by Anna-Lea Boeki
Sudz Sutherland remembers writing stories on his mother’s portable typewriter as far back as grade one. Today he’s the creator of the new CBC series, Shoot The Messenger together with his wife and writing/producing partner, Jennifer Holness.
How did he get from A to B? He kept writing short stories on that typewriter until, in grade ten, he wrote a play called “Coming of Age in Suburbia” about growing up in the Scarborough hinterland. Sudz gave it to the guy who was deemed the best director in his school who, after reading it, said, “It’s pretty good for a black play”. “Like what?!? ” Sudz didn’t say this out loud – he had no ability to respond because it was a different time back then. To him, it wasn’t about having a black identity in any way, shape or form. Sudz just knew that he was angry and that somehow this was not right. His play was about universal themes like not getting to use the car once you got your license – and universal themes remain woven in his storytelling to this day.
Sudz decided to direct the play himself and he cast all his friends, like Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies who played his father. It ended up doing really well and rose through the ranks at the Sears Festival of High School Drama. Then, when Spike Lee’s, Gotta Have It came out…he realized he could make a living working as part of a film crew and took any chance he got at being behind the camera. “I thought there’d be more work and more opportunities to tell stories.”
When Sudz went to York University for film school – he just got frustrated. “We weren’t shooting enough stuff and were getting shitty results” and the teachers weren’t up to date with the current technology, so he dropped out. After a stint security guarding he started working in Trinity Square Video’s rental department. It was there he started volunteering on music videos, documentaries and shows, learning by watching others with experience.
He and then girlfriend, Jennifer Holness started a company together and then they both went out to get industry jobs to make a living. Sudz got an agent and then started to get writing gigs. It was much easier to show his writing than to start out as a director. First he wrote for a lot of children’s shows, which lead to one-hour adult dramas. It was at that point that he decided he wanted to direct and he knew he’d have to take an economic hit.
Amongst his paid writing gigs, he decided to make a half hour short called, My Father’s Hands based on the relationship he had with his father. They received Arts Council grants, pooled all the prizes from other micro shorts they did and called in every favour from friends to complete the project. It won a bunch of awards including TIFF and the HBO Short Film Award with a $20k cash prize.
That success helped pave the way for his first feature, Love. Sex and Eating the Bones which did well at film festivals and won Best First Feature Film at TIFF. Then there was a long stretch where Sudz capitalized on the writing and directing offers he received in episodic television. This is where he got to hone his storytelling skills and he had to prove that he could translate the story he had written on the page – to the screen. He kept getting the chance to direct an episode that he had written more and more. And finally, after a long stretch of almost a decade – he got the opportunity to work on his second feature film.
It came about because of a conversation concerning where all the guns in Toronto were coming from. Friends who were on the ‘Guns and Gangs squad’ revealed some stories that inspired the miniseries, Guns. They also wanted to feature stories about folks that were getting deported. Ideally they wanted to tell stories that haven’t been told about complex flawed individuals, which is how they decided to dramatize Home Again, which had started out as a documentary. Watch it on Canada Screens https://canadascreens.ca/catalogue/140-home-again
With thirteen wins and twelve nominations, Sudz Sutherland has a solid foundation that has lead to his latest project, Shoot the Messenger.
Catch it Monday nights at 9pm ET on CBC Television!