Independent movie: ‘Coronavirus Conspiracy’ probably isn’t the movie you think it is



When you prepare to interview the director of a movie called “Coronavirus Conspiracy”, I have to be honest, you are preparing for the worst.

Thankfully, director and Maine native James Sunshine’s movie (now available to rent or purchase on your favorite streaming service) isn’t the kook-fest I imagined. Instead, the independent film (shot under strict COVID guidelines just at the height of hysteria fueled by COVID disinformation and linked to COVID) is an entertaining, banana-like absurd comedy, less about how public health measures basics have been hijacked by conspiracy theorists and other crazy cases, only about how we humans predictably make every situation worse.

James Sunshine, a graduate of Scarborough High, directed “Coronavirus Conspiracy”.

Unless you are Sunshine, that is, who explains that “Coronavirus Conspiracy” was born out of the chaos caused by the early days of the COVID lockdowns and lockdowns. An independent filmmaker always struggles with the odds of finishing his film, but that was ridiculous.

“We were supposed to start production on another movie entirely,” said a 2010 Scarborough High School graduate and Los Angeles resident of what became his directorial debut. “I had written a thriller – horror and thrillers sell very easily – when, in April 2020, COVID really hit. One investor got cold feet, understandably, and we lost half of our budget just like that. I’ve always been the type to have the glass half full, so since we still had the cast and crew, and half the money, I wrote a new script.

The resulting storyline, lit by the pressure cooker atmosphere that surrounds the Sunshine Project (and life in 2020 LA in general), opens with a stunned chained guy. A shirtless man armed with a gun and wearing UGGs walks in, introduces himself as an economist and insists that the imprisoned man (who appears to be in his own empty house) confess his sins. The Economist also only refers to the man as a “zookeeper” and begins to complain about everything from COVID to internet memes to the killing of hornets on the planet Galgalon Prime.

And this is where things get weird.

Saying more would rob ‘Coronavirus Conspiracy’ of much of its fun, although the two protagonists (who, aside from the disembodied voice of the zookeeper’s wife on the phone, are the only performers) carry the narrative more. in addition unbalanced with manic aplomb. The zookeeper (John Lehr) and the economist (Joseph D. Reitman) are two faces you’ll recognize. Lehr co-created and starred in the sitcom “10 Items or Less” (and was the original Geico Caveman), while the shaggy-haired Reitman has been in everything from George Clooney’s starring “The Perfect Storm” and “Money Monster” at the last two “Jay and Silent Bob” movies. (He was also the terrible evil Santa Claus in Grant Morrison’s comic book adaptation “Happy.”)

Said Sunshine of her stars (who originally met to audition for this caveman concert), “It’s hard to make a feature film on just two performances, and these guys were real pros. . We filmed 10 pages a day some days, and they did it so brilliantly. “Praising Reitman’s serious economist, Sunshine said,” With Joe, not many people know his name, but he is one of the most underrated and underused actors in Hollywood. It’s too bad he’s not a Seth Rogen, or someone like that.

Sunshine’s path from Scarborough High (where he was known as the “video guy” and worked his way into school video production four times before graduating) to Hollywood was his own achievement. . Senior producer at Food Network and producer of reality shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Big Brother” and “Project Runway,” Sunshine says he knew leaving Maine for the Los Angeles sun was always in the cards. .

“I knew I had to go where the heart and soul of the industry was,” said Sunshine, who graduated from Film (from Full Sail University in Florida) in just two years, and calls its time in reality TV its pied à terre. in industry. “I became a screenwriter and director, but reality is about 90% of television now, and it’s yours. I’m not as keen on the movies, but it’s a lot of fun, I’m good and it pays well.

Still, movies cost more than even a successful reality TV producer can, and Sunshine is excited about the commitment of her cast and crew to bring her feature debut to its eventual release on the 21st. September. (The film was in part directed to streaming by independent industry stalwarts Lionsgate.)

“Coronavirus Conspiracy” was filmed on an Airbnb and incorporated then-just-established California COVID safety standards into the narrative, giving Lehr and Reitman’s characters on-screen justification for PPE and social distancing. Sunshine saw the opportunity to be one of the only games in town when the rest of the movie industry shut down, saying, “It gave us a lot of influence, being the only guy filming no. only new content, but new content in a timely manner. We got a distribution deal (from Indian Pictures) before we even finished, and the way our script was structured allowed us to get quick union approval.

Of course, calling your movie “Coronavirus Conspiracy” (a studio-chosen renaming of Sunshine’s original “Safer At Home”) invites unforeseen trouble in a world teeming with genuine COVID conspiracyists. (The movie’s commercial clearly proclaims, “This page is NOT intended to spread disinformation about Covid-19.”) The movie’s IMDb page was inundated with one-star reviews, resulting, Sunshine speculates, at the times real conspiratorial freaks disappointed, or the sight – invisible voters assuming Sunshine is a right-wing nut himself. (Having seen the film itself, admittedly scruffy – and at times overly exhausting too screaming – I can attest that this is far from a star’s job, by any rational standpoint.)

Other than that, the headline has seen social media sites ban pages named ‘Coronavirus Conspiracy’ in their efforts to block dangerous nonsense about the actual disease (which, despite the headline, is only one thread in the story). ‘Coronavirus Conspiracy’ Crazy Quilt of Ideas). For Sunshine, her film is really about “taking responsibility for yourself and not making scapegoats”, but this subtlety of the message does not live up to Facebook’s policies.

Still, independent filmmakers are industrious and smart by necessity, and you can find information and streaming links on the film’s website,

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his wife and cat.

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