ON THE SILVER SCREEN: Locals star in new Lifetime thriller filmed in LaGrange

Published 9:00 am Thursday, June 29, 2023

A new Lifetime thriller shot in LaGrange will premiere on Saturday, July 1. 

“My Professor’s Guide to Murder,” directed by Actor Haylie Duff, was the second film to be produced in LaGrange after the success of “A Perfect Christmas Paring,” which was filmed at Nutwood Winery.

The new film had a cast of locals from West Point, LaGrange and Valley, thanks to Valley native Karla Sanford. It was the last of the projects that the production company planned to shoot in LaGrange for the year, and Sanford had the opportunity to be a production assistant.

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She also had a hand in casting locally for background and speaking roles and transporting cast and crew members along with her other duties.

“So far, it’s been the experience of my lifetime,” Sanford said. “It’s my greatest accomplishment to date. I cannot wait to see everybody in this movie. Because I feel like I had such a hand in it. I put them in there. They wouldn’t be there without me, and that was honestly more satisfying to me than being in it.”

The new film follows a best-selling murder-mystery writer who is invited to be a guest lecturer at a college, where students begin disappearing. 

From November to December, Sanford worked for five weeks, being involved in pre-production and three weeks of filming. They filmed throughout the city of LaGrange, visiting historic sites and other popular locations like LaGrange College, Pretty Good Books, Highland Marina and the Sunny Gables Estate. 

Though she dreamed of working on a film set, Sanford said the work could be daunting. The hours were long, the lingo was confusing and complications cropped up all the time.

“I felt like a fish out of water,” Sanford said. “… It was a great learning experience.”

During one film shoot, the crew went to an old dairy farm. The production team built a scaffolding ladder so the cast could go swimming in a silo filled with water.

“My job that night was to keep the actors warm,” Sanford said. “They would get that water, and it was December so it was freezing outside. As soon as they got out of there, we had to put them in the RV camper sitting out there. Tents everywhere. A lot of coffee was drunk that night.”

Still, she said it was an honor to work with Duff, Production Manager Ryan DeSilva and the rest of the team. 

“She was so welcoming,” Sanford said of Duff. 

Not long after she joined the crew, Sanford began taking on more and more responsibilities. As a local, she was soon asked to help out with casting locals for background roles.

BeeTV’s April Ross, Producing Manager of LaGrange Society for Performing Arts Kelly Finley, Managing Artistic Director of New Horizon Community Theatre Bill Nixon, Dennis King and Rook de Moels were locals cast. 

“It turned out really well. I got a lot of my friends in there. I was proud about that I tried to sprinkle in some of my favorite people,” Sanford said. “But it’s just literally the whole community made this movie like when people see this movie, they have no idea these are local.”

Sanford said Nixon and filmmaker Sharon Acres were both mentors who have made these opportunities possible for her. 

In 2020, Sanford first began to work with West Point’s own New Horizon Community Theatre where she found her passion.

“It just totally changed my outlook on life,” Sanford said. “It brought me so much joy.”

Luckily, her engagement with the theatre helped spark more projects for her future. 

Sanford plans to continue producing content in the future. She hopes to produce a local mini-series about local historical findings. She will also be performing in the LSPA’s production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”