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Surf Passion Carries Video Maker Far

July 26, 1990|JOSEPH DITLER

Despite being shipwrecked on a jungle island near Java for the third day, despite the pirates and white rhino poachers thrashing behind him in the steamy jungle, despite the sound of gunfire in the distance, Ira Opper made his deadline.

He and his crew were supposed to be filming a surf area 40 miles away. The boat they arrived in had broken down. But, as luck would have it, when they ran out of the Paintain jungle, they came upon a yacht seeking anchorage. They hitched a ride to safety, and in the process, discovered a never-before-filmed surf spot that was the apex of the show.

Opper, 41, of Solana Beach is the founder and producer of Frontline Video in Del Mar. He and his crew were on assignment for Surfer Magazine, a cable TV series written, produced and directed by Opper.

The shows have taken him to Australia, Bali, Fiji, Costa Rica, Java, Barbados and Mexico in the quest for exotic surf spots.

He and his crew have been in tight spots several times: In Fiji during a coup, they were accused of being "spying journalists" for the Australian government. Another time, along the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border, they heard automatic weapon fire in the distance. The next day the film crew found its secret surfing location, complete with shell casings scattered on the ground. They named it "Ollie's Point," after Oliver North.

The Surfer Magazine series, now in its fourth year, airs on ESPN, the 24-hour sports network. It is the only national television series in the sport's history. Each program airs three times a week, at 7:30 p.m. Mondays and twice later in the week.

This June, Rhino Home Video of Beverly Hills acquired and repackaged 18 of the original ESPN surfing programs for release in video outlets and sports stores. The 50-minute videos sell for $19.95 and have their greatest market among men age 25-40.

In 1989, Opper received a national media award from the Assn. of Surfing Professionals. Ten years earlier he won the first Ace Award presented by the National Cable TV Assn. for entertainment programming. He has also received three local Emmy awards for his work in production and direction of beach sports films.

Opper started Frontline Video in 1982 as basically a one-person operation. Today, the business offers a variety of services, including post-production technology. It does video brochures, commercials and maintains a film library.

Among his clients are NBC Network News, FOX The Reporters, Coors Brewing Co., Pepsi-Cola, ABC Olympics, Entertainment Tonight, Good Morning America, Home Box Office, IBM, Marriott Hotels and the Playboy Channel. He produces commercials for Orville Reddenbacher popcorn, Tide, Comet, Tylenol and Gillett.

With Frontline Video well established, Opper is launching another company, this one named Infotronics. The new company uses laser video technology to present medical information to patients in waiting rooms of doctors' offices. The short videos use animation and live re-enactments to relay specialized medical messages. The finished product is called "Info-Medics."

The videos are being used in 4% to 5% of ophthalmology offices in the United States and are being tried in Israel, Australia and Europe, Opper said. The company is also looking at seven to 10 other medical speciality areas, beginning with obstetrics and gynecology.

"We're finding that Info-Medics is preparing the patient like never before," Opper said. "When the doctor comes into the office, the patient has a new understanding of the illness in question, and therefore is able to ask more intelligent questions of the doctor."

Opper's enterprises--especially the surfing series--have allowed him to work and play at the same time.

"I've been in love with surfing and video production ever since I saw Bruce Brown's surfing adventure, 'Endless Summer' (1966)," he said. "It's the travel I like the best. We see some of the most remotely beautiful places on the earth."

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