Benjy Gaither's Hank Williams film plays at Paramount

Tue, 2011-09-27 08:00 -- univcomm
September 27, 2011

There was a strong showing Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre for the screening of a film produced by Alexandria native and 1992 Anderson University graduate Benjy Gaither.

benjygaitherThe Last Ride tells the story of country music legend Hank Williams’ final days from the perspective of Williams’ personal driver, played by 22-year-old Jesse James. Henry Thomas portrays Williams.

It was just one of the highlights from Saturday’s Homegrown Hoosier Film Fest, which began at 10 a.m. and continued into the night.

Gaither, who produced and provided the film’s soundtrack, said it was the first feature film he has produced.

In a question-and-answer session after the screening, which concluded with a resounding round of applause, Gaither said the film ran into a few bumps early in production. A $2 million check from an investor turned out to be fake, and several of the antique cars used to convey the 1950s setting had mechanical problems.

Despite the setbacks, Gaither’s film has gone on to win several independent film awards, including best picture for a timepiece at the World-Fest Independent International Film Festival.

Gaither said the film took 28 days to shoot while post-production lasted a year and a half.

“We were still in post-production as of three months ago,” he said.

Gaither said he did not ask permission from Williams’ family to produce the film, as copyright law stipulates that any public figure who has been dead for over 20 years is “fair game.”

“We thought it would be easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission,” Gaither said.

But Gaither showed the film to Williams’ daughter Jett Williams. “She threw her arms around me and said: ‘You got my dad. You nailed him,’” Gaither said.

When asked how authentic the story was, Gaither replied that the true story of Williams’ death is only known by Williams and his driver. According to Gaither, the driver was accused by some of murdering Williams. For that reason, Gaither said, the driver asked him to hide his identity in the film.

“He went through hell after this,” Gaither said.

Williams died Jan. 1, 1953. Gaither said he tried to make the film look as authentic to that time period as possible.

Through computer-generated imagery, or CGI, he was able to remove from scenes satellite dishes and other modern technologies. He was also able to borrow a large amount of classic automobiles, such as the Cadillac in which Williams is driven throughout the movie.

Ron Beard of Alexandria said he first started getting interested in cars around the time Williams died. A self-proclaimed “car buff,” Beard said he enjoyed seeing the cars that Gaither rounded up for his film.

“I thought it was well done. (Gaither) did a great job with it,” Beard said.

Gaither said the film will be released to select theaters Oct. 21. Depending on how well it performs, The Last Ride could see a full release in January.

—Sam Brattain is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission, with additions to include Anderson University graduation year.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2011, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the eighth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.