By Leah Hansen
As the biggest names in the film industry gather in Cannes, Ryerson sits quietly by and waits for the bright lights of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Except for Travis Ryans.
The two-time Ryerson student walked the red carpet at the 2014 Cannes International Film Festival to promote Somnolence, a short film directed by Chris Distaulo and produced by Ryans himself.
Somnolence, which was selected out of thousands to be shown in Cannes’ “Court Métrage” (or “Short Film Corner”) lineup, tells the story of a future race of humans who have evolved to the point where sleep is no longer necessary, Ryans said.
“Every human is productive, 24/7, always active, always working, except this one man who starts to sleep — and as he starts to sleep, he starts to dream,” Ryans said. “And how do you explain dreaming to someone who’s never slept before?”
As the main character dreams, he becomes haunted by the memory of the day his sister drowned, Ryans said. Somnolence is about the decision he has to make — whether to live in a cold reality where dreams don’t exist, or in a dream world where his sister is still alive, even though he has to relive her death.
Somnolence, though not a feature film, keeps up with Hollywood’s renewal of the science fiction genre, in tune with mainstream sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, and blockbusters like Transcendence.
“I feel like there’s sort of been a resurgence of the nerds in the past couple years,” Ryans said. He and Distaulo, who have known each other since childhood, knew an opportunity when they saw it.
Ryans credits Distaulo with getting him into the business. While the two of them were in high school, Distaulo dragged him, “kicking and screaming,” to an after-school drama class. But it wasn’t the anxiety-inducing downer Ryans thought it would be.
“I loved it,” Ryans said. “I loved acting, I loved this other world that you can create. It sort of went from there, from doing acting to doing production work, from production work to theatre, etc.”
Ryans enrolled in Ryerson’s theatre program in 2008 right after graduating high school. While theatre wasn’t quite where he wanted to be, he didn’t have the equipment to go into film.
After a year at Ryerson, he had made the connections necessary to start working on various sets — Ryans realized he felt much more at home running around behind the camera than he did backstage. The next two years were spent bouncing from job to job on different sets — Ryans usually worked in an assistant director position, which is where he says he feels most at home.
While Ryans decided to enrol in Ryerson’s radio and television arts program in 2011, he quickly discovered that there weren’t many courses available that had to do with the assistant director’s position — after two years, Ryans figured he may as well just continue to work full time, and left school again.
The decision led to work on the sets of multiple commercials, TV shows, and independent films, some of which Ryans hopes to have featured at TIFF this year. But Cannes is what he’s focusing on now.
While Ryans has worked on many sets before, this is his first project as a producer and the responsibilities are daunting.
“I’m very comfortable dealing with set because there’s a protocol and things to be done and I get the pattern of it,” said Ryans. “This whole idea of being a producer and selling a film and marketing the film, that’s something that’s very foreign and nebulous to me and I don’t normally do it.”
The producer’s role is to attempt to get potential distributors and production companies interested in the film, Ryans explains, so that the project can be shown to a wider audience and funding can be secured. Cannes offers the team an amazing chance to get advice from some of the filmmaking world’s best, and make important connections that could benefit them in the future.
“In terms of the selling, that’s where I’m scared. We’re trying to sell the short for distribution so that it’ll get on TV channels and other festivals and things like that, but we’re also trying to get funding for a feature,” Ryans said. While neither he nor Distaulo has worked on a feature film before, Ryans says he’s optimistic about their ability to pull it off if they secure funding at Cannes.
Having a Cannes-selected film like Somnolence under their belts may well give Ryans and Distaulo the chance at bigger and better things once they touch back down in Toronto. Until then, Ryans says he’s satisfied with being on any set at all, just doing what he loves.
“It’s getting to realize your dreams. Whatever you think up in your head, you will make it happen one way or another on that screen,” he said. “It may not be originally what you planned or it may not be the most grandiose version of it but it’s getting to make that happen, and there’s something really cool about that.”