Brothers band together to make ‘My Friend Peter’ movie

By: Terry Oparka, | Troy Times | Published September 28, 2011

Brothers Mike and Steve Kopera, raised in Troy, didn’t set out to make a film for children.

Mike, an actor who lives in Los Angeles, decided to write screenplays and produce films as vehicles for his acting career between auditions and working at his restaurant job. He wanted to tell the story of a world where everyone carries monkey puppets that interact with people. The screenplay was inspired by his own monkey puppet, which he took to college wrapped around the base of a lamp and then out to Los Angeles on the same lamp.

Older brother Steve, who lives in Ann Arbor, directed the film, which was shot in Los Angeles, and the result is “My Friend Peter,” an 11-minute comedy that is a contender for a number of awards at the Blue Water Film Festival in Port Huron next month.

“He (Steve) read it and got the bizarre world I’m trying to create,” Mike said. “I’m really lucky to have a brother willing to direct a movie I’m in.”

The synopsis for the film states that Gerald, who is a bit of a loner in a seemingly cold world, has one best friend and companion, his monkey puppet Peter, who has everything that Gerald doesn’t — charisma, a sense of humor and the courage to talk to anyone about anything. But, far from impressing Gerald, the monkey puppet’s efforts to connect with strangers terrify him.

Steve completed post-production work in Michigan with help from Steve Sholtes, a composer from Monroe.

The film has won Best Children’s Film at the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival and Audience Choice Award at the Brainwash Movie Festival in Oakland, Calif.

“We didn’t make it as a kid’s movie,” Mike said. “We started showing it and got a good response. Kids loved it.”

“The theme is, there’s good in everyone,” Steve added.

A third brother, Matt, a physician, and fourth brother, John, also helped to produce the film. When Matt initially read the screenplay, he suggested it be developed as a feature film, which Mike resisted.

Mike wanted to simply tell the story in 11 pages. However, he is now working to develop the film into feature length. He still loves the short film genre of storytelling, which he explained gets more play in Europe and Canada.

“It’s accessible to filmmakers starting out and less expensive to make,” he said.

Mike has had the acting bug since he was a child and has appeared in Stagecrafters productions in Royal Oak and Meadow Brook Theatre plays at Oakland University in Rochester. He studied acting at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Steve also graduated from Northwestern, with a degree in environmental science, but with a passion for filmmaking.

He moved to Los Angeles and volunteered as a production assistant (aka “grunt”) to learn the business from the ground up. He decided to start working on his own projects in the independent film arena and found that it didn’t matter where he lived to do that, so he came back to Michigan.

“I moved back in 2001. I found I was more productive in Michigan,” he said. “I worked at Warner Bros. for three years. It was not terribly rewarding.”

He works in information technology at the University of Michigan and said he strives to strike a balance between being creative, having a career and being happy.

As a kid attending Boulan Park Middle School in Troy, then Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, he said he liked making movies for his friends. When his father got a camcorder, Steve asked to use it.

“He said I could use it if I read the manual, so I did, and he was true to his word,” Steve said.

He also directed a feature film titled “Starlight and Superfish,” shot in downtown Detroit, which was shown at the Detroit Independent Film Festival and the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival, and won a best actor award at the Blue Water Film Festival last year. Steve describes it as a musical comedy-drama. A distributor picked it up, and it will be available on DVD Oct. 25.

“This is my first project to be picked up by a distributor,” he said. Future projects include a low-budget horror film.

“This is my first family-friendly film,” Steve said of “My Friend Peter.”

“My Friend Peter” and the other films that placed as finalists will be shown at the Blue Water Film Festival Oct. 8. The festival highlights short films, full-length features and documentaries.

For information about the festival, visit www.bluewaterfilmfestival.com.