Interview with Festival Directors Roger and Shelley Gillespie (COPA SHORTS FILM FESTIVAL)

COPA SHORTS FILM FEST, INC. launched its first film festival in February 2017.  It is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that focuses on creating a great learning and entertainment experience for filmmakers, screenwriters and film lovers locally, regionally, nationally, and worldwide. The festival takes places at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle in Maricopa, Arizona about 35 miles from downtown Phoenix.


Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Roger and Shelley Gillespie: Copa Shorts Film Fest, now starting its second year of programming, has succeeded in highlighting talented filmmakers of short films and screenplays. In a state-of-the-art digital venue, we showed 56 short films in our first festival this February. The films were from around the world and the U.S.

In addition to showcasing films, we provided four screenwriters the opportunity to have table reads of their short screenplays. Each of the four finalists, from four different states, could see their name on the screen and their words voiced by actors.

We also are succeeding at offering workshops to provide hands-on learning experiences for new and upcoming filmmakers for free.

What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2017)?

Our 2017 festival was held in February of this year. For 2018, attendees can expect more experiences to learn and enjoy film and screenplays. We’re doubling the festival workshops so attendees can have an opportunity to learn from professionals about above and below the line skills. Attendees can also relax in our fabulous location, UltraStar Multi-tainment Center, to see the films and experience the screenplay table reads.

We’re in our submission period through October 13, so we don’t know all of the films and screenplays that could be featured in February.

However, we have added a category for military veteran films and we’re seeing some excellent early entries. We’ve also added a separate category for high school filmmakers, as well as college filmmakers.

At our VIP and Wrap Award parties, we’ll be showcasing award-winning Native American musical performers, Native Spirit and Arvel Bird. The parties will be a chance for film attendees, filmmakers, and screenwriters to network.

What are the qualifications for the selected films?

CSFF accepts films that are from two to twenty minutes (including credits) in the following categories: Native American, high school student, college student, military veteran and in genres of animation, comedy, documentary, drama, horror, and sci-fi.

The selected films are reviewed by Arizona State University film students and film professionals. We examine story, technical, acting, and overall impact of the film.
For screenplays, we expect screenplays to be no longer than 15 pages and also examine dialogue as one of the major criteria.v

Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

Potentially, some film reviewers may not have expertise in reviewing films. This could lead to personal bias.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

Our team offers this festival because we love films and we want to provide opportunities for talent to be encouraged and showcased. We offer educational workshops to help filmmakers improve their skills. And, in our growing city, we like the idea of providing a major cultural artistic event to attract people.

How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

We have had an extremely positive experience working exclusively with FilmFreeway. Their staff has been responsive when we had questions (We were a first-time festival this year) and everything worked smoothly.

Where do you see the festival by 2020?

By 2020, we expect that the festival will be at least a day longer to provide more workshops, more submissions, more attendees, and really strong repeat business.

What film have you seen the most times in your life?

I’m a romantic. I’ve probably seen Pretty Woman tied with Dirty Dancing the most times in my life.

Roger has seen High Plains Drifter the most.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

A great film is one that makes you think, has a memorable premise, characters, and technical aspects that all work together to create something you want to see repeatedly and talk about with others.

How is the film scene in your city?

Maricopa is a new city that has grown exponentially in the last 14 years. Our festival location, UltraStar Multi-tainment Center, was built almost five years ago. Films shown tend to favor blockbusters. We typically have to travel out of town to see art films, indie films and shorts programs.

In our community, there is an avid following for films from school students through senior citizens. Maricopa is home to several current and former filmmakers, screenwriters, Hollywood film professionals and actors. Several worthy locally-made films were shown in our festival.


Roger and Shelley Gillespie are co-founders of Copa Shorts Film Fest, which began as a desire to create an event focused around film for our community of Maricopa, Arizona.

Roger Gillespie is a screenwriter, producer, film critic and host of the monthly “3-Hour Movie Critic” event at UltraStar, who has been involved in film, broadcasting and journalism since high school.

He has independently written and co-written over 10 screenplays including quarter-finalist for his full-length feature, Saving Liberty, in Francis Ford Coppola’s annual, internationally-renowned American Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest.

An alumni member of Ball State University’s Film and Broadcasting School, and Hal Croasmun’s Screenwriting U, Roger is the first to tell anyone that he can teach you how to format a screenplay in a few minutes, but “it’s the story that matters, and that takes a little more time.”

Shelley Gillespie multi-faceted background includes years as an award-winning journalist (The Communicator, Arizona Republic, Times Publications), an educator and adjunct professor (CAC, NAU), writing coach, marketing consultant and author. (Hiking for the Couch Potato: A Guide for the Exercise-Challenged.) Shelley also shares writing credit for Saving Liberty with Roger.

She has raised millions for not-for-profits, managed training programs and events, and created marketing programs for a shopping mall and corporations.

Shelley holds a BA in English from Vassar College and an MS in Educational Administration from State University of NY at Albany.

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

SUBMIT your TV PILOT Screenplay or TV SPEC Script
Voted #1 TV Contest in North America.
Screenplay CONTESTSUBMIT your Short Screenplay or FEATURE Script
FULL FEEDBACK on all entries. Get your script performed

One thought on “Interview with Festival Directors Roger and Shelley Gillespie (COPA SHORTS FILM FESTIVAL)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s