Jefferson City rolled out the red carpet for the cast and crew of the independent film "Apparitional" with a Hollywood-style premiere Saturday night.
Hundreds of Mid-Missourians bought tickets to see the movie that was filmed at the Missouri State Penitentiary site in April.
The weekend's events started Saturday with a 9:30 a.m. showing to a nearly full room of movie-goers at Goodrich Capital 8 Theater.
"For a scary film, it wasn't horribly scary. But I was spooked a little bit," Mary Jo Durkin said. "It really was very good for an independent film."
The film tells the story of a team of paranormal investigators who are under pressure to create sensationalistic episodic television; their show is called "Ghost Sightings." However, catching ghosts on film isn't proving to be an easy task and their producer is threatening to pull the plug on the enterprise. A plea for help from an old man leads them to an abandoned prison - the perfect place to harbor angry spirits, if they indeed exist.
As one of the characters explains: "Prisons tend to hold a lot of negative energy ... they are an emotional time capsule."
The film makes full use of the MSP site's creepy gothic architecture and disturbing physical ruination.
Director Andrew P. Jones was in the lobby when the audience poured out of the theater Saturday morning. During the screening, many in the audience gasped on cue during the scary moments but they also clapped and whistled to recognize local actors in the smaller roles.
"It's so fun to see the locals (actors) get applause," he said.
Jones - who personally is curious about paranormal activity - has directed documentaries about paranormal research and has served as an editor on reality shows such as "Hell's Kitchen."
He said his work caused him to raise questions like: What if a reality show was based on a group of ghost hunters? And what if they were in a place that was really haunted?
"That's what spawned the script," he said.
Although it is a horror film, the movie doesn't depend heavily on gruesome images to shock audience members. Jones said he has tired of blockbuster spectacles and he thinks other viewers have, as well.
He wanted to create a suspenseful thriller and develop compelling characters. He said movies like "Poltergeist" not only terrified their audiences, they also told stories about people and families.
"For me, the thing that is missing in many movies are the personal stories. "Apparitional' is a throwback to movies made in the 1980s and 1990s where you care about the characters first," he said. "I really hope I achieved that."
With his script already written, Jones visited several old prisons before he toured the Missouri State Penitentiary.
"The first time I stepped in it, I was in love," he said.
He said one of the most challenging aspects of "Apparitional" was "making a film that looks like a big movie on a micro budget."
"But we had an amazing location and incredible actors," he said.
With digital editing technology so easy to obtain, Jones - who has spent 29 years in the movie industry - said there are fewer barriers to entry today and more competitors.
While making a film for theater release might be gratifying, Jones noted it can also create a lot of debt. His goal was to make "the best film we could," even if it was not intended for wide-release in the nation's theaters.
He said "Apparitional" will be a monetary success if it performs well for the video-on-demand, DVD and cable markets.
The film has a small ensemble cast of four protagonists and one villain. A cameo by Dee Wallace - who played Eliot's mother in Steven Spielberg's "E.T." - adds some needed name-recognition to the production.
The cast is rounded out by a few local Jefferson City actors who were cast by local theater veteran Shae Marie Eickhoff.
Many of the people who left the theater Saturday morning were thrilled with the production.
Bridget Dalton was a small child in the mid-1960s when several prisoners escaped from MSP.
"I remember the neighbors and the police searching around our house," she said.
Although Jones said his script was largely written before he heard about the MSP prison, Dalton thought the movie elicited memories of things she'd heard about life behind "The Walls."
"It was very spooky," she said. "It brought out a lot of the tales we've heard."
Peggy Landwehr - who serves as president of Discover Jefferson City, the foundation that helped fund the production - was delighted with the movie.
Landwehr has toured the prison six times over the years. "It's awesome it's available for something like this. For the story line, it was the perfect location," she said.