By Jesse Darland ‘06
The seeds for Surviving Guthrie were first planted in Jesse Harris’s mind way back in the fall of 2004, when the Georgetown College theatre department sent him to IdeaFestival, an intense three-day filmmaking workshop in Lexington, Ky. There, Harris took part in classes taught be film industry professionals. “That was when I knew screenwriting was something I wanted to get into,” he says.
Harris showed some of the material he’d written to Brad Riddell, a Hollywood comedy writer teaching one of his classes. Riddell liked what Harris had written—he laughed at it, Harris recalled, which he found encouraging—so Harris stuck with writing. Back at Georgetown, he enrolled in Dr. Steve Carter’s fiction writing class. “It took me forever to get my five pages turned in because I hadn’t written in prose for so long,” he says. He got a good response from the other students in the class. Harris kept writing.
Then, in fall 2006, Dr. Edward B. Smith approached Harris about writing the screenplay that would become Surviving Guthrie. Harris and Smith knew each other well; Smith is a professor of theatre, Harris’s major. Smith was looking for a screenplay to use as the basis for his planned filmmaking project, and remembered that Harris had been working on one. So, in November 2006, Harris started writing.
“Everybody in there is bits and pieces of real life,” Harris says. As a screenwriter, Harris is more interested in the small moments. “I get a lot more little laughs than I do big laughs,” he says. That’s not to say that the movie isn’t funny; Harris says, “If you had to classify [Guthrie], you’d classify it as a comedy.” But: “My characters tend to be funny in that they take themselves seriously, but they’re doing things you don’t expect serious people to be doing.”
Harris’s comedic style zags between highbrow and low. “I try to walk a line,” he says. “It’s fairly obvious from the start that a heavy influence has been Kevin Smith,” he says. “It’s very dialogue-driven, and in some places more witty than it is funny.”
Where to next after Surviving Guthrie? Harris has a few plans. “I kind of see this as a calling card,” he says. He’s hoping to go to film school, and he wants to use this movie as part of his application. “Even if this turns out to be a complete flop, I think it’ll be a good experience,” he says. “I think it’s important to take this chance, to see if this is a path I can take in my life.”
The good news for Harris is, Survivng Guthrie isn’t a flop. Come November, a year after he started working on the project, everyone else can see that, too.