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updated: 8/16/2012 7:06 PM

Bartlett native, Elgin High grad plays big role in ESPN film

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  • Bartlett native Ryan Suffern shoots footage for a documentary titled "Bidder 70."

    Bartlett native Ryan Suffern shoots footage for a documentary titled "Bidder 70."

  • Bartlett native Ryan Suffern pals around with producer/director Frank Marshall at Telluride where their doc "Right to Play" won the Audience Award.

    Bartlett native Ryan Suffern pals around with producer/director Frank Marshall at Telluride where their doc "Right to Play" won the Audience Award.

  • Video: "Right to Play" trailer

 
 

If the name Ryan Suffern sounds familiar, you might have gone to school with him in Bartlett.

Or read our November "From Suburbs to Showbiz" profile, charting how the Elgin High School graduate zigzagged his way through movie-related jobs until he wound up being personal assistants to Academy award-winning directors Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes.

These days, the 34-year-old Suffern works at the Kennedy/Marshall Company in Santa Monica, CA, where management doesn't believe in old-fashioned job titles.

That means he can do pretty much everything, including edit and shoot documentaries, such as Frank Marshall's Olympics-related "Right to Play," presented as part of ESPN's "30 For 30" TV show.

"That was quite a learning curve for both of us," Suffern said from his office. "Frank had never directed a documentary before. I had never edited a feature-length anything. It was a 2-year process."

ESPN Classic will rebroadcast "Right to Play" on Friday, Aug. 17, at 9 p.m., Saturday at midnight, 5, 8 and 11 p.m., and then Sunday at 2 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The doc -- a linear report virtually devoid of narrative conventions -- centers on Norwegian speedskating gold medalist Johann Olav Koss, who founded Right to Play, an international nonprofit organization that offers sports events and equipment to children in third-world and (usually) war-torn countries.

Koss' support of Right to Play became so infectious, many Olympic athletes donated money to keep the project alive. Right to Play has become the main Olympics-related charity around the world.

Since working on that project, Suffern expanded his resume with "Bidder 70," a doc that reports how a Utah college student went to prison for placing $2 million in fake bids on pristine Utah desert land to prevent companies from drilling it for oil.

And to think, Suffern never even went to film school.

He was an English major at the University of Illinois where he served as photo editor of the school newspaper, the Daily Illini.

How did a U of I kid wind up editing and shooting docs for a Spielberg producer?

It began when Marshall asked Suffern to shoot behind-the-scenes footage on the set of Spielberg's fourth Indiana Jones adventure, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

"I didn't even know how to edit," Suffern admitted. He learned quickly, so when Marshall asked him to edit and shoot "Right to Play," he was ready. So ready that Marshall recommended Suffern to the makers of "Bidder 70."

"I found myself working on two documentaries without having ever finished even one," Suffern said. He confessed that he thinks has "something of a calling" in the documentary world.

"Documentaries allow me to go back to my roots in journalism," he said. "As an artist, journalist and storyteller, you have the ability to affect people, to make an impact. That's what really draws me to documentaries.

"There's something pretty potent about getting people to leave a theater and being inspired to want to do something positive. If I could continue to make a living telling those kinds of stories, I feel like I'd be doing what I want to do with my life."

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