currently, she is producing an independent web series which she plans to release online the summer of 2016. The show will adopt a four to six minute structure with what Cope describes as a “cliffhanger” end leading into the next episode. Cope’s project revolves around two military families living in the U.S. Each family is anchored to the series by the two main characters, Alanna and Natasha, who also happen to be in a relationship.

“It’s a very intimate look at the lives of military families. Not necessarily so much about a roma­nticized story of a soldier, as much as about the impact that being around that lifestyle can have on people,” she stated.

While writing the story, Cope drew from personal experience; her father served 24 years in the navy. Growing up, she was in close contact with other military families who shared her experiences of relocating frequently. Although this lifestyle is much affected by particular circumstances, Cope maintains that her show is not solely committed to depicting the struggles of moving every two years. Instead, she strives to create a more nuanced portrait of the dynamics that exist within military families as a result of service.

“One of my characters’ fathers is a war vet. He’s missing a limb and has PTSD—but I’m trying my best to be very sensitive to that because that’s something that’s often misrepresented in media—any sort of mental illness related to veterans,” Cope said.

The first set of episodes focuses on Alanna Davis and her family, who are still reacting to the death of her father as a result of a mugging. The second set follows Natasha Knox and her father’s inability to fulfill a parental role in the family due to his PTSD. Much of the show’s impact lies in the interpersonal relationships that exist within and between the families.

“I like the format a lot. I think it’s easier than trying to work in a 25-minute format because then you have to block out your three-act structure. There aren’t exactly any rules for writing a web series. Yet,” Cope said.

Cope began this project the spring of 2015, after being assigned to write three episodes of a web series. Knowing herself to be strongly committed to her writing, Cope surpassed the three episodes and completed an entire narrative arc containing ten episodes.

“Coming up with the story was very lucky. I knew how I wanted it to end, and I asked myself how I wanted to get there. So, doing the beginning and end was easy, while filling in the middle was difficult. I had little scenes which I had written as exercises so I adapted the ones I liked best into this project,” she said.

Going into production, Cope enlisted the help of her friends also involved in the Film and Theatre Departments at Swarthmore, infusing the project with a collaborative energy. Additionally, this being Cope’s first experience with directing and filming, the project is made only more exciting.

“I enjoy directing. I’m doing stage managing work right now for senior company, and it’s very technical, whereas directing is both technical and artistic. You can approach it like ‘Okay, let’s stay on task but also, do this really cool thing.’” Cope said.

Although Cope is successfully navigating the process of independent film production, she shared a few aspects she was still getting accustomed to. Most of what she is figuring out has to do with the concrete details of organization, like allocating time for filming scenes continuously.

“Time is the hardest thing. Coordinating schedules is brutal. Also, I am not great with the tech side [of production]. I do need assistance with cameras and editing. I have some friends who are film people who help with those sorts of things, whereas I am more on the writing side.”

Prior to her production of the series, Cope was dedicated to writing but was not explicitly involved in screenplay writing. She discovered her proclivity for writing narratives last semester when she took a screenwriting course in the Film department with Professor Cho, who she met with often to develop her character development skills. Quickly, this interested turned into something much more substantial.

“This is what I want to do with my life: write,” Cope said. “I have currently ten episodes done, completed, and polished. I’ll sit in front of my computer and edit the drafts to infinity like ‘This could be better. This could be better.’ At some point, you have to say ‘Okay I will trust people to take this and do what they want with it.’” Cope explained.

Cope’s passion for filmmaking is not only informed by her commitment to creating dynamic characters, it also intersects with her dedication to the representation of marginalized social identities.

“I don’t want it to be like, ‘look at these gay people!’ So much of queer representation is stereotypical. I just want these people to exist and not have it be the dominant thing in their life. There are struggles that can be addressed but that’s not my main goal. I don’t want to represent queer people or women as martyrs going through horrendous social suffering — which is true, that happens — but I want them to be represented as people. That’s something that’s more relatable in general,” Cope stated.

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