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Filmmaker Series: James Sunshine

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

Filmmaker series spotlight
James Sunshine

Would you introduce yourself to our readers

Hey Leah. I’m a writer, producer, and director from Los Angeles. I got my start eight years ago in the reality TV world, now having produced shows like Hell’s Kitchen, Big Brother, and Project Runway. In addition, I’ve placed as a semi-finalist in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships and also just wrapped production on my feature film debut, Safer at Home: The Coronavirus Movie.”

Behind the scenes of Safer At Home
On set

What initially got you into filmmaking?

It’s strange. A lot of people can point to a specific moment or film that inspired them to get into the industry. For example, James Cameron credits Star Wars and countless other filmmakers can point to their sources too. I never had that.

As far back as I can remember I always just considered it a foregone conclusion that I would be doing this. You could have asked me about my future goals at five years old or at 25 years old – and my answers were the same.

Who are your biggest influences and why?

Obviously there are many filmmakers who influenced me. Early on I discovered greats like the Coen brothers, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino. But trying to replicate their style and be like them is silly. Everyone does it… and everyone fails. It’s important to develop your own style and not just copy someone else’s.

With all that being said, I do like to look for inspiration in other filmmakers that don’t quite get the same spotlight. People like Matthew Vaughn, Martin McDonagh, and Trey Parker just to name a few. Outside of my fellow filmmakers, I’m also influenced by inspirational athletes like pro-wrestler Daniel Bryan and also hope to one-day reach the level of diabolical genius attained by Kenny Hotz.

How important is film as a medium and art form in the world, today?

I think it’s incredibly important. Films and stories are really just Trojan horses for teachable lessons and morality. Audiences think they’re simply being entertained, when in reality they’re actually being introduced to any one of a thousand important themes for living a better life. Often times a lesson is learned better and stronger when it’s done unconsciously. A filmmaker’s job is to do this without being noticed. A filmmaker’s job is vital.

Do you have a set process when making film?

I wouldn’t say I really have a set process. Instead, creativity will hit me and then it’s off to the races to write and produce as I see fit. Although after the writing process I do love to approach the craft more like a science. As far as I’m concerned, if the script is your blueprint for a film, then you already have everything you’ll ever need. From that point forward, it’s all about analyzing your script to uncover and what’s already there. The shots, the performances, the music, and the edit. It’s all in the script.

John Lier and Joseph D. Reitman
Safer At Home: The Coronavirus Movie film poster

What has been your favourite film to work on and why?

My favourite film was the one I just wrapped, Safer at Home: The Coronavirus Movie. I know it sounds stupid and ridiculous – but that was the point – to capitalize on all the craziness in the world today with a silly concept, but then actually deliver on a quality film too. It’s been so great, and I give all the credit to my team.

Stars John Lehr and Joe Reitman showed up to set every day with killer attitudes and a crazy number of pages memorized, my cinematographer Jeremy made every frame beautiful, and my producer Larry was imperative in getting it all finished. Overall, it was just good people having fun and making a film. Every set should be like that.

Which genre do you enjoy working in?

No matter what genres I branch out and explore, I’m always drawn back to dark humor. There’s just something amazing about having fun at the expense of topics that aren’t supposed to be joked about. Guilty laughs are always the best laughs, whether people are willing to admit it or not.

Is filmmaking your primary source of income?

Filmmaking specifically? No. But producing television? Yes. I’ve been lucky enough to carve out an extremely successful career producing some of the biggest reality TV shows in the world. Hell’s Kitchen, Big Brother, Project Runway, and many more.

I got my start with an entry level casting position in 2012 and simply worked my way up from there. I’ve always believed that getting your foot in the door is the hardest part, and if you can do that then you’re golden. And now that I’ve built that part of my career, I’m next bridging the gap into earning a full time living as a filmmaker too.

What is your definition of success?

Success is freedom. Do you have the freedom to do what you want to do? To go where you want to go? To set your own schedule? To sleep and eat and have fun when you decide you want to?

Sometimes that comes hand in hand with money and a great career. Sometimes it doesn’t. But having money and a great career without those things certainly wouldn’t feel like success to me.

What advice can you give our readers, should they wish to pursue filmmaking?

Be serious about it. You can’t give it half your effort. This world is competitive and brutal and

heartbreaking and there are a thousand people willing to tackle that challenge head on, so you have to be willing to do it too. Find ways to motivate yourself, even if it’s scary. I entered the industry without a backup plan and that forced me to be ruthless and dedicated. Maybe it wasn’t necessarily a smart idea to do that – but it worked.

Do you ever suffer from creative burnout? How do you combat it?

You can’t force creativity. You have to let it come to you. But with all that being said, I do find that having your back against a wall is a great way to motivate creativity.

What projects are you currently working on?

As stated before, I just wrapped production on “Safer at Home: The Coronavirus Movie.” This was such a challenging project, and the whole point behind it was to prove that indie filmmaking in Los Angeles was still possible even during the pandemic. We undertook an insane testing regimen and even got sponsorship from a PPE company.

Cast and crew of Safer At Home movie
Cast and crew on set

I ran the set like a complete jerk, making sure everyone was wearing masks and staying socially distanced at all times. But it worked out. We filmed the project with union approval and did what many of my fellow filmmakers claimed couldn’t be done.

John Lehr
Safer At Home promo poster

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What are your hopes for the future?

I want to finish this current film and sell it. I think the opportunities for that are extremely present, considering the current drought of new content in the industry right now.

After that, I would love to go back to another project of mine called “Headlighting.” I was actually supposed to shoot that in April before Covid hit and derailed everything. We had cast and crew and everything. Needless to say, channelling the momentum from “Safer at Home” into picking up that project again would be amazing.

Lastly where can people find you?

People can find me at my personal website or on social media. There aren’t many people in the world named James Sunshine to get confused with. But the best thing people can do right now is follow “Safer at Home: The Coronavirus Movie” on Facebook and Instagram. I promise you won’t be disappointed with the content and updates!

Are you a filmmaker? Want to be interviewed? Please get in touch and fill out your contact details;

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