Top 3 Tips from Contest Winner Steve Kopera
by David Santo
Join me now as we travel to a living room in suburban Detroit where a strip club scene is on TV. It appears in a popular police drama and is intended to keep the viewer interested while the actors dump the plotline into the episode. Now I am, and have been for years, officially, on record in favor of scantily clad beauties. But when this scene appears, I mute the TV and openly mock the situation, making sounds that correspond to the various body parts on display, because I'm so bored with this clichéd idea of disguising exposition with strippers.
And that's when my wife saunters into the room and I manage to irritate her on two levels simultaneously: she's body conscious to the point where every good looking female reminds her of her own inadequacies and I'm watching these females, and, she's married to a moron (me) that's making rude noises. But you should know that later on, she will imitate me - in a deep baritone voice heavily influenced by Butt Head — in front of her friends and seek her petty revenge by embarrassing me for my immature behavior. So, apparently, couples do pair up based on their intellectual equality.
But right now, she asks me; why can't they come up with some original way to tell their story?
I tell her originality does not sell. Clichés do. They know how to market them. She instantly senses a lecture on screenwriting coming on and gives me that burning eye look all married dudes know. I force myself to pull back and shut my mouth. This took years of practice.
Doesn't anybody have any new ideas? She presses on.
I tell her there's this one guy — Steve Kopera — he directed a short film entitled ''My Friend Peter'' which was a winner in the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival. His brother wrote the script and he directed it and it's awesome. The story is unique and universal. My wife tells me she'd like to know more about this super human and what his flick is about.
Q: So what's your story about?
A: "My Friend Peter" is family film about Gerald, a shy loner whose best friend is Peter, a monkey puppet. Peter has everything Gerald lacks: charisma, a sense of humor, and the courage to talk to anyone about anything. Far from impressing Gerald, the monkey puppet's attempt to connect with strangers terrifies him.
Q: Is it the best screenplay/project you've ever directed?
A: Yes. It's the strongest, tightest project I've directed. I've directed longer projects (features), but this short received, by far, the greatest acclaim, receiving acceptance into 20+ festivals around the continent. It is a simple concept that appeals to both adults and children.
Q: When you were working on this film did you feel like it was something special - more special than your other projects?
A: Definitely. It was by far the smoothest, easiest production I've ever worked on. We shot the film in Los Angeles, with a mix of Michigan and LA crew. "My Friend Peter" was the first time that most of the crew and cast worked together, but everything went extremely well. Much of the credit should go to my brother Mike, who served as producer and star. He was so well rehearsed and organized that the crew felt immediately at ease and people could see the charm in his performance.
Q: What did you do when you found out you won a contest?
A: I immediately called my brother to tell him the good news.
Q: What's happened with the film since?
A: Since the DWIFF, "My Friend Peter" has had the good fortune to also screen in Indianapolis, Phoenix, Toronto, Oakland, Chicago, Santa Rosa, and Washington, DC. It also has a pending distribution deal, which is becoming more common for short films.
Q: Are you still entering this film and other projects into other contests?
A: We're still waiting to hear back from a number of festivals, but, for the most part, the submission phase is complete. We have a feature version of "My Friend Peter" which expands the world of Peter and Gerald. It's also a musical. Our main focus is developing this feature, which we plan to shoot next year.
TOP 3 TIPS
1. Write something original. I think writers too often try to follow trends, thinking that will make their project more commercial. Yet, I think if you look historically at directors and writers who break through, they usually offer a completely unique vision and voice. Charlie Kaufman, Kevin Smith, Tarantino, and even the writers who've won awards at festivals I've attended have all contributed something fresh and new. There's nothing wrong with writing a genre piece, like crime or zombie. In fact, those are some of my favorite movies. But, for an up-and-coming writer, I would recommend twisting those genre conventions.
2. Take constructive criticism. Find a few people who have some experience critiquing writing. Have them read the script, and take their criticism seriously.
3. Be patient. New writers tend to get impatient and they want to be finished with a script before enough rewrites. It's unfortunately a very long process. The stories of Sly Stallone writing "Rocky" in a weekend are Hollywood myths.