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Week of September 13, 2010

Film production staffer got start in independent films


Stephen Kopera’s love for film has taken him from Hollywood to LSA, where he applies video production skills to his job in Information and Technology Services (ITS).

He got his first taste of video production growing up in suburban Troy. “My dad got a camcorder when I was in the seventh grade. I had a burning desire to use it make my own movies with my friends,” he says. “You have a blank canvas, you can do anything you want.”

Photo by Danny Mooney.

While studying liberal arts at Northwestern University, Kopera took an Introduction to Computers class to learn the basics of HTML and Web design. “This served to be quite valuable down the line,” he says. After graduation, he moved to Los Angeles and worked at Warner Bros., where Kopera says he learned more about movie distribution than his real passion, movie production.

“To get my hands into the production nitty-gritty, I started volunteering on independent productions. Most of these were shot during the evenings or at night. So, I’d get home from Warner Brothers, and then drive out to work as a grunt for the next 10 hours. The work was awful and I needed sleep,” he says.

After two years, Kopera left Warner Bros to work for director Jesse Dylan, son of Bob Dylan, then a commercial director who soon progressed to features including “American Pie 3,” and also for executive producer Moritz Borman (“Terminator 3,” “Alexander”), before returning to Michigan to focus on his own smaller projects.

Kopera landed a job at U-M Hospital, and a year later found a position that took advantage of his filmmaking and computer skills, as he oversaw the equipment and editing facility at LSA Media, now Instructional Support Services. His recent accomplishments at ITS include the creation of “infocasts” for My LINC (Learning & Information Center), an integrated, Web-based training and documentation repository with information on resources, e-learning courses and certifications, step-by-step procedures and job aids, and instructional documents for employees.

“They’re like commercials targeted specifically for U-M staff,” Kopera says. “The key challenge is conveying the essence of the material. You have to really study hard and become a mini expert to sum it up in 90 seconds,” he says.

Kopera says his favorite video is an overview of My LINC: “I wanted to emphasize that the university is large, sprawling and can be intimidating to a new employee. To represent this visually, I animated a person walking down a road with My LINC street signs pointing the person in the right direction.” Kopera works with a team of instructional designers who write staff training materials and e-learning courses.

Outside of work, Kopera recently directed his third feature-length film, “Starlight and Superfish,” screened in June at the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival. “We got a lot of positive feedback, I was really thrilled with it,” he says.

The film, written by Kopera’s partner in film Rob Hess, a multimedia designer in LSA, tells the story of Nick, who wakes up in his apartment to find he is dead, and soon is visited by a British 1970s glam rock band. “They’re his only real help to discover how he can escape his purgatory — sort of a Greek chorus. They help describe the plot,” Kopera says.

One goal with the film, which screens Oct. 9 at the Blue Water Film Festival in Port Huron, is to get international DVD distribution. “The ultimate goal is to make another film and stay in the game,” Kopera says.


The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at urecord@umich.edu.

 

STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Stephen Kopera, instructional designer, Information and Technology Services, on the key to producing effective information videos for staff: “The key challenge is conveying the essence of the material.”

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