How Morgan Cooper and Adorama Told the Filmmaker's Story
"Bel-Air" director Morgan Cooper offers some inspirational words for new filmmakers in this BTS video for his newest film "U Shoot Videos?"
Morgan Cooper is a name everybody should know. After his fan-made Bel-Air trailer went viral in March, we've been eagerly waiting to see what this talented young filmmaker was going to show us next, and now... we know.
But we know in part due to Adorama, who produced U Shoot Videos? Adorama became involved through their ongoing search to connect with the people using the tools they sell. As Adorama Executive Jacob Waldner put it, "[Adorama] exists to empower creators."
It was through the expanding Adorama educational initiatives that have created a network of creatives, that Jacob met Morgan. As soon as Jacob heard Morgan's latest idea, he and Adorama were excited.
U Shoot Videos? is about the people Adorama want to empower, so the story that was close to Morgan's real-life experience, also happened to be close to Adorama's mission statement.
The cameras and equipment used by Morgan to make U Shoot Videos? were on the higher pro end than the ones used by Moji in the story itself, but one of the goals of this project was to demonstrate that both methods result in high image quality.
U Shoot Videos? is not only an homage to his personal experience coming up as a filmmaker in Kansas City, MO but to all who know that creative struggle. The story follows Moji, played by Denzel Whitaker (Black Panther, The Great Debaters, Training Day), a KC native trying to carve out a path toward film stardom in the ways many of us have, through shooting music videos and weddings, all without having gone to film school.
Being a one-man-band is a challenge, but it pays divedends. Cooper himself started that way, and as a result, he's a complete filmmaker.
U Shoot Videos? explores many facets of indie, no-budget filmmaking, from trying to get a "real" job without any "real" experience or schooling to chasing down payments from stubborn clients. Very quickly you'll see, even within the first 45 seconds of its 42-minute runtime, that this short reads like a love letter to filmmakers, to dreamers, and others out there who are trying to navigate the tempestuous waters of professional creativity. It was this aspect that made U Shoot Videos? an "all-in" project for Adorama. They wanted to produce it. They wanted to provide the equipment.
The film has now been released, along with its soundtrack and a BTS video, in which Cooper, Whitaker, and Producer and 1st AD Johnny Starke talk about the 4-day process of shooting the film on location in Kansas City. Here are our five favorite takeaways from that video, which will no doubt inspire you on your own journey as a filmmaker.
Write What You Know...Because
Yeah, sometimes the whole "write what you know" trope can be limiting, namely because there's a vast world out there beyond your own experience that you can use to inspire the stories you tell. However, Cooper used his personal journey as an aspiring filmmaker to inject authenticity and realness into a film about one such individual that was going through many of the same struggles he had gone through.
As long as you're not limiting yourself to writing only what you know right now, don't be afraid to use what you have a command of to bolster your work.
"How's Your Spirit?"
What kind of relationships do you want to forge with your cast and crew as a director? They can be purely professional ("Get the work done!"), entirely people-pleasing ("You're two hours late, but that's cool."), and everything in between, but you can never go wrong being a director that finds ways to show genuine care to your people. As Whitaker mentions in the BTS video, Cooper would ask him "how's your spirit" when he'd arrive on set.
Dispensing love and respect for the people you work with can not only make your set a desirable place to work but also make your project run a lot smoother.
Welcome the Chaos
Producer and 1st AD Johnny Starke tells the story about losing access to a location the night before a shoot. Even the most professional and talented production teams might fall apart descending into that kind of chaos, but Starke brings up a fantastic point...that sometimes complications and challenges bring about "creative bursts to problem solve."
So, when things start to go wrong on your set, take a breath, gather your thoughts, and don't allow yourself to turn into a doomsayer. Give yourself time to transform into a cinematic MacGuyver who can find solutions to your problems.
Where's Your "Kansas City"?
So, you don't live in a filmmaking hub. Maybe you don't have access to a fraction of the of gear, equipment, and professionals available to those who live in L.A. or New York. Don't let that get you down. Cooper and his team shot U Shoot Videos in Kansas City, a place that's more known for its barbeque than its film community, but they managed to mine available talent and work with Adorama to acquire everything they needed to pull off their project.
My "Kansas City" is Eugene, OR...which is the place to be if you want to make it in football or track, but if you're a filmmaker, good luck even finding a place that will rent you a friggin' camera. But you make it work and you find your tribe and you get creative with the tools you have. At the end of the day, no one cares what you shot your film on or that you lit your scenes with cheap LEDs...they care about the story.
"We've All Been a Beginner."
Perhaps the most salient point Cooper brings up in the BTS video, which is also the heart of U Shoot Videos, is the fact that you shouldn't see being a beginner as a negative thing. It's easy to look at your experience level and shy away from making films because no one likes failure...and making a crappy, beginner-level film often feels like failure. So, what we often do is wait—wait until we learn more, wait until we have better gear, wait until we're "good enough" to make that film.
But Cooper offers probably the most important piece of advice you'll ever get as a filmmaker: "If you show up, you're good enough."
Hear that. Believe it. And go make some films.
Hopefully, Cooper and his team have inspired you to forge your path toward filmmaking success...whatever that may look like for you.
U Shoot Videos? is now available. Watch it below.
Check out Adorama TV for more videos and resources targeted towards helping videographers and photographers hone their craft.
What has been your biggest struggle as a filmmaker? What advice would you give those coming up right now? Let us know down in the comments.