About a year ago, I had the idea to follow the making of a local movie from start to finish.

I got in touch with director W. Jeff Crawford, who set out to shoot his first full-length film, "Making It Through".

He had a clear vision. He was organized. He even got the City of York on board. But by fall, a lack of funds ended the production.

Going into the project, I knew that it might not work out. But I was still frustrated for Crawford. Something seemed unfair about the fact that budget issues shut down a local passion project while Hollywood spent millions on "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked."

My faith was restored during a recent interview with Ryan Rossum - a York native who wrote, directed and starred in the full-length feature "Dead Queens."

Like Crawford, Rossum filmed his gritty drama in York. Funding and coordinating the cast schedule became his biggest challenges.

Rossum will debut the project, which took two years, Saturday at Penn State York's Pullo Family Performing Arts Center.

It's actually his second movie. He presented his first feature, "Ray's Intellect," in early 2009 at his alma matter, William Penn Senior High School. He almost filled the auditorium.

"From that, I learned that this is what I wanted to do," he said. "The feedback was so much more than I intended."

But the positive energy evaporated when Rossum learned that his friend was involved in a shooting on the way to the premiere.

He was discouraged by the violence, which cast York in a negative light.


So, he decided to address the issue in his next movie.

"Dead Queens" follows a widow who starts a Rape Crisis Center. Her four sons all struggle with insecurities.

"The story idea was based off being around people who had similar experiences," Rossum said.

A friend of Rossum's family was killed in a domestic dispute. So, he decided to explore sexual, mental and physical abuse that can happen in unhealthy relationships.

"It's definitely an issue that's . . . ignored and overlooked," he said. "It's kind of becoming normal."

Rossum wrote the script with actors in mind, but some couldn't commit to the project. A majority of the cast had no film experience, but that didn't matter to Rossum.

"People trusted me enough to do what I asked," he said. "They respected the project. That's why the project was so successful."

Unlike his characters, Rossum had family and friends who helped him follow a positive path.

His four sisters started a singing group. They performed at New York City's Apollo Theater and auditioned for "America's Got Talent."

Rossum fell in love with the stage as an actor while he was in high school. He joined William Penn's performing arts program. Then-director Cal Weary showed Rossum how to edit video, and he soon felt comfortable behind the lens. He enrolled in York College's mass communications program.

Between classes, he shot "Ray's Intellect."

"With the first movie, it was basic," Rossum said. "We didn't have many locations. With the new movie, we actually set up film shoots at Cobblestones, Club XS . . . Mack's Ice Cream, Heritage Hills and other places."

Most locations let him film for free, but Rossum needed more funds. He sent out 30 sponsorship requests. Three people responded.

"(The money) came from family, my pocket and other people in the city who supported it," he said. "We did this ourselves."

When Rossum needed help with equipment, his professor Robert Mott stepped in.

Filming for "Dead Queens" started in August 2010. Most of the cast had full-time jobs, so progress was slow. But after a year, he had 70 hours of footage to cut into a two-hour movie.

The final step was to create a Hollywood-style premiere in York County, complete with a 50-foot red carpet and paparazzi. Rossum took a gamble to rent the Pullo Center. But he sold enough tickets to cover the $4,300 fee.

Rossum graduated from York College in the spring and plans to relocate to Atlanta since he knows a producer there. His goal is to make movies that carry a message like those of his idols, Spike Lee and Tyler Perry.

He said he made "Dead Queens" to shake York out of its pattern of violence and prove that positive things can happen in the city.

Maybe Rossum can also spur Crawford and other local directors to keep trying to make movies in York. The red carpet is calling.

PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to emccracken@ydr.com.