For some fans of the Skyliners, the sky really is the limit.
People have come to Pittsburgh from as far away as California and Florida to see Gavin Rapp's "Since I Don't Have You," an emotional story about his tumultuous childhood and famous vocalist mother, Janet Vogel Rapp.
So far, Mr. Rapp and Ron Hankison, who shared directing and screenplay duties, have held six sneak previews -- five sold-out events in Pittsburgh and one in Cleveland with healthy turnout.
A seventh has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the SouthSide Works Cinema. Go to wintermorningpictures.com for $10 tickets or, if no Internet, go directly upstairs at the theater and look for the line.
"We have a pretty large fan base, as you can imagine, so we send it out 'over the wire,' which is now Facebook for us, and we get the responses that way in email and then when we usually get over 100 people who say yes, then we schedule another show," Mr. Rapp said.
The filmmakers, who met a decade ago while making "Trapped" with Corbin Bernsen and Tom Atkins, are hoping the movie will be picked up by a distributor, which would handle such tasks as booking it into theaters and promoting it. So these early shows are not considered "premieres" but special events for fans and others.
The cast includes Kristin Spatafore as Janet Vogel Rapp, who took her own life at age 37 in 1980; Kenny Champion as her jealous, controlling husband; Cameron McKendry as Gavin at roughly age 13; Tatum Quinlan and Ryota Tajiri as Gavin's younger sister and brother; Buster Maxwell as Skyliners' manager Joe Rock; and Ron Marnich, a stand-in for Robert Downey Jr. on "Wonder Boys," as Jimmy Beaumont.
Mr. Rock penned the words to "Since I Don't Have You" on the way to rehearsal a day after having his young heart broken by a girl who left him to attend airline school in Tulsa, Okla. Mr. Beaumont wrote the melody and Janet Vogel Rapp added the heavenly vocal finale.
The filmmakers tried to lasso Michael Keaton, who called the script a "nicely written, heartfelt piece about a moving and little-known Pittsburgh story," to appear but his schedule didn't permit it.
Shooting started in September 2010 and wrapped in June 2011 after 33 or 34 scattered days. The directors attempted to schedule a conventional month of filming but the availability of actors, crew, locations and even cars made that impossible.
"We have a lot of short work days, when people are available," Mr. Hankison said, over coffee with Mr. Rapp on the South Side. "Normally, you would shoot all day, into the night, come back the next day, shoot it, but we can't do that. Everything with us is a story of poverty."
The movie dramatizes how 13-year-old Gavin was caught in his wake of his parents' stormy marriage and discovered his mother dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage. It's his story, told through his eyes, but his siblings found the experience of watching it at the SouthSide Works Cinema in October emotionally devastating but ultimately healing.
"They both left Pittsburgh. One went to Seattle, one went to Florida. I stayed and I said, I'm going to work through this ... Those two left and said, that's it, I'm never coming back," Mr. Rapp said.
Working through it meant starting a memoir that eventually turned into a screenplay; the process became more crucial after he became a father and tried to navigate the maze of his memories and mother's melancholy through the prism of adulthood.
"I really felt the most liberated after writing it. It was extremely hard, it took about three years and that was a difficult time," said Mr. Rapp, 45. He and his wife, a first-grade teacher, are parents to boys ages 10 and 12 who know their paternal grandmother was a singer but are still too young to see the movie.
The filmmakers, working with a budget of less than $200,000 and a crew of five, shot in various Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including Green Tree, Aspinwall, Oakmont, Carnegie, Bethel Park, Oakland, Greenfield and Blawnox.
Moviegoers have told them they've been deeply affected and moved by the story. Some identify with the Rapp children, while others walk away realizing how lucky they were to have a run-of-the-mill childhood.
One bonus feature Mr. Rapp is saving for a special edition DVD down the road is footage he shot on Super 8mm Sound film of the Skyliners when he was a 10, 11 and 12. It not only proved a valuable resource when making the film but turned up six golden minutes of the group singing at Kennywood Park.
"I have about 45 minutes worth of footage," he said. "It's some really neat stuff that we'll get out later. We just wanted to finish the movie first."