While driving beneath an overpass on U.S. 71, Morgan Cooper, an independent filmmaker from Kansas City, got an idea that change the course of his life. He imagined a modern-day spin on “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air” shot through a dramatic lens. With his own personal funds, Cooper created the trailer “Bel-Air,” which featured all local actors from his hometown. The four-minute trailer caught the attention of industry heavyweights like Alyssa Milano and Ava DuVernay. Now, more than a year after going viral on YouTube, “Bel-Air” has been picked up by Peacock for a two-season deal, which “Fresh Prince” actor Will Smith calls “unprecedented.”
“I’ve been in this business for thirty years and that does not happen,” Smith said in a YouTube video breaking the good news to Cooper and Chris Collins, “Bel-Air’s” showrunner. The trailer has gained over 6.5 million views on YouTube since its release in March 2019, and by the looks of it, Cooper’s future looks brighter than ever.
In honor of the talent being featured in REVOLT Summit x AT&T’s “Packaging Your Pitch” workshop this upcoming Summit Saturday, here are seven facts to know about this uber-talented Black filmmaker, who no doubt has the chops to become Hollywood’s next best thing.
1. Cooper bought his first camera at the age of 18 and spent hours in his family’s basement learning how to perfect his craft
During an interview with the University of Missouri’s student newspaper, he said his first love was music and he taught himself music production in high school. Once he picked up his first camera, he took the same self-taught approach, immersing himself in the art of filmmaking. “That’s what it takes to become great at anything,” Cooper told the paper. “You have to immerse yourself in it. It has to really become a lifestyle.”
2. Cooper says he started gaining experience shooting music videos for drug dealers and gangstas in Kansas City who wanted to become rappers
The creator had a rather interesting career path. According to The Kansas City Star, he first got his footing in cinema shooting music videos for local drug dealers and gangsters in his neighborhood. “They’d pay me $300 to shoot and edit the video myself, then turn it around in a week. And that was how I paid my rent,” he told the outlet. His music video background then became the inspiration for his most beloved project, “U Shoot Videos?” which gives a raw look at the realities of trying to jumpstart a career in film.
3. He’s trying to put Kansas City on the map
Cooper has expressed how important it is to highlight his hometown of Kansas City and give creators from the area opportunities in film. It’s one of the reasons that most of the “Bel-Air” cast members are also KC natives. “When you go outside of Kansas City, most people never think about it. It’s just considered a flyover city that never hits their radar. But this is where so much of my perspective as an artist comes from,” he told the KC Star. “Things that I’ve seen and experienced — the culture and food and rich music tradition — all have played a part in how I view the world.”
4. Cooper is a two-time Tribeca Film Festival award winner
Cooper’s work has been getting recognized even before scoring the deal for his “Bel-Air” trailer. In 2020, his short film Pay Day, which he created in partnership with Synchrony Bank, took home a Tribeca X Award for best short film. His independent film “U Shoot Videos?” also won for Best Feature Film.
5. In addition to “Bel-Air,” he’s also working on a Quibi show called “BLKCOFFEE” produced by Gabrielle Union
According to Shadow And Act, Cooper is set to write, executive produce and direct the comedy series. The story is about a former basketball star from Kansas City who, after a career-shattering injury, becomes a national barista champion.
6. The visual artist that inspires him the most is Gordon Parks
In an interview with Muse By Clio, Cooper said that Parks is his favorite visual artist. Parks is most known for creating the “blaxploitation” genre, and for his brilliant imagery capturing the economic and racist realities of the 1940s. He also credits Miles Davis and John Coltrane as his biggest musical influences.
7. He used his work as a commercial cinematographer to fund “Bel-Air”
During an interview with the “Black With No Cream” podcast, Cooper says he funded his “Bel-Air” pursuits by doing cinematography work for various brands. He credits the cheap cost of living in the midwest with his ability to create without stressing about how to make rent. “My first apartment was $500 a month,” he said. “You can’t find that in L.A. I had my space. To be able to only have to make $500 instead of $2,000 was a huge advantage and took a lot of pressure off me.”