The cast and crew on the set of director James Sunshine’s “Coronavirus Conspiracy,” standing from left, Jonathan Millett, Joseph D. Reitman, John Lehr, Jeremy Camp and Michael Meza. Kneeling, Sunshine, left, and Larry Layfield. Courtesy 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 has been kidnapped by a crazed economist (Joseph D. Reitman) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The zookeeper comes to realize that all of the world’s most recent disasters, including the pandemic, are connected, and he and the economist dive down the rabbit hole of trying to find out who is at fault.

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

“Coronavirus Conspiracy” wasn’t how Sunshine expected to make his debut. He was getting ready to shoot a thriller about “a night of Uber rides gone wrong,” he said. That was until the pandemic hit, lockdown started, and an investor got cold feet.

“We still 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 scaled down 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’s someone behind the camera.”

Known as the “Video Kid” at Scarborough High School, Sunshine started honing his filmmaking skills as quickly – and as often – as he could.

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

Sunshine went on to take the class a total of four times.

“James always knew his destiny involved filmmaking,” said Edward Budway, a Scarborough High School graduate and Sunshine’s longtime friend. “He’s talked about, and actively worked towards, becoming an epic film director since the moment I met him.”

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

Now 29, he has almost a decade’s worth of experience as a producer for reality television shows, including “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Big Brother,” “Master Chef” and “Project Runway.”  On Monday, Sunshine began a new role as senior producer on the reality show, “Supermarket Stakeout.”

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

James Sunshine has nearly 10 years worth of reality television producing experience. Courtesy James Sunshine

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

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

Budway, who has also been involved in marketing the movie, said that he is “tremendously proud” of his friend.

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

Sunshine said that the “Safer at Home” campaign at the onset of the pandemic was his main source of inspiration for “Coronavirus Conspiracy.”

“People are not just ‘safer at home’ inside their homes,” he said. “They’re also ‘safer at home’ inside 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 hear each other out and accept that they are wrong at times, a lot of the polarizing issues in today’s society could be more easily resolved.

While Sunshine wrote the script, he let his seasoned actors get creative.

“They’re veterans in this industry. They’re brilliant actors,” he said of Lehr and Reitman. “After we were done shooting the scenes that we had scheduled, we’d take about 30 minutes and let John and Joe just improvise.”

Lehr’s work includes the film “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 TV series “Happy!” and “Money Monster” and the film “The Perfect Storm” among many other productions.

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

“I’m in a really good, really happy place in my life right now,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot I would want to change other than having more freedom to do this.”

“Coronavirus Conspiracy” is available on Spectrum and DirecTV. You can go to www.coronavirusmovie2021.com for a complete list of streaming services carrying the movie.

Comments are not available on this story.