April 11 2006 12:00 AM
Sucked in: Left, actor Jonathan Victor gets intense in ‘Apology to the Dead,’ which took three and a half years for Lansing-area filmmaker Jonathan Worful and partner Tim Gunn to complete.

Lansing-area filmmaker Jonathan Worful and creative partner Timothy Gunn will soon find out if Lansing audiences think they cut it as directors next week when they premiere their first feature, “An Apology to the Dead,” at Celebration! Cinemas.

{mosimage}“Apology” is a drama about an ethics professor who, facing a failing marriage, takes special interest in one of his students. He thinks he's helping to “save” the girl but ends up in murky ethical waters.

It took three and a half years for co-editors, co-writers and co-directors Worful and Gunn to finish the film, with the final sound touches laid on just weeks ago. As an early reward for their hard work, tickets for the initial premiere show have sold out, allowing them to add a second screening at 10 p.m.

Kentucky native Worful paid his dues creating several short films and working the boards for four and a half years at the Shop at Home Network. Gunn, an MSU graduate, wrote the script in a frenzied four days. The first draft weighed in at 212 pages. At about a page of script per minute of screen time, the size was daunting for first-time filmmakers, but after editing the script and the footage, the final cut came in at a lean 83 minutes.

Although the pair primarily funded the production themselves, they knew two people couldn't complete a feature-length film alone.  For additional production support, they formed a partnership with Lansing-based Mirage Technologies, who provided equipment and production facilities.  Mirage became a producing partner through its Launch Pad Pictures subsidiary.

When the pair had trouble securing a location to shoot a scene in a massage parlor, they utilized Mirage's green screen space to create one.

Other than the virtual massage parlor, the filmmakers were able to shoot in various locations around Lansing, including the MSU campus, the East Lansing Police Department and one of the dowtown Lansing Beaner's Coffees.

The pair also credits the good graces of the volunteer cast and crew. “We had to feed them well,” Worful explains. A cast member hailing from Chicago had a friend fly him up to Lansing to attend a read-through of the script. Many others drove in from as far away as Detroit and Battle Creek for the tightly scheduled shoot. With the exception of a couple of small reshoots, principal filming was completed in four consecutive four-day weekends in July 2003.

One of the biggest lessons Worful learned, and that he suggests other filmmakers pay particular attention to, is the importance of continuity — the niggling details that distract audiences when they don't match from cut to cut. “Continuity is key,” Worful warns, recommending  two or three people be kept on script and continuity at all times. “If you have less than that, you need to think about it.”

All that was left after July 2003 was the post-production, where the cinema cliché says everything gets “fixed.” Post-production is a slow process even when you have deep Hollywood pockets. For a skeleton crew working out of basement studios on weekends and evenings, this is where it tedium reigns and projects die.

Somehow, the pair slogged through the editing process, submitting a rough cut to several festivals last year. The final cut was finished in March.

Worful is glad to have the project completed and is already planning his next foray.  “After next Thursday, I can say this is a nice chapter of my life; not that I'm closing it, but I need to move on.”