In four short years, Hollywood wowed moviegoers with some of the most memorable films ever created. In March 1999, “The Matrix” introduced groundbreaking special effects and a story that made us all ponder the reality of our world. On December 19, 2001, the first movie in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy made hobbits, wizards, trolls and elves the topic of many household discussions. Then in May of 2002, the anticipation grew as George Lucas continued telling us the backstory of Star Wars with the release of “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.” To say it was a good time to be a fan of movies is surely an understatement. These films and the groundbreaking concepts that set them apart forever changed the world of cinema. For young movie fans, these blockbusters had a tremendous impact on how they saw the world. For avid cinema fan Cooper McMains ’02, these films fueled his innate passion for storytelling.
Nearly two decades later, Cooper has turned that passion into a successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter. He earned writing credits on the popular ABC crime drama “Castle” which was created by Andrew Marlowe and starred Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle and Stana Katic as Katherine “Kate” Beckett. After a successful stint writing for “Castle” Cooper then had the opportunity to write for another ABC series, “Take Two” starring Rachel Bilson as Sam Swift and Eddie Cibrian as Eddie Valetik.
More recently, it was announced that Sony TriStar has expressed interest in one of Cooper’s spec scripts. A spec script is a full-length screenplay written by the writer in hopes of attracting a production company to bring the story to life. Essentially, a writer spends a significant amount of time generating a story with no guarantee that a company will accept it. Writers may invest years of blood, sweat and tears into the idea only to have it go unnoticed. Cooper worked on his own spec script for several years while also juggling other job assignments. For a writer facing intimidating odds, it is truly amazing to receive news that a script has been accepted. Cooper says it was fun to write the story, which is a thriller in the vein of the classic “Fatal Attraction.” Now that the script has been picked up, he is eager to begin the next phase of rewrites and collaborations. The process can be lengthy, but for someone with a passion for storytelling, it’s certainly worth it.
Cooper has always been a writer. In second grade, he carried a business card that read - Cooper McMains: Writer/Basketball Player. As his basketball ambitions prove, Cooper also has diverse interests. In addition, he has an active imagination, which is certainly a requirement for telling a good story. But there’s something else. “Completely unfounded confidence that I can make it in this industry,” says Cooper regarding his tenacity and dedication to his career choice. “You couldn’t do it if you didn’t love it. I’m very fortunate.” Cooper says unlike some who experience the Sunday “scaries” when the weekend winds down, he is excited to get back in front of the keyboard and write again each Monday. In fact, it’s actually hard for Cooper to imagine a career that doesn’t involve writing. If he weren’t creating suspenseful plots or tweaking copy, he would be teaching others how to write, reading scripts or finding talent.
Passion, perseverance and persistence are prerequisites for being a screenwriter. Cooper first began working in the entertainment industry after graduating from USC 14 years ago. However, his initial jobs did not involve writing, but instead were production assistant and showrunner assistant assignments. He made copies and answered phones. Even in these roles, he was learning and preparing for the writing ahead of him. As a showrunner assistant, he had the opportunity to read the scripts of other writers. He learned about the talent selection process. He learned how the industry works, and he learned that his true passion was storytelling.
Cooper’s Episcopal story began in the third grade. “I have very fond memories of Episcopal,” he says. “It provided broad opportunities to explore different things I was interested in.” Those interests included cross country, theater and learning Japanese. When he and friend Miguel Jiron ’02 expressed an interest in creating an Episcopal Film Club, Cooper says the idea was nurtured and encouraged by the Episcopal faculty. The two established the group and members met periodically to discuss ideas and simply share the joy of a good movie or a great story. Like Cooper, Miguel also pursued his Hollywood dream and recently worked as a storyboard artist on the Oscar-winning film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Cooper remembers that it was actually Miguel who joined him to watch “The Matrix” all those years ago during a trip to Destin, Florida. Afterward, he says the two talked of nothing else. Everything from the premise of the film to the unique camera shots and slow motion action scenes provided ‘90s movie fans plenty to dissect. For two high school creatives, it only fueled their passion for movies all the more.
Cooper’s dream is now unfolding. He is sharing the experience with his wife, Sarah, who is not in the entertainment industry and works instead as a business consultant. Cooper and Sarah return to Louisiana at least twice a year for the holidays or a summer break. Cooper always looks forward to spending time with family and enjoying Louisiana food. While California may seem a world away, Cooper says his mom always says you simply have to turn left on I-10 to get there.
What movie does someone like Cooper list as his favorite? He says he likes everything from romantic comedies to sci-fi and even old Japanese films. As they would say on the show “Friends,” Cooper’s favorite movie is “China Town,” but his real favorite movie is “Galaxy Quest.” He says both films have inspired his own writing style, which his agent categorizes as suspense, thriller and mystery.
Cooper McMains has grown from a young man wowed by a computer-generated Gollum or a fleet of Star Destroyers, to a talented screenwriter who is now telling stories to inspire and excite the next generation. He realized his passion early, followed his creative dream and has found a way to make a living doing what he loves. It will certainly be exciting to see where the story takes him. Congratulations on your success, Cooper!