Verite doc shooter Dana Kupper loves her work


WHO SHE IS: Documentary camera person Dana M. Kupper, an associate of Kartemquin Films.

She has taught the same camera seminar at Columbia College Chicago for 20 years. “I love it, because that’s the class that inspired me to choose what I do,” she says.

JOB DESCRIPTION: “I mainly shoot ?verite’ or day-in-the-life type shooting, handheld, following people and telling their stories with the camera.” Her work includes Kartemquin’s “Five Girls” and “The New Americans,” for PBS, and Steve James’ doc “Stevie” Sundance-winner documentary.

HOW SHE VIEWS HER JOB: Dealing with often-tough conditions “is always worth it because the people I work with are so great and the subjects are so interesting.”

PROS: “I have seen so many things, been so many different places and met so many different people. I have been in prisons, operating rooms, CEO offices, courtrooms, helicopters, the Tokyo subway, aircraft carriers, housing projects, and mansions. I love being a ?big cog’ in the creative process.”

CONS: She misses working with the people she started out with on movies and TV shows. “I got a real kick out of showing up to a location with all of the trucks, people, gear and noise. I felt like I was part of the circus!”

KEY TO SUCCESSS: “I try to be easy to work with and not make things about ?me’ but about what’s best for the project. If a director wants me to shoot something, I shoot it; it’s his or her movie, not mine!”

HOW SHE CHOOSES HER PROJECTS: “I want to work with filmmakers who embrace the complexities of the human experience, and who want to explore people’s stories.

“I don’t like it when we are asked to drop in on peoples’ lives, expect them to make themselves vulnerable, and then jet off to the next project.

BACKSTORY: Kupper met husband Dennis Frank at Columbia College when she was a film/video major in the ?80s. Collaborators on many school films, their “Peas with Mom” has a cult following and a Regional Academy Award. A Local 600 member since 1993, she worked on the “Missing Persons” TV series as an AC. She was a camera assistant until 1998.

BIG BREAK: Kupper considers her success as a “series of small breaks” and having Kartemquin associate Peter Gilbert as a mentor. “Peter convinced Steve James to let me take over on ?Stevie.’ I know for a fact that there are doc shooters that would break my leg to work with Steve.”

CAREER CHOICES: “I’m one of those lucky people who found what they wanted to do early in life. I loved being a camera assistant, until I didn’t love it anymore. I was able to move into shooting, and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

WORDS OF WISDOM: “When in doubt, zoom out.”

HER ULTIMATE GOAL: “My dream was always to shoot a film that I was proud of. I have been fortunate to have more than one now, and hope that I will have a few more.”

Dana Kupper can be reached at