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From Ballard High to the big screen

The result of filmmaker Jesse Harris' nearly 20-year quest to tell his own stories comes to theaters and television this weekend. #k5evening

SEATTLE — Jesse Harris is an 'overnight' success nearly 20 years in the making.

"I'm really just pretty much doing the same thing I've been doing since I was in high school," he joked.

KING 5 Evening first met up with Harris as a student at Ballard High. He had just cashed in his college fund to instead direct a movie he'd written himself, called "Living Life."

"Feels like it was yesterday," Harris said.

RELATED: This Bainbridge filmmaker shot a horror movie on his phone

When the film was picked up by HBO, 17-year-old Harris became the youngest American filmmaker with a distribution deal.

"Just sheer persistence and never giving up," he said.

While continuing to pursue his craft, Harris created the Seattle-based National Film Festival for Talented Youth, or NFFTY, a showcase for other young artists.

"I just created it out of nothing," he said.

The festival, now 15 years running, has attracted millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships and launched dozens of careers.

"All of a sudden you realized there were tens of thousands of filmmakers, probably, all over the world, who didn't know each other. And they were all kind of coming together."

RELATED: Youth film festival NFFTY brings global stories to Seattle this weekend

Harris' own career as a top-tier commercial director continued to grow over the past two decades. But he never gave up the quest to tell his own stories.

"I just was craving to make something for myself again."

The director teamed up with "Pretty Little Liars" star Lucy Hale to co-produce an action drama set in the California desert.

"I just really believed in him and his story," Hale said. "And he had such a vision for this project."

"The idea originally for this movie started with a true story from my dad, who was, kind of, this amateur botanist who was working out in the desert of Anza-Borrego, California," Harris said. "And the idea of the whole movie just kind of came out from there."

"Borrego" is the story of a botanist who stumbles into some serious trouble. 

"It's really a movie about survival and a movie about the choices people make," Harris said.

Filming was set to get underway back in early 2020.

"And then Covid happened," Haris said. "And so that kind of shut down all the plans."

"It was challenging for all involved," Hale said.

Harris moved the production to Europe as the continent was just beginning to re-open.

"In Spain, there's this desert that they used to shoot all the spaghetti westerns, and a lot of famous movies were shot there because it looks just like California," he said. "It was just the cast and myself going out there and the rest of the crew were all from Spain. And it was an adventure. But we ended up making something really cool from it."

Like its director, "Borrego," has traveled a long road and found its way.

"This is a really hard industry," Harris said. "You could do something for 10 or 20 years and still be struggling to make it happen, but there's nothing else I would do."

"Borrego" starts screening Friday at Seattle's Varsity Theater and at home on-demand.

RELATED: Seattle filmmaker stages her own father's 'death'

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