By Rob Owen Special Envoy
Charlottesville-based event director-promoter and branding consultant Ty Cooper originally shot his short “Amanda” in Brooklyn, NY, but the pandemic had other plans.
A 1995 graduate of Norfolk State University, Cooper ultimately chose Richmond as his filming and filming location due to the locations in his script, specifically a street-facing cafe with a sidewalk in front. He finally found that in Carytown’s Fuel Pump, but his adventure in independent cinema was just beginning.
Audiences can see the fruits of her labor when “Amanda” screens in Richmond on Saturday at Movieland at Boulevard Square, 1301 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the 7 p.m. screening followed by a Q&A with Cooper and cast members hosted by Virginia Film Office director Andy Edmunds. Tickets for the event, sponsored by the VFO, are available for $20 at https://amandathefilmrvafeb5.eventbrite.com Where www.AmandatheFilm.com.
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“Amanda” stars Northern Virginia’s Paige Rion in the lead role, a young painter scarred by the loss of her mother to cancer. As Amanda prepares to submit a curated collection of her art to a local gallery, she encounters Pharrell (David Straughn from Charlottesville) at her favorite cafe. Midlothian’s Ken Moretti plays Amanda’s father.
Cooper, whose day job is running Lifeview Marketing & Visuals in Charlottesville, shot “Amanda” in five days in February 2021. The weather, especially rain and snow, didn’t always cooperate with Cooper’s plans. , threatening to spoil the continuity of the film. At least one day the schedule had to be changed on the fly, with production scrapping plans to shoot outdoor scenes and moving indoors to shoot at Fuel Pump at 3200 W. Cary St. instead.
“It’s not uncommon when you’re dealing with nature and you don’t have a soundstage,” says Cooper. “You want the outdoor elements, that real urban stuff of people crossing the street, but you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.”
With a budget of $30,000, this independent film, which at 45 minutes is long for a short and short for a feature, used the exterior of 15 S. Auburn Ave. as the exterior of Amanda’s apartment and an apartment in the Victory Lofts, 407 S Cherry St., on Oregon Hill, for the interior.
“A friend of ours owns the [Victory Lofts] building and she let us use a vacant apartment,” says Cooper. “We outfitted it, borrowed furniture – our producer gave me his sofa [to use] – so we fragmented the place together.
A restaurant scene was shot at the Urban Farmhouse Market & Café in Shockoe Slip, but the most used location was the cafe. Cooper calls filming at Fuel Pump a blessing because it worked for the film in so many ways.
“I found this other cafe, but it was open for business, and while I was, ‘Awesome! I’m getting free extras,’ my cinematographer said, ‘Please, no, it would be a nightmare with sound and continuity,” Cooper says.
He remembers having slipped notes under the door of Fuel Pump explaining his need for a coffee to film. Fuel Pump, now reopened, was closed due to the pandemic at the time, allowing the film crew to control sound in space while filming. .
For an art gallery location, Cooper chose the Queen Bee & Co. Tea Room across from the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond. He was recommended to him by Heather Van Cleave, who knew the owner of the tea room. By the time Cooper was ready to film, Van Cleave, a motivational speaker and Miss Virginia for America 2021had purchased Queen Bee and was ready to welcome Cooper and his crew.
“My faith believes things revolve around for divine connections and divine purposes, for a reason,” Van Cleave says. “With my platform and my passion for mental health and helping others – his movie was all about mental health – I was super excited to support him.”
Van Cleave says Cooper gutted the tea room, which has a small gallery of works by artist Scott Tilghman, bringing in new art and turning the space into an art gallery for “Amanda.”
Cooper wanted a diverse cast and had a Latino actor lined up to play the gallery owner’s assistant. But when snow caused a last-minute change to the filming schedule, that actor was no longer available. Cooper rewrote the art gallery scenes on the fly and asked Van Cleave to play a newly created character: the gallery owner.
“I really wanted to make her sassy and give Pharrell a hard time, and she did that role well,” Cooper said.
Van Cleave, whose parents, Chris Van Cleave and Prisi Cardea, met while starring in “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway (“My opening line is always, ‘My father was Jesus, my mother was Mary,’ says Van Cleave), has acting/modeling/hosting experience and has agreed to play the role.
“Sharon’s role is kind of a ruthless art studio director, and she was the complete opposite of who I am,” Van Cleave says. “So he gave [the script] to me and was like, ‘OK, show me what you got.’ And I got into character, and we just did a few takes, and he was like, ‘Oh my God; I see you totally blowing up Hollywood. It was hilarious. Being able to do something creative and use some of the gifts my parents blessed me with was a fun thing to do. It’s short and sweet.
Cooper says “Amanda” began as a larger project 14 years ago when he created characters for a feature film script, “Coffeehouse,” which includes many of the characters seen in “Amanda.”
“I put it on because of work,” Cooper says.
But a few years ago he revisited the idea and decided to write the characters’ individual stories as short films. Next, he would like to return to Richmond to shoot a short film on the character of Lloyd (Richard Cooper, no relation to Ty Cooper), who is in “Amanda”.
“Amanda is closest to me. I’ve lost family members to cancer,” says Ty Cooper. “The creative process [of writing a film] helps me deal with some things. … We all face this kind of stuff. I am no different from others when it comes to trauma and life management.
“Amanda” goes to a dark place in her exploration of the impact of trauma on mental health. Cooper hopes audiences will come back to see “Amanda” with a renewed sense of compassion for others.
“If you take a minute to recognize the people around us — the person who works in our grocery store, that person who cuts our hair, the person who serves us in a restaurant — we don’t know what those people are going through,” said Cooper. “If we can just take a moment and give them a compliment, ask them questions, get to know people, we can really save a life.”
Rob Owen is a former Times-Dispatch editor. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Facebook and Twitter under @RobOwenTV.