There’s a Yiddish proverb: “If fortune calls, offer her a chair.”
Such is the ever-present theme in Emily Skopov’s life. The native New Yorker, now Marshall Township resident, had planned to be an English literature professor, or maybe a lawyer.
Life, however, had other plans for her.
Through a series of lucky breaks and sheer determination, Skopov ended up in Los Angeles, where she became a successful television and film writer.
But this past summer, Skopov, her husband Todd Normane, their daughter Austen and son Wyatt, moved to Pittsburgh so that her husband could pursue a job opportunity.
“In theory, you should be able to write anywhere. I still have people willing to work with me. Nothing will stop me from writing; that is the key,” she said. “If I write a really good script and it gets to the right people, just because I live in Pittsburgh doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in it.”
An English literature major at Columbia University, Skopov was planning for a career either as an English professor or lawyer; it never dawned on her to make writing her career, but she ran with it after moving to Los Angeles to attend UCLA’s film school.
At that time, film school was just becoming a credible career option; many of her fellow students were men, and many were much older. A combination of talent, hard work and lucky breaks led her and her then writing partner to their first job working on “The Client,” the television series based on the John Grisham novel.
Skopov’s partner decided television wasn’t for him, but Skopov persevered as a solo writer, landing work on such shows as “Crisis Center,” “Pacific Blue,” “Andromeda” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.”
It was after six months of working on the series “Farscape,” while Austen was an infant, that Emily realized she no longer wanted to make the sacrifices a television career demanded, including an imminent move to Australia.
“I loved working in television,” she said, “but I couldn’t get my head around sacrificing a quality family life for it. And unfortunately, that’s the standard.”
Instead, she focused on her lifelong dream: writing and directing a film. Soon, before her second child, Wyatt, was born, Skopov’s movie, “Novel Romance,” was born. While the indie film about a woman who wanted to have a baby without a partner was unbelievably time-consuming, Skopov said it was one of the best experiences of her life.
Earlier this year her husband, a lawyer, took a job in Warrendale, in the North Hills. Despite being thousands of miles from the hub of the movie and television industry, Skopov hopes to continue writing and directing. Currently, she is adapting a manuscript about wizards into a television series, and she plans to continue work on a second movie.
If she can’t be in Los Angeles, however, she feels fortunate to be in Pittsburgh. She said, “I’m toying with going the independent film route again since Pittsburgh has a huge pool of talent. But I’m also feeling inspired to try my hand at writing plays again because of the great theater here.”
The first thing Skopov did when she and Normane decided to move was to connect with the Pittsburgh Jewish community. “We contacted the synagogue (Temple Ohav Shalom) before we even moved here,” she said.
The Skopovs then immersed themselves in their local Jewish community, and even though the North Hills Jewish population is not the largest, she’s already met many Jewish friends.
In Los Angeles, Skopov and her family lived in El Segundo, a predominantly non-Jewish area. Although the neighborhood was friendly and safe, they still felt alone on the Jewish holidays, especially with both sides of the family thousands of miles away.
Being in Pittsburgh “was the first time in their lives they were around so many Jewish kids. It had a big impact on my daughter,” she said.
Skopov herself had negative experiences with Judaism in her own childhood. In second grade, her parents moved from a fairly mixed area to a predominantly non-Jewish school district, where, she said, there were swastikas on the desk. Her parents made her attend Hebrew school three times a week, something she resented tremendously because it prevented her from joining other extracurricular activities, but especially because no one else from her school attended her Hebrew school.
To Skopov, “The culture is more important than the education. At their ages, whether or not my children can read Hebrew is less important to me than them having a spiritual family and a place they belong.”
(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)