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2 years later, school's film to debut

TAMPA-An Ybor theater will feature the arts magnet's movie.

Published May 4, 2007


After the previews and a turn- off-your-cell-phone request, Progress Village Middle School students will finally hunker down, nibble popcorn and see the public debut of their first film Wednesday.

Unexcused Absence plays at Muvico Theaters in Centro Ybor. Students and faculty of the arts magnet school spent two years making it.

"I'm kind of scared, " Bri Ernewein, 13, acknowledged days before the screening.

More than 900 people participated in the movie, which students wrote with the help of drama teacher Tyler Leavitt.

Music director Steve Pfaffman masterminded the effort. He persuaded students to come in after school and endure shooting up to 65 takes for one 30-second scene.

Unexcused Absence stars student Alex Lubek as the genius "IQ, " who hypnotizes teachers and administrators through a subliminal message to leave the school grounds.

At first, chaos reigns. Students run wild.

Faculty members drive a school bus until they run out of gas. They end up in a swamp, a situation somewhere between Lord of the Flies and Survivor.

Once the euphoria has passed, students resume classes. But it's just like the old days, a tug of war between bored students and frustrated student teachers. Can they really do a better job?

The answer may surprise you.

The movie lasts 1 hour, 15 minutes and cost less than $10, 000 to make. Progress Village contracted the main theme to a composer, but faculty wrote the rest of the music.

Pfaffman will submit the film to local festivals. If audiences respond well, he said he may submit it to the Sundance Film Festival.

Melissa Worsfold, 13, will never forget spending 10 hours to shoot a single scene. No physical detail could change.

"If you were drinking something, you would have to fill your glass to the same level each time, " she said.

So when an actor showed up one day with a mohawk, directors altered the story to fit the hair.

A blooper reel grew. Several students spit out their magic study potion - warm Tang - onto desktops.

Pfaffman got airsick while filming the Tampa skyline from a plane. Some of the outtakes roll during the film's credits.

Over the course of two years, student attention waned at times, Leavitt said.

"I had to keep reminding them, 'It's going to happen, ' " he said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at 661-2431 or


. if you go

'Unexcused Absence'

What: A movie by students and faculty of Progress Village Middle School.

Where: Muvico Theaters in Centro Ybor, 1600 E Eighth Ave., Tampa.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, 7 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Cost: Tickets $8 at the theater or in advance at the school, 8113 Zinnia Drive, Tampa. DVDs, $15.

More Information: Call 909-5422 or visit http://


[Last modified May 3, 2007, 06:56:45]

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