Writer takes small college to the big screen

By Autumn Harbison

Some familiar places and faces will grace the silver screen when a locally produced movie makes its debut.

“Surviving Guthrie,” a dark comedy partly shot in Lexington, premieres tonight at 7:30 at the Kentucky Theatre.

The film tells the story of Carter Guthrie — a drunk, hard-to-deal-with professor at a fictional liberal arts college — and his daughter, Ally, whom the dean has threatened to expel if she doesn’t stop her father from acting out.

Jesse Harris, a 2006 Georgetown College graduate, wrote “Surviving Guthrie” for a screenwriting class while he was still a student.

The film is really about the fine line between being authentic and acting to please others, as well as themes like relationships and pushing limits too far, Harris said.

“When you get right down to it, it’s a man getting to know his daughter that he’s never taken the time to,” he said.

Several locations around Lexington were used during the filming — which, at one point while the crew was working at a house just outside town, led to a misunderstanding between the crew and police officers that interrupted the shoot, Harris said.

“They thought we were shooting a porno,” Harris said. “We brought them up and showed them the script. They were really nice and just doing their job.”

Many of the actors in “Surviving Guthrie” are from the Lexington area. Lead actor Joe Gatton of Lexington has been in many commercials and productions around town, and the female lead, Jesse Pennington, has starred in several of Georgetown’s theater productions.

Other Georgetown students played a lot of the smaller parts in the film, Harris said, and UK student Dane Dickmann worked as the sound editor.

Music from local bands, including Much is Given and The October, is also used in the film. Dustin Burnett, one of the members of The October, wrote the theme, “Change the World,” which plays during the credits.

The film had a small budget, and actors volunteered their time, Harris said.

“We made something that looks and sounds like a movie for the cost of a Camry,” he said.

“Surviving Guthrie” is definitely a college movie, Harris said, with scenes and types of people that will be familiar to students.

“The people talk like students, not like it’s ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and everyone sounds like an English major,” he said. “Not that I didn’t watch ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ ”

Harris said he’s been impressed by the level of support he’s seen for “Surviving Guthrie.”

“People have really gotten behind this project,” said Harris. “I’m thrilled to death.”

Tickets for the premiere can be reserved by calling The Store at Georgetown at (502) 863-8134.