Tony Stopperan walks toward the coffee maker in the president’s office conference room at Ringling College of Art and Design. He’s put-together: His shirt is ironed, his tie is straight and he looks showered — but his bright-blue eyes are surrounded by dark circles, heralding the fact that he hasn’t slept for weeks. He fills his pale pink coffee mug with the fuel of his existence and says, “I have an 11-day old baby at home.”
Well, that explains it.
But it’s not the only baby the 33-year-old is looking after — in addition to his day job as special-projects assistant to Ringling President Dr. Larry Thompson, Stopperan is the program director and executive producer of “The Lucky 6.” It’s the inaugural collaboration between Ringling and FSU/Asolo Conservatory; Asolo students act in a feature-length film Ringling students produce — the collaboration is Stopperan’s brainchild.
Stopperan takes one last sip of his coffee before crossing campus where the pre-production is bustling. There are 54 participants in this nonprofit program, Summer Feature Film Program, that teaches students via the hands-on application of making a feature-length film.
This summer’s film, “The Lucky 6,” is a comedy drama about a group of six employees of a tech startup in Sarasota who win $300 million. Five years following the big win, legal accusations force them to discover what is really important in life.
The production team is meeting in the computer lab, where students’ noses are buried in the script and they are discussing notes. While passing through the building, Stopperan jumps over a pile of costumes littering the floor and says hello to the costume designer, Ringling junior Hanna Persson.
“Sorry for the mess!” she yells as he passes through the hallway down to the studio.
Before a faculty member stops him to ask a question about the budget, he shares an interesting bit of information: The students involved in the film are receiving college credit, living in the dorms for free and getting all their meals for free. Plus, this is the only opportunity for them to work on a feature-length film before graduation — they previously only had the opportunity for short films.
They use the same equipment director Peter Jackson used to film “The Hobbit.” (“It’s the best equipment out there,” Stopperan says). He peeks out the back door where a trailer of equipment has just been unloaded.
“Did the trailer leave?” he asks.
“Yeah, but it will be back with another load this afternoon,” a busy student responds. Everything is going smoothly.
Another faculty member working on the film (there’s at least one from every department), June Petrie Battersby, finally wrangles him to talk production details. He sits down. After she gets through a long-winded list of points, she pauses.
“Well, I don’t think I’ve seen you sit down for months!” she says of Stopperan’s usual hustle.
On his way out of the building, Stopperan runs into Brad Battersby, June’s husband, the director, and Stopperan’s cohort in the idea, planning and execution of the project.
Stopperan begins to tell the story of how the project started and how the men met. It was when he was still studying in FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s program, from which he graduated in spring 2012.
Stopperan explains that he did something atypical of the other students — he acted in a Ringling College student film on the side. Ringling students reached out to him about acting in their short-film, “The Forever.”
After graduation, talent agents immediately signed him. But it wasn’t because of his on-stage résumé or repertoire — it was because he had condensed the 22-minute “The Forever” into a minute-and-a-half film reel. It was tangible, something he could mail to casting directors.
“There’s no stage versus camera,” Stopperan says. “You have to be everything. You have to have the breadth of skills and have (both) to get the job.”
Stopperan met Brad Battersby, the department head of Ringling’s Digital Filmmaking program, through another attempt at collaboration in August 2010 between the two universities — a workshop Brad Battersby and Andrei Malaev-Babel, an acting teacher at FSU/Asolo Conservatory, led.
“Tony and I discovered that we had a similar dream,” says Brad Battersby in an email. “And that was to make films here with the resources in Sarasota and (of the) respective institutions.”
So, they begin to put their heads together, and Stopperan made “The Lucky 6” his side project, that is, until he began working at Ringling College shortly after his graduation. He thought the film was a great opportunity to pursue art on his own terms and find success on the path he wanted — providing for a family. Initially, he planned to continue working on the film in his free time.
“I told Larry Thompson, ‘Hey, I’m doing this thing on the side,” Stopperan says. “Thompson said, ‘That’s awesome, but now it’s going to be a sponsored college project.’”
So, Stopperan began planning the logistics for the Summer Feature Film Program, raising $75,000 of the $150,000 fundraising campaign; and Battersby began working on the script for “The Lucky 6.”
Stopperan is already thinking about 2014 and has raised $17,000 for next year’s project — there’s not yet a script in the works, but he hopes it’s completely different than the first film. He hopes once “The Lucky 6” is finished in late summer, that it ends up in film festivals and receives awards so the money raised can profit the following year’s programs.
“It’s going to be a new paradigm for these young artists to know they can have control over their careers,” he says. “That’s the lesson I’ve learned: You don’t have to be this starving actor. And, you can count on Sarasota as a place that will nurture an artist’s entrepreneurial spirit.”
“The Lucky 6” features eight FSU/Asolo Conservatory students — seven third-years and one first-year.
The idea behind the script came from Brad and June Battersby’s 21-year-old daughter, Leila, who is a student in the Digital Filmmaking Department at Ringling College of Art and Design. Brad Battersby, the director and head of digital filmmaking, then presented it to the actors and asked for input. From there, a local writer put the script together.
Actors in the film are Joe McGranaghan, Jesse Dornan, Jacob Cooper, Andrea Adnoff (first-year student), Brendan Ragan, Lindsay Tornquist, Ernie Hirshberg and Erin Whitney.
Five things that inspire Tony Stopperan:
1. My wife — My wife, Jaime, inspires me daily. She sacrifices and works tirelessly at her job, our marriage and family, all the while, never taking a bow nor expecting an ovation. She’s also a knockout — ask around. She’s gorgeous.
2. Artists — For taking the gifts God gave them to create works of meaning for themselves or for others. It inspires me to watch the dedication and focus of an artist to bring something from non-existence into existence.
3. Entrepreneurs — I’ve always been inspired by those who see a need, a niche, an angle, as opportunities to earn.
4. Alaska — It has the power to make you feel so small and insignificant, and yet so special just for having been witness to it.
5. Underdogs — Gonzaga, Steve Buscemi, Rocky Balboa, Hobbits — hell, if they can do it …