WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University is making another Christmas movie in Winchester.
Filming began last week on “A Cupid for Christmas,” which the university is co-producing with Los Angeles-based Capital Arts Entertainment.
"Santa Girl," which was released in 2019, also was filmed in Winchester. It was screened in nine cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and is available on Netflix. "Santa Girl" was the first movie produced by SU and Capital Arts Entertainment.
On Tuesday evening, the cast and crew were on the Loudoun Street Mall filming outside of El Centro restaurant. They also shot scenes this week at the train station in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and on SU's main campus in Winchester.
But unlike "Santa Girl," this holiday movie is being made during the coronavirus pandemic, which includes frequent COVID-19 tests for cast and crew members and lots of social distancing behind the scenes. As of Tuesday, no one had tested positive.
All crew members and actors must be tested at least three times a week, with tests administered by a nurse and physician assistant from SU. Actors and crew members flying into the area must be tested after they get off the plane. Test results are typically known in 24 to 36 hours.
Because of the strict protocols in place, "A Cupid for Christmas" is one of the first full-length feature films to shoot in Virginia during the pandemic with approval from the Screen Actors Guild.
"A Cupid for Christmas" tells the story of Cupid, played by Richard Kind, who is known for his roles on the sitcoms "Mad About You," "Spin City" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." In the movie, Cupid never gets a day off, including weekends, holidays or Christmas. But that's about to change as Cupid looks to retire from the love business and finally get Christmas off.
To do that, Cupid needs a replacement, so he looks to his protégé Ruby, played by Melanie Stone. The problem is Ruby has continuously proven to be too emotional and has a low rate of establishing love connections. So she gets one final chance to prove herself — Ruby must find love for the most romantically hopeless person on earth, who is played by Ryan Carnes. If she can do just that by Christmas, she can earn the promotion and Cupid can take a holiday off.
Blayne Weaver, who is SU's director in residence, is directing the film. Paul DiFranco, a veteran producer/music supervisor and a distinguished adjunct assistant professor at Shenandoah Conservatory, is also leading the film project.
"It's a charming, funny Christmas movie," said Weaver, who directed "Santa Girl." "I loved 'Santa Girl' and my goal is to make a better film than that one was, and I'm just really lucky to have the team that I have that's taking this pandemic seriously while continuing to make art that inspires people."
Although "A Cupid for Christmas" is a romantic comedy, virus safety protocols mean fewer romantic scenes, Weaver said. There's about one kiss at the end of the movie, but if the actors don't feel comfortable doing it, Weaver said he won't insist on it.
The actors didn't wear masks as they filmed on Tuesday evening, but they put them on between takes. The crew wore masks.
Twenty SU students are involved with the movie, most of whom have graduated. Eleven of them work on the film's crew.
They say they're getting a lot of experience working on set, even during a pandemic.
SU sophomore Andy Espinoza, 19, of Winchester, is a film studies major. He's been working as digital imagery technician on "A Cupid for Christmas." He helps upload recorded film to the computer, edits the film and then sends it to the producers. He also has helped set up lighting for filming and has been an extra.
"My favorite part is watching the script come to life," Espinoza said.
He added that the cast and crew have been very strict about cleaning equipment, social distancing and getting their COVID tests.
"We are dedicated to our craft, we are very passionate and nothing is going to stop us," he said about filming during a pandemic.
SU senior Marisa Whitcomb, 22, of Vienna, who studies English and media communications, is a script supervisor for the film. Her job on set is to primarily make sure the script is accurately followed.
"I really want to work in television or movies, so this has been a really cool introduction for me," Whitcomb said.
Filming for "A Cupid for Christmas" should wrap up on Aug. 10. Weaver hopes that it will ready in time for the holidays this year.