Scarborough graduate makes directorial debut and finds success in LA

The cast and crew on the set of director James Sunshine’s “Coronavirus Conspiracy”, standing left to right, Jonathan Millett, Joseph D. Reitman, John Lehr, Jeremy Camp and Michael Meza. Kneeling, Sunshine, left, and Larry Layfield. Courtesy of James Sunshine

From Scarborough High School’s ‘video kid’ to Hollywood producer and filmmaker, James Sunshine has come a long way since leaving his hometown, having recently made his directorial debut.

Sunshine directed “Coronavirus Conspiracy,” a comedy following a retired zookeeper (John Lehr) who was kidnapped by a mad economist (Joseph D. Reitman) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The zookeeper realizes that all of the world’s most recent disasters, including the pandemic, are linked, and he and the economist dive into the rabbit hole to try to find out who is at fault.

James Sunshine, known as “The Video Kid” at Scarborough High School, has succeeded in his fight to take the same video production course four times. Contribution / James Sunshine

“Coronavirus Conspiracy” was not how Sunshine expected to debut. He was set to shoot a thriller about “a night of Uber rides gone bad,” he said. That was until the pandemic hit, the lockdown began, and an investor got cold feet.

“We always had this crew,” Sunshine said. “We still had this cast of really talented people, we still had half the money that we were going to use. We reduced and wrote a new script.

Sunshine knew from an early age that he wanted to be involved in movies. At first he wanted to be an actor, but he soon discovered “that there is someone behind the camera”.

Known as the “Video Kid” at Scarborough High School, Sunshine began honing her filmmaking skills as quickly – and as often – as possible.

“We had a video production course that you were only allowed to take twice,” he said. “In fact, I threatened to drop out of school if they didn’t let me take it back.”

Sunshine then took the course a total of four times.

“James always knew his destiny involved the movies,” said Edward Budway, a Scarborough high school graduate and longtime friend of Sunshine. “He has spoken and actively worked to become an epic director since the moment I met him.”

After graduating from high school in 2010 and earning a bachelor’s degree from Full Sail University in Florida on an accelerated program, he moved to Los Angeles in 2012. At age 20, Sunshine entered the world of television production.

Now 29, he has nearly a decade of experience as a producer of reality TV shows including “Hell’s Kitchen”, “Big Brother”, “Master Chef” and “Project Runway” . On Monday, Sunshine started a new role as lead producer on the reality show “Supermarket Stakeout”.

“The dream is to be a filmmaker and producing television is the day job,” Sunshine said. “But it’s a hell of a good day’s work.”

James Sunshine has nearly 10 years of reality TV production experience. Courtesy of James Sunshine

Sunshine aspires to make more movies, but it’s safe to say none will be quite like the experience of filming “Coronavirus Conspiracy”.

“I wrote a script where the actors are actually motivated to stay 6 feet apart,” he said. “They’re motivated to wear masks and all that, and we could do that with a cast and crew small enough where we could actually get permission from the unions and the city to shoot it.”

Budway, who was also involved in the marketing of the film, said he was “extremely proud” of his friend.

“The fact that James was able to write, direct, produce and finance his film during the pandemic is extremely impressive. “

Sunshine said the “Safer at Home” campaign at the start of the pandemic was its main inspiration for “Coronavirus Conspiracy”.

“People are not just ‘safer at home’ inside their homes,” he said. “They are also ‘safer at home’ within their own ideological bubbles… I wanted to write a film about people trapped in their own minds.”

Sunshine also wanted to convey to viewers that if people were more willing to listen to themselves and accept that they sometimes get it wrong, many polarizing issues in society today could be more easily resolved.

While Sunshine wrote the screenplay, he let his seasoned cast members get creative.

“They are industry veterans. They are brilliant actors, ”he said of Lehr and Reitman. “After we shot the scenes we had planned, we would take about 30 minutes and let John and Joe improvise. “

Lehr’s work includes the movie “10 Items or Less” and the Hulu series “Quickdraw”, and he was one of the original cavemen in the GEICO commercials. Reitman is known for the “Happy! And “Money Monster” and the movie “The Perfect Storm” among many other productions.

Sunshine wants to continue producing reality TV shows and creating movies.

“I am in a very good and happy place in my life right now,” he said. “There isn’t much I would like to change other than having more freedom to do it. “

“Coronavirus Conspiracy” is available on Spectrum and DirecTV. You can go to for a full list of streaming services showing the movie.

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