Mel Orpen is a director and writer with her MFA from the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts where she was awarded the Mary Pickford Endowment, Barbara Corday Fund Scholarship, and was inducted into the Delta Alpha Pi academic honor society.
At USC, Mel was selected to direct the Multi-Cam Sit Com Pilot, “Baking Bad,” the story of two estranged sisters who inherit their mother’s bakery and “USC Comedy LIVE,” USC’s live sketch comedy TV series (think SNL).
Mel has directed 17 short films, 3 of which are currently on the festival circuit, and have won 5 awards and more than 20 nominations.
Including the micro comedy short, “Action Movie Trailer,” which has received two Best Short Film nominations.
Along with lighter fare, she’s focused on personal dramas about issues of injustice and social inequality. Mel wrote and directed the dramatic short “Don’t Let Go,” based on her experiences with LGBTQ bias surrounding the death of her fiancé. Winner of a Best LGBTQ Short Film Award and currently nominated for 15 awards. It recently made its North American premiere at the Idyllwild Festival of Cinema.
Her USC thesis film “Retribution,” inspired by her experience going through the U.S.’s very broken court system, has already won 4 Awards—including a Special Jury Prize, Best of Show, Best Student Short Film, and Best LGBTQ Short Film. “Retribution” was awarded a Caucus for Writers Producers Directors Foundation and Annenberg Foundation Finishing Funds Grant. The Oscar Qualifying Cleveland International Film Festival named the film to its 2021 Hot List. “Retribution” made its international premiere at the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase.
Mel’s feature film script, “Typhoid Mary,” was short listed for the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Best Screenplay at USC. She was selected by the Hollywood Radio and Television Society for it’s 2021 Mentorship program where she was paired with TV writer JJ Wienkers Alvendia. She is currently developing her award winning thesis film “Retribution” into a TV series. And her TV pilot “The Naked Truth,” based on her unique childhood, has received network interest and she will be taking it out later this year.
Mel has shadowed Jonathan Frakes on “The Orville;” Alex Rudzinski on “A Christmas Story LIVE” musical; Beth McCarthy-Miller on “The Greatest Showman” live musical commercial; Jon Rosenbaum on “KC Undercover;” and Mark Cendrowski on “The Big Bang Theory.”
She is also a regular guest director in Mary Lou Belli’s on camera comedy acting and scenework classes.
As a child, Mel fell in love with the epic tales of King Arthur’s knights as they strove to make the world a better place. To her surprise, learned she could earn a degree from Princeton University studying the roots of these stories as an English and Medieval Studies major. There, she was also an All-American, two sport Division I Varsity student-athlete and was reminded of the value of teamwork on a daily basis. Mel started her career in genre publishing but fell in love with film and TV after crewing on an indie feature. She began writing, then relocated to Philadelphia, where she networked her way from film festivals to working on set.
Prior to USC, Mel worked as an Assistant Director for independent and union film and TV productions in Philadelphia and New York. There she worked with Oscar and Emmy Award winning producers, directors, and actors on films that appeared in the Sundance International Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, Philadelphia International Film Festival, and Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (now Philly Qflix) among others. She also managed venues, special events and served as a juror for various Philadelphia area international film festivals.
In preparation to direct, she studied acting, improv and sketch, became a company member in the Ward Studio Company International Residency, a Meisner Technique theater company; and main stage performer for the Philadelphia Improv Theater Company.
Mel produced and directed It Gets Better—Philly’s Video, the City of Philadelphia’s collaborative It Gets Better Project video featuring former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter—which was featured in the One Day on Earth global documentary feature film project.
After losing her fiancé and facing LGBTQ bias, Mel earned her Political Fellowship from the Center for Progressive Leadership, was selected for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund’s national Campaign and Candidate Training program, then helped elect Pennsylvania’s first openly gay state Representative. She also lead actions and campaigns in support of LGBTQ civil rights; was a Community Board Member for The Daily Intelligencer, her hometown newspaper; and volunteered on behalf of literacy, social justice, and reproductive rights.
Through these experiences Mel realized storytelling won campaigns by creating empath in the hearts and minds of voters. So she chose to become a filmmaker to tell stories centered on complex women and diverse LGBTQ characters dealing with issues of social justice and equality.
Mel continued to serve her community at USC as the Graduate Council Production Division Representative (alternate), US Comedians Executive Board Member and Social Chair, as a member of the Queer Cuts LGBTQ film club.
Mel is currently the assistant to veteran director, Mary Lou Belli and worked previously as Andy Cadiff’s assistant.
She is an active member of Saturday Session for Women Directors and Creatives; Women in Film; and JHRTS. And is a proud dues paying member of SAG-AFTRA.
“Retribution” is a very personal film for me, inspired by my personal experiences after being seriously injured in a car accident then witnessing America’s broken justice system first hand. I realized that my experiences were shared by so many others across the country, especially fellow members of the LGBTQ community and in communities of color. I knew I needed to find a way to tell this story.
I believe deeply that a fair and unbiased court system is essential part of the rule of law and democracy. Without it, people feel compelled to take justice into their own hands through vigilantism and violence. And as the rule of law decays, democracies around the world fall into totalitarianism and despotism. And we have seen that begin here in the United States.
My own journey following injustice lead me through some of the darkest moments of my life.
But I also believe that film has the power to shine a light in dark places, entertaining audiences while making a difference. I hope that in sharing this story that we can raise further awareness surrounding the inequities of the American justice system and join the swell of voices demanding reform until every American regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, or identity is treated fairly before the courts.
I also believe deeply that representation matters both in front of and behind the camera. Our commitment to this is reflected in every position on the film.