Local filmmaker Aaron Huggett is fascinated by what motivates the criminal mind.
And there’s few hardened criminals more intriguing than the devious Red Ryan from the pages of Sarnia’s past, he says.
Ryan infamously went down in a hail of bullets in 1936 while robbing a downtown liquor store.
The story of Ryan’s colourful life, his penchant for robbing banks and breaking out of prison, and his dramatic demise is the subject of a new film that Huggett is shooting in Sarnia this month.
“This nationally famous person had such an epic end only five blocks from my house and people don’t know about it,” says the 34-year-old Huggett, researcher, scriptwriter, producer and director of the project.
“I don’t want to glorify crime,” he said. “Instead, I want to examine how he got to the point of being a killer and living a life of crime.”
As far as anyone knows, Ryan had never been to Sarnia before he arrived with his accomplice Harry Checkley to rob the liquor store at 140 Christina St. North.
But something went terribly wrong with their plan, the Sarnia police were immediately alerted, and within minutes Ryan, Checkley and Sarnia Const. John Lewis were dead.
Huggett spent three years painstakingly researching the life of John Norman Ryan who operated under several aliases and had numerous stints in the Kingston Penitentiary, the first when he was only 17 years old.
Huggett wrote the script for a feature length movie and it became a Scriptapalooza Top 100 selection in 2013, drawing attention from a few production houses.
But he has decided to make the film himself under the auspices of his own company, Eclipse Media Productions, and Up Top Films out of Minneapolis.
He’s not new to the filmmaking industry, having three feature length movies and 100 shorts to his credit.
When he put the call out for auditions, Huggett said hundreds responded. When filming begins in the next few days, nearly 100 cast, crew and extras will be involved.
Initially, his Red Ryan film will be 30 minutes, working with a shoestring budget of $6,000 and volunteer actors. But Huggett intends to shoot enough footage for a feature film and ultimately make the longer version if financing becomes available.
Meanwhile, an unexpected coincidence is getting production off to a good start. During his search for props, he happened to connect with the owner of 140 Christina St., which many Sarnians know as the former Taylor’s Furniture store.
Huggett has use of the building’s third floor for filming and is building his sets there. He’s also shooting scenes in Petrolia and Wallaceburg, putting dozens of actors to work, including his brother Dan Huggett, who plays the adult Red Ryan, and Maxx Cabajar, 12, who plays Ryan as a kid.
While filming takes place away from the public eye, passersby will see a lot of activity at 140 Christina St. since the vacant commercial space has been leased by Costumes Canada, The Painted Cat (TPC) and Crafty Kat Creations.
Move in day for the three businesses is Sept. 1 with a grand opening for the building this First Friday, Sept. 4.
The Arts Journal features events and individuals that contribute to the cultural fabric of our community. Send your ideas to Cathy Dobson at [email protected] or call 226-932-0985.