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Globe West People

His life behind the camera

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Susan Chaityn Lebovits
June 15, 2008

As a film producer, Stephen Minichiello of Upton has captured subjects as varied as inner-city gangs and the dangers of using fireworks. His documentaries have tackled some of the toughest issues of the day, and he has worked on corporate films and public service announcements for a wide range of clients.

But he will always remember the 16-year-old he interviewed for his first documentary.

"When I went in to speak with these kids, they were very suspicious of being exploited," said Minichiello. "I told them I'd give them a real forum with no cutaways."

Minichiello recalled asking the teenager, Charmayne Snipes, what he thought he'd be doing in 10 years. Snipes answered that he'd like to become a lawyer. Seconds later, one of the kids off camera yelled, "Yeah - if you last that long, dude."

A few days later, Snipes was killed. "That hit me like a ton of bricks," said Minichiello.

"It was very obvious that these kids were frightened and, in a lot of ways, hopeless," he said. While many suburban teens "might be concerned with things like what time a pizza parlor closes, these kids were dodging bullets," he said.

The documentary, called "Lost Hope - Shattered Dreams," examined the life of inner-city gangs using first-person narratives from Boston teens. It was originally shot as an 18-minute training film for Massachusetts state social workers, but when people at Boston public television station WGBH saw it, they asked him to expand it. He did, and the finished film ran in 18 markets around the country.

"Whether the kids [opened up] for 10 seconds or 25 seconds, it was all there," said Minichiello. "It was incredibly powerful to have them talk."

For more than two decades, Minichiello has produced such documentaries, as well as corporate films and informational videos for a wide range of clients. He has been nominated for an Emmy Award 11 times and has won twice for public service spots, one on child support for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and another on fatherhood for the Ohio Department of Human Services.

Minichiello worked with the Multicultural AIDS Coalition Inc. in Boston to produce a documentary called "Positive Voices," which featured people who contracted HIV/AIDS when they were teens. The film was shot in Boston and Los Angeles.

"I didn't just show the horror of the victims, but also how [well] they looked when they were diagnosed," before the disease took its toll, said Minichiello. However, one woman, he recalled, requested that she be filmed in shadow.

"She looked like an old man," said Minichiello. "I was very taken by her; she had a young son who would soon be orphaned."

Corporate work and public service announcements are a big piece of Minichiello's business, including informational videos about hepatitis C, and adoption and foster care. A recent spot filmed for the National Fire Protection Association warns of the dangers of fireworks.

Teradyne Inc. has been using Minichiello for more than a decade to produce department videos, product launches, and corporate meeting openers.

Andy Porter, Teradyne's manager of corporate communications, praised Minichiello's flexibility and responsiveness.

"My favorite Steve story took place 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, when we needed to film the senior managers," said Porter. A scheduling crunch required shooting the footage in Minichiello's hotel room, but moments after the camera began rolling, the power in the entire hotel wing blew, Porter said.

"We laugh now, but we had an hour to get everything shot," Porter said. Minichiello started scrambling, he said, and managed to concoct "a way to bring power in through extension cords that ran from other sections of the hotel and across the parking lot."

Minichiello is often working on two to four assignments simultaneously. Each job can require pulling together up to 10 contractors, including sound engineers, lighting people, teleprompters, graphic designers, makeup artists, and productions assistants.

Minichiello, who turns 55 this month, grew up in Milford and was the first in his family to attend college. He majored in history and education at Worcester State College, where he was very involved with the school radio station.

After graduating in 1975, he taught special education at Milford Middle School for nearly a decade. During that time he created programming for rock station WAAF-FM in Worcester, including a 26-part series spotlighting off-beat Beatles history tidbits, such as songs the group created but gave away to bands including Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, and Peter and Gordon.

By the mid-1980s, Minichiello had decided to leave teaching. He began pitching more ideas to radio and television stations. To pay the bills, he worked at a liquor store and spent his days scouring job opportunities. He landed specials on WCVB-TV and "Chronicle." Then he took a job at Video Resources, a production house in Watertown.

"For three years I had the opportunity to work with all of my radio heroes, like Charles Laquidara, Ken Shelton, and Tom Doyle," said Minichiello.

In 1989, Minichiello decided to go out on his own.

Now he finds he is never far from his work.

"I may sit down for three hours to do some audio editing, but if I'm raking the yard, I'm thinking about which sound bites to use and what order will be the most effective," said Minichiello, who also serves as an adjunct faculty member in the communication department at Worcester State College.

One of his biggest influences was Boston radio host Laquidara, because "he broke the stereotype of a second-generation Italian kid whose family assumed you'd continue being a factory worker," said Minichiello. "He set the bar for me."

But his biggest influence was his late father, Angelo, who died in 1979. The oldest of five sons, Angelo Minichiello lost his own father at a young age and took on the responsibility of caring for his mother and brothers working as a laborer in a snowsuit factory.

"Talk about lost hopes," said Minichiello. "But he always seemed happy and excelled. You learn a lot by watching that."

For more on Stephen Minichiello, see stevemin.com.

To suggest a subject for the People column, e-mail Lebovits@globe.com.

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