With 33 years on the job, Tom Copeland is one of Texas’ best-known film industry advocates. During his ten years as the director of the Texas Film Commission, a division of the Office of the Governor, he was the state’s primary liaison between Hollywood and Texas. During his leadership, almost 600 movies and television programs were made in Texas, with total budgets exceeding $3 billion. Following his retirement from the State in 2005, he joined the Theatre Department faculty at Texas State, returning to the University where his career really began.
Tom was raised in Meadow, near Lubbock, and studied under Meadow High School’s legendary drama coach Noyce Burleson. Under her guidance, Meadow set the record for most consecutive appearances and wins at the UIL One-Act Play Contest, a state record that still stands. As a high schooler, Tom was already active in Texas Tech’s theatre program, where he met Fred March, former chair of Texas State’s Theatre Department, who convinced Tom to enroll at Texas State. Arriving in San Marcos in 1969, Tom participated in all aspects of the theatre department, and acted in more than 25 productions. Over the summers, he was involved in repertory theatre at the Globe Theatre in Odessa, Texas, and at the Central City Opera’s theatre program in Central City, Colorado.
The technical skills that Tom learned at Texas State helped immensely in landing him a job as a crew member on the first five seasons of Austin City Limits. That experience led to seven years as a freelance production assistant, grip, location manager and production manager. In 1983, Copeland joined the Texas Film Commission as a location scout; in 2005, he retired from the Film Commission as its director. Over his 22 years there, Tom was involved in every stage of features, commercials, music videos, political campaigns and television programs, from early development through distribution. He also worked extensively on film-related legislative issues, gaining an insider’s view of Texas politics. He worked directly with filmmakers, including Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, Michael Bay, Adrian Lyne, Wes Anderson, Tommy Lee Jones, Steven Soderberg, Peter Bogdanovich, Roland Emmerich, Oliver Stone, Jodie Foster, Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Horton Foote, Bill Wittliff, John Sayles and hundreds of film professionals who, while not household names, enjoy broad recognition within the industry. Among the many projects that Tom helped bring to Texas are Miss Congeniality, Hope Floats, Friday Night Lights, Michael, Bottle Rocket, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Courage Under Fire, Lonesome Dove, Terms Of Endearment, Places In The Heart, The Rookie, The Day After Tomorrow, Secondhand Lions and 2004’s The Alamo.
In 2005, he approached Texas State with a concept for classes to create film industry opportunities for theatre students, knowing from experience that film production and theatre skills are a natural fit. His classes, “The Business of Film” and “Independent Shorts,” provide hands-on production training and allow his students to interact with nationally-known film professionals. Using his extensive network of industry contacts, Tom focuses on placing his students with internships and employment, and is very proud of the multiple successes already accrued over the past two years.
Besides his work at Texas State, Tom is also the Senior Vice-President, Film Studio Operations for Villa Muse, a planned soundstage and production facility northeast of Austin, and he is a frequent guest speaker at film festivals throughout Texas. He lives in rural Caldwell County, near Lockhart, and, as a kayaker, considers the proximity of the San Marcos River to be a major employment perk.