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Handout/Never2Late Productions

Works in progress

Film | Independent filmmakers Steve & Mary Pruitt are learning the high-stakes business of making movies as they go

Issue: "Broken beyond repair?," Sept. 25, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo.-Mary Pruitt knew something was up the day she went down to the basement and found her husband Steve knocking holes in the walls of his office with a sledgehammer.

At an age when some men buy sports cars or change careers, Steve Pruitt had a different kind of mid-life crisis. After years as Chair of Business Economics and Finance at the University of Missouri (Kansas City), Steve wanted to resuscitate guitar-playing skills that had been rusting since his college days and shoot his own music video. In the process of researching the kind of equipment he would need to make this happen, he realized that during the decades he had been busy raising his two daughters and growing his career, professional moviemaking equipment had become not only accessible, but affordable enough for a moviemaker wannabe. Steve was instantly hooked, impulsively changing course and announcing his plans to make not a music video, but a feature length movie. This despite the fact that neither he nor Mary had so much as set foot on a movie set, much less turned on a movie camera before. This was the innocuous beginning of what Mary called Steve's "Cuban missile crisis of mid-life crises" and of their newly minted film company, Never2Late Studios, a name that is more than apropos for this energetic 53-year-old professor-turned-indie-filmmaker and his Jane Seymour look-alike wife of 28 years.

Never2Late Production's full-length feature film, Works in Progress, a romantic comedy based in the Kansas City art community, started out as a play the Pruitts wrote a decade ago called Painters. Rewritten to film in 2006, it follows the story of two art school graduates who take a summer internship in Kansas City, Mo., and two mid-20s professional women whom they befriend. Humorously, yet poignantly exploring the question, Will I ever find my true love?, the Pruitts intend the movie to be a "wonderfully wholesome date movie."

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Like most independent filmmakers, the Pruitts entered several film festivals in order to garner attention for the film. The process, from DVD submission to final judging, is highly competitive and often takes months. Smaller festivals review many hundreds of films; large festivals review thousands. For a small film made by newbie filmmakers, acceptance is both an honor and a huge step toward a wider distribution of the movie. Works in Progress was accepted by several festivals including the International Family Film Festival, the Kansas City FilmFest, and the Memphis International Film Festival, with the possibility of more acceptances during the fall festival circuit-which kicked off Sept. 9 internationally with the opening of the Toronto Film Festival.

So far, audience and critic feedback is encouraging: "Inspired by Whit Stillman's Metropolitan, [Works in Progress] represents a dream-come-true, damn-the-naysayers leap of faith for first-time filmmakers Mary and Stephen Pruitt," said critic John Beifuss after the Memphis festival. After several standing-room-only showings in Kansas City, Never2Late Studios is making the film available to select screens across the country. Additionally, the Pruitts just signed an on-demand DVD distribution deal with Seminal Films of Hollywood with a release date near Thanksgiving. They hope these successes will help them obtain the funding for other films.

Driven by their desire to create and help others create what they describe as "redemptive, thought-provoking, beautiful works of art," over the course of two years, the Pruitts learned the ropes of independent filmmaking: screenplay writing, casting, directing, cinematography, lighting, filming, and audio. Steve researched what equipment to buy, scanning online forums at every stage and asking literally hundreds of questions before purchasing two RED one 4K digital cinema cameras to the tune of $40,000 each. Other expenses-actors' pay, location rent, food bills, etc.-made filmmaking an expensive undertaking. With Works in Progress being their first movie, the Pruitts turned to their church family and other small investors to help finance the film, and spent over $300,000 of their own money on the venture.

While Steve was busy researching equipment, Mary continued tightening the screenplay, closing gaps in the storyline and making space for the cameras, booms, jibs, mannequin pieces, a steadycam, lights, and 12 feet of dolly track that would become fixtures in her living room for the next two years. She ascribes to the "I write too much before I write just enough" school of screenwriting thought: "At least half of writing a good script is deleting the parts that would make a bad script."

For her, deleting was a major part of the process as a first-time screenwriter, as was adding "zingers"-important dialogue lines that end a scene.

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