“Sex and the City” producer Cindy Chupack talks to SEEN about her directorial debut, “Otherhood,” premiering on Netflix Aug. 2.
By Alana Blumenstein
Photos courtesy Netflix/Linda Kallerus
When Cindy Chupack, writer and executive producer of “Sex and the City,” saw “Otherhood’s” initial script, it was love at first read. She found herself captivated by the film’s strong female leads and friendships. In that moment, she knew this was a story she needed to tell.
“I loved the script so much, I took the job defensively,” says Chupack, “Otherhood” director and co-writer. “And then I just kind of couldn’t let go.”
“Otherhood,” a comedy about three best friends neglected on Mother’s Day, explores life after motherhood — when the kids have grown up. Together, the mothers drive to New York City to reconnect with their grown sons, leaning on each other along the way. “I just really liked the female friendship aspect of it,” Chupack says. “And I loved how many relationships there were in it and how many stories it balanced.”
Sitting on a couch in a Townsend Hotel suite, Chupack explains that she loved the film’s hopeful message. “It’s never too late to be closer in a relationship,” she says. “There’s always room for a better ending.”
The 54-year-old who resides in California was in Metro Detroit last week for a Q&A and screening of the film at Emagine Royal Oak. While in town, she met up with relatives who live in the Metro Detroit area.
To Chupack, real, relatable stories are the most interesting to explore. She is fascinated by stories with dimensional female characters, she explains, with their own needs, desires and imperfections. “I prefer them to be the ones with the problems, the ones that are flawed,” she says. “And that usually ends up making them empowered.”
“Otherhood” features a core cast of empowering women, including Patricia Arquette, Angela Bassett and Felicity Huffman. Chupack credits her cast and crew for bringing the characters to life. “I wanted actresses that would bring gravitas and depth and dimension to the characters,” she says. “I think they bring that.”
Chupack says making this film has made her think about how her own 8-year-old daughter will feel toward her in a couple years. “She won’t necessarily be excited that I’m calling,” she says. “But right now, she still thinks I’m really cool.”
She adds that seeing her daughter at a recent screening made her accomplishment even more meaningful. “I took her up to the stage with me and at the end, she said, ‘My mommy made this movie and it made me really proud,’ ” she says. “And that’s kind of the point is more women should direct, and then it will become a given for girls.”
Chupack encourages others to follow her lead and says not to be worried about a lack of experience. She admits that even she was daunted by the job at first. “It’s still hard for me to get used to calling myself a director,” she says. “I felt very scared to do it for a long time.”
In the past, there were fewer female directors, she explains. Typically surrounded by male directors, Chupack says it was difficult to picture herself in their shoes. It seemed like there was only one way to direct: to be loud, to command the crew and to know everything about cameras — none of which was her style, she says.
“It just didn’t seem like an obvious path to me or an easy path,” she says. “I felt like I had to be like the men who do it.”
Chupack, who received a journalism degree from Northwestern University, says she felt nervous to direct because she did not attend film school. “I just felt like there was a lot of technical aspects that I didn’t know enough about,” she says. “So, I couldn’t possibly direct.”
Previously, Chupack was a co-executive producer for “Modern Family” and won two Emmys for her work on the comedy series as well as “Sex and the City.” She also was a producer for “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
After taking a full-day course on directing, Chupack realized she was more prepared than she knew. Those well-versed in camera work were intimidated by everything they didn’t know, she explains, like casting, working with department heads and working with actors — parts of the job that she had experienced. “I’d done everything but the camera part,” she says. “So, everybody has some slice of this job that they aren’t as comfortable or conversant in.”
If there’s anything Chupack has learned, it’s that following her natural instincts has made her an even better director. “There’s a lot of skills we have innately that make us great directors and writers,” she says. Woman are often empathetic, good listeners, nurturing and skilled at reading people, she explains.
Chupack emphasizes that there are a lot of different ways to direct. “You don’t have to be a certain level of loudness,” she says, adding that directors can set any tone on films. “You can create a nurturing, nice set.” She explains that in creating an open environment, actors and crew were more comfortable and collaborative.
The results of her work are shown both on and off camera. Chupack says the leading ladies developed a real friendship on set. Specifically, she recalls filming the mothers’ drive to NYC. In between takes, the actresses had lots of time to bond. “It was like they were on a road trip,” Chupack says. “They were just sharing stories of their husbands and their lives and their careers.”
Chupack says she felt grateful to have helped them find each other. “It was so heartwarming to me,” she says, adding that she felt almost like their matchmaker.
Now that Chupack has faced her fears, she encourages others to follow in her footsteps. Chupack hopes all women will follow their dreams, no matter where their passions lead. “I feel like younger girls are growing up to know that they can do everything and anything they want,” she says.
The most important thing is to have confidence in yourself, she adds, and to always remember that your stories matter. “Our stories are valid,” she says. “And they deserve to be told.”
“Otherhood” premieres Aug. 2 on Netflix.