We had the good fortune of connecting with Emma Kopkowski and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emma, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I’ve always considered myself a type-A, stability craving person when it comes to my career, so the decision to freelance felt like a massive risk to me. When I graduated college, I was considering two routes: a corporate job within the unscripted industry or freelancing as an unscripted producer. The latter felt like a massive risk, but it also felt like the way to scratch my creative itch and get to learn the industry in a hands-on way. A mentor of mine told me it would be a mistake to start in the safe role, and that early in my career is the time to take risks and throw myself into what scares me. Now, when I look at risks in my career, I really weigh if I have enough of a foundation to support me in taking a risk in case it fails. Freelancing doesn’t mean only ever working the most fulfilling jobs, a lot of times it’s working a more stable job for awhile to get to the point where I’m able to take the risk I really want to.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Since moving to LA a year ago, I’ve been working as a freelance director and unscripted producer. My day-to-day involves story producing on unscripted shows and documentaries, then spending nights and weekends working on directing and developing short-form projects for brands and musicians. When most creatives start out, they have to have a day job to support themselves while pursuing their dreams. I think what sets me apart, is that my “day job” as an unscripted producer is one I’m equally as passionate about and that I find creatively fulfilling. Working as a story producer and working under unscripted directors has taught me so much that I’ve brought into my own directing. I’m proud of the work I’ve done to help shape the television shows I’ve worked on, and I’m proud of the network I’ve started to build for myself as a director. When I get to direct projects that feel fulfilling artistically, normally in the music space, I find it really motivating to keep on the career path I’m on.
I started building my network in LA after interning here for a summer during college. While I worked to make myself useful, I also made sure I was likeable. I believe nothing goes farther than wanting to be around someone while you work. After going back to North Carolina to finish my senior year of college, I made sure to keep in touch with everyone I had met during the internship – not just professionally, but as friends. Ultimately, it was those relationships that got me my first jobs in LA, and I still look to those people for advice in all facets of life – personal and professional. That being said, the most challenging part of building this career is the sacrifices it’s required in my personal life. The majority of my support system is on the East Coast, and making the call to live in LA full time was terrifying and definitely has its tough moments. Overcoming the sometimes isolating feeling of working for myself on the opposite side of the country has really come from making myself vulnerable and leaning on the network I do have out here. I say yes to every opportunity, and try to be unashamed in pursuing friendships.
On the flip side of that, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way is how to navigate the mix of personal and professional life that is so common in the creative field, especially in LA. While saying yes to every professional opportunity helped me build my network early on, I’ve learned that I was doing that to build the privilege of being able to say “no” to jobs that might be more stressful than beneficial to me.
More than anything, I hope this next year in my career is a launching pad towards directing the types of projects that fulfill me most. The ideal version of my work is work that is directed by. me and celebrates women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My best friend actually is visiting this weekend, so I can give our exact itinerary. Any time someone visits LA, a drive up the PCH with good music is a must. I’m a big fan of hiking at Point Dume, then grabbing lunch at Neptune’s Net in Malibu. For dinner and drinks, I tend to stay local to my neighborhood in West Hollywood and do tacos at Gracias Madre or drinks at Employees Only. For dancing and more drinks, No Vacancy is my favorite Hollywood bar. Since the morning after No Vacancy always requires bagels and coffee, I like to take visitors to Courage Bagels (like everyone else in LA), and then for a walk around Silver Lake. I’m lucky enough to have a friend with a great house in that area, and there’s always great music and shopping around. Finally, Griffith Observatory and Melrose Trading Post are far and away my best Sunday tourist-y activities. Both live up to the hype, and the planetarium show at Griffith truly never gets old for me.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would be nowhere without the support of my parents. Both of them made their priority being able to support my goals and dreams, and it’s still their priority today, even as empty nesters. I look up to them both so much, and I wouldn’t have even been brave enough to attempt freelancing in a creative field if they hadn’t offered me unwavering support. I am so lucky.
Other: TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@emmakop_
Carly Jean Sharp @carlyjeansharp