For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed director Heather Cappiello. Heather is an award-winning director of film, television and theater. She has directed episodes of Madam Secretary, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods (2016 Voice Award winner) and the horror series Freakish, streaming on Hulu. Additionally, she directed the pilot presentation for the one-hour drama Corporate produced by The Collective. Heather wrote and directed the short film Ruby’s Tuesday that screened at more than 25 festivals including The Short Film Corner at Cannes. She was one of two directors chosen for the CBS Directing Initiative during the 2015 cycle and is a current protege in the inaugural DGA Craft and Mentorship Program. To learn more, visit www.heathercappiello.com.
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
I just conceived and directed my first site-specific live dance performance titled Break Glass at a beautiful outdoor space in Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of working with the talented dancer and choreographer Lizzy Mulkey, and three LA-based dancers for six weeks as we devised a 20-minute piece exploring what it means to be a woman working in a man’s world. Through dance and physical movement, the all-female ensemble explored motifs surrounding the experience of hitting the glass ceiling, climbing the corporate ladder and the barriers that often prevent women from getting a foot in the door. I chose a venue with an outdoor patio and a three-tiered staircase that allowed the dancers to use the entirety of the staircase as the set. The composer, Mike Meehan, created a score using original music, arranged tracks by the musician Ryat and sampled quotes from Hillary Clinton, Sarah Grimke and Abby Wambach. The pre-recorded score was accompanied by a live violinist during the final climb of the performance. The response to the show was very exciting and I hope to mount it again at various locations in California and possibly New York. In the meantime, I am editing a highlight reel of the show and will post it on my website.
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
Dance is my favorite art form and it has been a dream of mine to collaborate with a choreographer and dancers on a live performance. Over the past few years, the concept of exploring what it means to be a woman working in a traditionally man’s job has been at the forefront of my mind and dance seemed the perfect expression. As a TV director, I have witnessed the gender gap in the hiring process of television directors in particular and the production crew in general. I have been observing and discussing this inequity and have started to take an active role in trying to understand the underlying biases that lead to discrimination – starting with my own implicit bias. Using accounts of actual events from my own work life, stories in the news and the experiences of dancers in the ensemble, we set out to both entertain and enlighten our audience with a non-verbal portrayal of what we encounter during our career trajectories as women facing barriers of gender, race and unconscious bias.
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
The humorous and wonderful writing of Samuel Beckett; the courage and austerity of Peter Brook’s theater; the talent and friendship of actress Holly Hunter, writer Jessica Mecklenburg and activist-writer Kim Bender; the curated sounds of DJ-producer Gilles Peterson and all of the musicians he celebrates; the choreography of William Forsythe; the cinematic sensuality of Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
Engaging in the process of art-making and experiencing art made by others.
Travel is also a gateway to creativity for me: smelling new aromas, hearing different languages, watching people from everywhere and getting lost in a new place. I love traveling with my son who has a similar thirst for new experiences and community.
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I am very excited to return to New York this fall to direct episodes of the upcoming season of Blue Bloods. It’s thrilling to continue working with the cast and crew over several years and find new ways to shoot action scenes and delve into family dynamics that are so familiar. Also, stay-tuned for more site-specific dance! Lizzy Mulkey and I are conceiving a new piece around the ideas of touching/not touching in private and public spaces/relationships.
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
When audience members cried at each of the Break Glass performances!
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
I would love to be a producing director on a TV show. I look forward to the opportunity to be part of the collective brain trust that creates a show, chooses the directors and attenuates the tone prescribed by the writer.
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
My gender. But the vision is coming into focus, I feel grateful for my patience and for the examples of my mentors.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
Make art, travel, cook, laugh, dance in my kitchen, see art with my fiance, read, create community, swim in the ocean and stay physically connected to nature and myself.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
Fear of failure.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
I’ve never been able to pick just one favorite book or movie or painting. I love Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings of women.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
My mother. She always made everyone feel welcome.
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
Bringing people together for artistic collaborations and personal friendships.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
Watching Claws and all of the Step-Up movies. I also love setting-off illegal fireworks!
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
Time flies as a parent but it slows down as a female director – keep pursuing both things everyday with all of your might!
Q: Where would you most like to live?
Where I live now – Venice Beach.
Q: What is your idea of success?
Enjoying my daily work life and having a community to engage with regularly.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Telling stories for a living and being in the moment with people I love.
Q: Final Thoughts?
“She rises by lifting others”