Alexander Canepa is president of Eight Hills Productions and the writer-director of the new feature film Mrs. Booker on 8th Avenue, which he also edited and scored. Mrs Booker has played at a number of film festivals and received the Reel Life award at the Chattanooga Film Festival. He wrote, directed and produced his first short feature, Meringue, in 2020, which was accepted into the Los Angeles Shorts Film Festival.
Danielle Canepa is an entertainment marketing executive and the CEO of Eight Hills Productions. She launched her career at Lionsgate and worked on a wide variety of film releases, ranging from independent films to big-budget wide-theatrical releases. She founded Eight Hills Productions in 2020 with her brother, Alexander Canepa. Danielle graduated with Honors from USC, earning a degree that combined Communications from the Annenberg School with a focus on Consumer Behavior from the Marshall School of Business.
All magnets have north and south poles. Opposite poles are attracted to each other, while the same poles repel each other. This phenomenon perfectly illustrates the relationship we have as siblings.
The two of us are very different. Our relationship at times has been challenging. Growing up, Danielle was on the soccer field and had a fierce competitive spirit, while Alex had a deep passion for music and spent hours a day practicing the guitar. Danielle likes routine, preparedness, clarity, while Alex lives on spontaneity, risks and dreams. Danielle spent her days listening to Pop’s Top 100 greatest hits while Alex was researching underground punk bands. Danielle is fiscally responsible and results-driven, while Alex is all about the journey and creative process. At first glance, it’s understandable why our personalities might seem naturally inclined to repel each other …
Despite our stark personality differences, we share an incredibly resilient bond. After college, when Danielle needed a push to venture beyond the comfort of our parents’ home, Alex insisted we get an apartment together. It’s not very common for opposite-sex siblings to live together in their twenties, but we were both eager to kickstart our adult lives, so we made it work. We spent four years together in an antique two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica.
During that time, we had to discover how to live together again. Alex learned to not disturb Danielle before she had breakfast. And that having the television in the living room meant occasionally foregoing watching French New Wave movies. Danielle is early to bed and early to rise, so that meant Alex watching Saturday morning Serie A games on silent, or taking long night walks when he needed an escape. Danielle loves chicken breasts and Caesar salads. Alex took chances on stewing rabbit and boiling octopus, which meant having to adopt to a new standard of kitchen cleanliness. It was an educational experience.
After learning to navigate our contrasting personalities, we discovered that by harnessing the forces that initially seemed to repel us, we could forge a bond that transformed us into a formidable professional team. Danielle was immersed in the marketing and strategy side of the entertainment industry at Lionsgate, while Alex was gaining experience as a production assistant on acclaimed television shows. Together, we possessed a powerful blend of creative and business acumen, and we realized that our synergy was far more potent than our individual abilities.
In 2019, we embarked on a new venture by deciding to create a short film. Alex took on the task of writing the script and encouraged Danielle to step into a new role as a producer. Our collaboration led to the completion of our inaugural project in early 2020, the short film Meringue. We quickly discovered that Danielle’s organizational skills and attention to detail were a natural fit for managing the shoot, ensuring the cast was well taken care of and keeping a close eye on the budget. In the meantime, Alex had his first experience as a director and excelled in the role. Throughout the film, we also gained valuable insights into the intricacies of securing permits, the importance of prop rifle safety and the wisdom of avoiding swimming at El Segundo beach.
Meringue had its (virtual) film festival premiere in 2020, during the pandemic, which had struck just as we were gaining momentum in our filmmaking endeavors. Our time during the pandemic was marked by isolation, with our days confined to that apartment. The clashes between our contrasting personalities often made it challenging. Yet, amidst all that tension, something beautiful began to emerge. As we discussed our future and career aspirations, we found ourselves frequently in sync. When brainstorming movie ideas, we could communicate without words, sometimes with just a nod, instinctively knowing what the other person was thinking. We have since learned that we make a fantastic Pictionary team.
With the idea of making a feature together, we founded Eight Hills Productions. Alex embarked on the task of writing Mrs. Booker on 8th Avenue, a narrative centered around an illicit affair, choosing New York City as the backdrop for the story. He drew inspiration from the Cassavetes films he loved. Paradoxically, as the pandemic imposed its challenges, the pervasive sense of isolation we felt began to seep into the character of the film’s protagonist, Florence Booker, shaping her feelings of entrapment within her marriage and professional life.
As the vaccine rollout got underway, Alex took the next major step, leaving behind our shared apartment and moving across the country to turn Mrs. Booker into a tangible reality. We had honed our working relationship during the script process, but no longer being in the same place was tough to adjust to, disrupting our daily routines: no more morning coffees on the balcony, no more old movie nights and, thankfully, no more of Alex’s creative kitchen experiments.
Alex’s new studio in the East Village was a significant departure from our cozy two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. During his initial months in New York, he dedicated most of his time to working on different productions and revising the script. What had started as a modest tale of an affair between a line cook and an optometrist’s technician began to evolve and transform. The vibrant energy and bustling atmosphere of lower Manhattan had an immediate impact on the project, infusing it with a new sense of vitality and purpose. But the reality and challenge of making a micro-budget film on the streets of New York was daunting. We needed an external push.
Our mother had extensive back surgery in early January 2022. The serious nature of the procedure brought Alex back to Los Angeles. We were together in an apartment again, but it was difficult. The anxiety of those days was intense; we had forgotten all about Mrs. Booker. Fortunately, all went well and a couple days after her successful surgery, our mother encouraged us to make the movie that winter, by any means necessary. Alex returned to New York with revitalized energy.
We spent the last half of January and the first half of February laying the foundations to shoot Mrs. Booker: from casting to locations to rentals to crew and everything in between. Once more, our contrasting personalities came to the forefront as Alex continued to passionately push himself creatively, steering the project toward the abstract, while Danielle remained focused on ensuring it had a commercial appeal that would resonate with the average film lover. It was a month of restless nights and endless Zoom meetings, marked by compromises and a mutual willingness to understand each other’s perspectives.
After numerous discussions, disagreements and the necessary adjustments inherent to the filmmaking journey, we finalized the script for Mrs. Booker on 8th Avenue. On the surface, the film traces the unraveling of Florence Booker’s close relationships, but with each viewing, new layers are revealed. At its heart, Mrs. Booker taps into the universal feelings of passion and frustration as we all navigate life’s complexities and confront the consequences of our choices.
The two of us reunited in New York ahead of our first day of filming on February 28, 2022. Over the next 10 days, we managed to shoot Mrs. Booker on 8th Avenue, pouring all of our financial resources into the project. It marked a significant leap that demanded complete trust in one another. Every decision we made carried weight, and it was our unwavering teamwork that carried us through the production. New York is a very different city than Los Angeles in the winter. Danielle struggled with the cold and the immediacy of everything. She was not prepared and didn’t have a puffer jacket! But outside of her comfort zone, she had no choice but to step up.
As siblings, we have different approaches to running a film set. Danielle is a producer at heart, but there were still things she had to learn. From Alex’s time working in production on higher budget sets, he had grown accustomed to departments filling roles. Relying on only Danielle, directing, and managing a crew was difficult. The two of us had some petty arguments. Fortunately, Danielle is a quick learner. Alex resolved to focus on the job of directing, let the small things go and trust in Danielle. It was the only way to get the film made in such a small amount of time.
Mrs. Booker has already gained recognition and awards on the festival circuit but, in many ways, the two of us succeeded just by making Mrs. Booker. In the world of filmmaking, having someone you trust to provide a contrasting viewpoint is invaluable, and that certainly holds true when it’s family. Our personalities may often clash, but it’s this very dichotomy that makes our filmmaking collaboration work.