headshot photo of Martha Coolidge

Martha Coolidge

Lawrence and Kristina Dodge College of Film and Media Arts
Office Location: Marion Knott Studios DMAC 108
Phone: (714) 997-6683
Rhode Island School of Design, Bachelor of Fine Arts
New York University, Master of Fine Arts


Illuminating the struggle of characters as they face challenges whether seen through a comedic or a serious lens is a hallmark of Martha Coolidge’s work from her first documentaries to her remarkable pioneering achievements in feature films. She is known not only as a consummate filmmaker but also as an “Actor’s Director” due to her knack to inspire special performances from actors whether they are seasoned like Robert Duvall and Anjelica Huston or new as was the case with Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer and Halle Berry.  With an excellent eye for casting and special attention to detail in story and production Coolidge has brought to life diverse worlds from realistic historic periods to hip contemporary and futuristic settings.

Following her hit romantic comedy THE PRINCE & ME Coolidge returned with a delightful comedy-mystery MATERIAL GIRLS starring Hilary and Haylie Duff.  The film tells the story of two silly “celebrity” sisters, made famous by modeling their father’s make up line, who inherit the company and subsequently loose it in a corporate swindle, falling from “Riches to rags in a single day.”  The girls learn to work for a living and become detectives to figure out how they lost their company. Funny and smart it’s filled with talented actors like Anjelica Huston, Lukas Haas, Ty Hodges, Brent Spiner and Obba Babatunde.

Ms. Coolidge’s diverse range of projects, from raucous comedy to poignant drama, has caused some to say her taste is eclectic.  She says, “All my films have been about people facing personal challenges in their lives and overcoming them.  But as a director I like to stretch. I certainly enjoy the action and the hardware as much as the next guy, but my films center on strong characters.   My greatest joy has come from working with so many talented actors.”  This list includes Halle Berry, Robert Duvall, Chloe Severny, Richard Dreyfus, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Diane Ladd, Brent Spiner, Mercedes Ruehl, Patrick Swayze, Geena Davis, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Obba Babatunde, Holly Hunter, Elaine Stritch, Gena Rowlands, Frances McDormand. William Hurt, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. She also discovered talent like Nicolas Cage (Valley Girl), Val Kilmer (Real Genius) and James Gandolfini (Angie).

Coolidge has enjoyed giving back to the industry she loves serving on many boards and committees including the AFI, Rhode Island School of Design, NYU and Catalyst, an organization dedicated to promoting better science in films.  Ms. Coolidge made history in 2001 when she was elected the first woman President of the Directors Guild of America.

An avid horsewoman, Ms. Coolidge breeds and shows Paso Fino horses and holds several National Championship titles.  She is married to the Award winning Production Designer James Spencer and has one son, Preston, named in honor of one of her idols, producer/ writer/ director Preston Sturges.

Recent Creative, Scholarly Work and Publications

Ashley Spencer, wrote in the New York Times, May 2020, “When “Valley Girl” (and Nicholas Cage) Shook Up Hollywood”. She interviewed me about directing “Valley Girl” focusing on how I hired Nicolas Cage and how I found him to work with. She had also asked the producer-writer Andrew Lane (Dodge professor) already. She asked me if I knew this film would launched Nick's career. The article was written because a "new" version of "Valley Girl" was being made by MGA and Orion as a musical. We talked about our threadbare production that was full of fun and heart. I told her some very funny and revealing stories about shooting. Nick was a committed, intelligent actor with a great imagination. It was a great project with him. It was also great that along with Nick and I many other people from our cast and crew went on to very successful careers, but his was the biggest. This article published in the New York Times also came out in many of their ancillary newspapers and magazines.
I'LL FIND YOU was the closing film at the 60 year old Taormina Film Festival in Sicily in July. It was screened in a huge ancient Greek Theater overlooking the Mediterranean. The press and audience loved it and many of our cast came to celebrate. It was a beautiful finish to a long process, and a great screening. Prof David Ward was my main writer, Prof Paul Seydor was one of the editors, and over the 4 years we had many interns and paid Assistants who were Chapman students. The film is a love story set before, during and after WW II. The lovers are music students who meet in school and fall in love. Rachel is Jewish and taken away. Robert, Catholic, swears he will find her and spends the rest of the war looking for her. The beautiful ending caps a film that confronts many usually unseen truths about war. In the end, it is through the music that they unite. It is a testament to love and life that they unite again to create a future.
I'LL FIND YOU opened the Transatlantic Film Festival in Lodz, Poland in mid July. This was a great opportunity for a reunion of cast and crew as the film was primarily shot in Lodz. I also taught a Master Class on Directing at the festival and did many interviews. The screening was accompanied by a wonderful banquet by a Polish Chef. The film features Lodz in many ways, it's theaters as well as the famous Lodz Ghetto during the war. Once the film has distribution I will add that in the entries here.
"I'll Find You" Post production was completed by late spring 2019 and several screening copies were made for the two European Film Festivals we were premiering in. The producers created some trailers and posters plus press materials for the festivals and prospective distributors. At that point John, the financier/producer stopped my work, saying he had to, and closed our editing rooms in LA though I needed them. But the film looks very good. We only needed a few tweaks that can be done later. Working remotely for me with the lab in Poland and no editing room here to see anything was very awkward, so it took a little time. After finishing I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders as I no longer had to worry. My major Chapman co-author was Academy Award winner, screenwriter David Ward (fellow Dodge professor) who I went to as the writer. The other was Editor Paul Seydor (who filled in when editors Richard Chew and Eric Sears weren't available for the finishing pass.). We also had ten Chapman students as interns/assistants on the picture. I had three in pre-production. Then I had two Directing students as paid assistants during shooting in Poland, Anja Paul and Andres Sabater. We also had three Interns/assistants in editorial, plus I had two more director interns as paid assistants in post in LA. It was a very big, long and complicated professional production and it was a perfect opportunity for interns to learn a lot.
In 2019 we completed post production on I"LL FIND YOU (our new title) by June. We played to two Film Festivals in Europe and the Producers are seeking distribution. As the director I am very happy to be presenting my work as I designed it to be seen. But I had to wrestle through an almost two year lawsuit against me from producer/financier Mr Raczynski because he wanted to break our contract and get rid of me. It was very painful. Luckily the Directors Guild defended me and we won. I am on decent speaking terms with John Raczynski now but even his lack of professional knowledge about distribution keeps taking more time. It is so rewarding for me to see all our terrific actors on the screen and the audience loving it. David Ward was the main screenwriter for me and because of our distance dedicated worked on it late at night till we finished. Prof. Paul Seydor is the other Dodge author. He came on as editor when my original two editors Academy Award winner Richard Chew and Eric Sears weren't available. Fred Roos, Academy Award winning producer of the "Godfathers" and "Apocalypse", first gave me the script in 2014. A former top casting director he cast with me and stayed on through production, helping a lot. Bozenna Intrator who wrote earlier drafts also stayed on throughout production making a huge effort to solve every problem. During production and post I had many interns and assistants who were students at Chapman. This included Brenna Malloy, Amanda Knox and Yelena Krivosheyeva in LA. On set in Poland I had directors Anja Paul & Andres Gil Sabater help me as paid assistants. And in Post from Chapman we had three editorial assistants including Travis Song & Cooper Abrios. Covid completely set us back changing theater release so we still have no set date. I'm a person who likes to finish everything well and this has been difficult. But the story of making the movie is actually positive and a film that looks at WWII in fresh ways has been finished.
2018. Film Production SIREN, TV series, episode 6 SHOWDOWN. Freeform. Creators Eric Wald & Dean White. Directed a show about a fishing town rumored to have mermaids discovers them, and gets invaded. The mermaids fear humans and kill them. Lots of VFX. The series explores the disagreements, the similarities and the prejudices between humans and mermaids.
In 2018 "Music, War and Love" (now "I'll Find You"), my new feature, Independent, producers Fred Roos (The Godfathers), John Racyzniski, Screenplay David Ward (Chapman prof. The Sting). We began editing in Summer in 2016. We were shut down in Nov. for our financier to find money. We stayed shut down all of 2017. The financier began a lawsuit so he could make the movie his. But I have final cut. We had to go to court. The DGA and I won every hearing. The financier refused to cooperate so we foreclosed on the picture. In March John relented. He asked me to finish the picture. I hired a new editor, Paul Seydor, Chapman prof, and we completed the cut. We are now doing the VFX, sound and music. It should finish in February. We are entering Film Festivals and seeking distributors.
MUSIC, WAR AND LOVE, Feature film, Independent, produced by Fred Roos (The Godfathers), John Racznski, Bo Intrador. Screenplay by David Ward (Chapman prof., The Sting) & Bo Intrador. This epic romance is set before, during and after WW II in Poland, Germany and finally NYC. The story begins as two young musicians meet and fall in love, and are separated by the war. Robert, a Polish Catholic (Opera singer) must go underground, and Rachel, a Polish Jew, is taken by Nazi's to Auschwitz. Her family is killed but she plays for the famous women's orchestra. The story follows his journey and struggle to find and save her. Features Stellan Skarsgard, Connie Neilson, Steven Dorf and many Polish and English actors. It began Production in 2015, and completed shooting in the summer of 2016. We are supposed to be in the final months of Post Production and editing until Jan. 2017. I had a Chapman Editing Intern, I took two Director grad students as Chapman Interns to Poland for the shoot, and employed numerous Chapman Directing students on the prep of the picture in 2015. Though I took a leave of absence to shoot the film fall of 2015 I kept in touch with many other students. I send back reports and engaged them again as soon as I returned in January 2016. There is a Facebook page, but no official website as yet. The planned release in 2017, will be wrong. This film will be in production from March 2015 to complete delivery either late 2018 or early 2019.
NIGHT SHIFT, TV series NBC episode 7, BLOOD BROTHERS, Director. it aired 7/08/14 on NBC. From the first season, this is a turning point for the main character. With time running out to save, fellow doctors, Topher and Jordan, TC fights off his flashbacks from Afghanistan to take down a killer who holds them in a hostage situation. We shot in Albuquerque, NM, and I had a Chapman Cinematographer Intern with me for the entire shoot.
The Unknown - First Season, Episode 1, YESTERDAY, Episode 2, LIFE SENTENCE, Episode 4, SPARE THE CHILD, Episode 6, PRIVACY SETTINGS. Director and Producer. Production from Feb 2012 to June 2012. Release date July 13, 2012 on Crackle, Sony TV.
Drop Dead Diva - Season 3 Episode: DREAM BIG, Director. Shot in March & April, aired July10, 2011 on Lifetime.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Season 10, Episode 20, TAKE MY LIFE PLEASE. Director. Shot March & April 2010 - aired April 29, 2010 on CBS
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Season 11, Episode 8 - FRACKED. Director. Shot Sept 2010, Aired November 11, 2010.
Movie: AMERICAN GIRL: CHRISSA STANDS STRONG. Director. Released Jan. 2009. A serious look at school bullying by American Girl. Created with a book, teaching tools and their dolls. Aired Jan. 3 by HBO and also screened in selected theaters, sold on DVD by American Girl. Nominated in 2010 for a Best Directing Award by the DGA.
Television movie: TRIBUTE - Director, Shot in November 2008, aired April 2009, on Lifetime, DVD release Oct. 2009. by Sony.
TV - Episodic PSYCH - Season 3, episode 14: TRUER LIES. Director. Released Feb 2009 on USA Network.