VO Chats with Writer, Director, and Star of VIFF Film, Son of the Sunshine

Ryan Ward in Son of the Sunshine. Photo from The Gazette.

VO: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself personally and as a filmmaker?

RW: I primarily come from an acting background and have been an actor in Toronto for nine years. I studied acting and was always interested in making my own stuff. I wrote my own plays and performed them and would tour them, as a way of learning and to cut my teeth as a writer and creator, with the eventual goal of making a film.

I'm really keen on the type of movies that are written directed and starring the same person because I think they come across very personal. Quite different from watching a movie even written and directed, but not starring that person. For example, we know Woody Allen's movies. You watch them and because it's he who wrote it and directed it and is playing the character, you feel closer to him. You feel like it's kind of like his life on screen in a way which I find more personal, and more my cup of tea. Something I would keep endeavouring to make. I don't think there's anyone in Canada who does that currently.


VO: Could you tell us about Son of the Sunshine?


RW: It comes from the way I was feeling at the time that I began to write it. About the world and not feeling that there was any place for me in it. I was pretty down about that.

At that time I had been in Toronto a short amount of time, maybe a year, and I was on the subway and I saw this man. He's kind of famous around Toronto. He's blind and has Tourettes (syndrome). He was ticking and after every time he would tick he would say sorry. At the time I didn't really know what was with him. I went home and looked it up and figured out that he had tourettes.

I was really interested in this idea and started writing a story about a young man who had tourettes, not really knowing why I was so interested in it, so drawn to it. Then after a while of writing, the penny dropped. I was looking at my own life and how I felt about the world I was living in, and to me it was like, bang, the perfect metaphor for the way I felt. A metaphor of an angry young man with tourettes who can't control anything, and is crying out to the world.

From there I took this, the sadness, my central message, and I was determined to come up with a positive answer to where this character would find himself; that there was actually hope, and there was a place for me, for others.

I wanted to express that message. Not just because I needed to say it, but because I thought that other people might relate to it and might need it.


VO: So was this entirely based on the combination of this man and the way you were feeling at the time?


RW: I wrote in circles for a while. And then when I figured that out, and it all gelled, I got together with my co-writer Matt Heiti, and we kind of mapped out where the story should go, and then we did it (laughs). After that it made a lot more sense.

It was a long journey because I'd never made a feature before. I'd made a couple shorts, but nobody really cares about shorts. It was a real struggle. A long time between when I started and when we actually filmed it. About five years. It was kind of lucky for me because I was doing a theatre show at the time and that afforded me the opportunity to keep working, and also film.


VO: I have to ask you about casting because that's one of the things that stands out about your film. You have a stellar cast. Where did you find these people.


RW: (Laughs) they're non-union Toronto actors. I'd made a short film before and I really wasn't convinced that union actors were any better than non-union, and I'm non-union. I'm equity at the theatre but not film union. I was convinced, and I just wanted to prove my point.

We started auditioning and were really interested in finding people who weren't just going to act the part, but had something about them that was that person.

We searched high and low to find the people who's real personality matched the characters. They were really hard to find.

We were surprised that we found some of the older actors first, which shocked us because we thought that anybody who was forty or fifty and going to play these parts, that if they were any good, would be union. But that wasn't true.

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