Ryan Ward is a producer, editor and videographer for Wisconsin Public Television’s Wisconsin Life project. A native of Indiana, he moved to the Badger State six years ago and has been a part of Wisconsin Life from the start. I got a chance to sit down with Ryan and learn more about his experiences with the project – and to get to know the man behind the camera.
In the four years you’ve worked on Wisconsin Life, what’s been your favorite story?
Ryan: That’s the hardest question for me to answer. I get involved in all of these people’s lives. You get this personal connection with these people that you do these stories with, and it’s hard to separate whose story you like more. There are all these factors you have to consider. So, I’ll give you three of them because I can’t pick just one.
The first story I did here by myself that I produced, wrote, edited and shot, was a story called Mad Wrecking Dolls. It was on a roller derby group in Madison that was all female. I remember talking to these women and some of them literally began crying during the interview process when they were describing how much the group meant to them. That’s a little bit of an awkward position to be in, because you want to say, “I’m so sorry, I don’t want you to cry,” but you also want them to show how much this means to them. It’s really powerful to know that these women – many of whom have come from difficult backgrounds, and some of whom have never done sports before so they’ve never had this outlet before – just get so emotional about this group of women that roller skate around in a circle and try and hit and knock each other down.
The next two stories I worked on were with Trevor Keller, who is one of the main producers for Wisconsin Life. We did a story called Feast of Crispian, which was a part of Wisconsin Life’s collaboration with the Veterans Coming Home project. It was about these groups of veterans from various wars that met a few times a week and had this workshop where they would literally reenact parts of Shakespeare. It was insanely intense and emotional to see these men and women perform Shakespeare. They would get so wrapped up in the role and you could tell that part of that was just them releasing a bunch of their feelings from what they went through, either overseas or in the country through the military. It was one of the hardest shoots I’ve ever been on. There was a split second where I was not paying attention to my camera and I was just watching these people, which is a big no-no. But I was just so engaged and so wrapped up in what they were doing that I couldn’t help myself.
The last story I really liked is the one we did last summer, also with Trevor Keller. This story is called Jaxon’s Wish, which is about this little kid in Richland Center who was diagnosed with brain cancer. He’s a huge Milwaukee Brewer’s fan and the Make-a-Wish Foundation actually found out about this. They asked him what his wish was and his wish was to have Miller Park in his backyard. So, they built a Wiffle ball field inspired by Miller Park in his backyard, and now every year they hold a tournament there to raise money for cancer victims. He’s cancer-free now and it’s just this amazing family and amazing community that’s come together to raise this money. It’s another instance where you get wrapped up in this stuff but you kind of have to detach yourself from what’s going on and focus on getting the shots and sound.
What are you working on right now?
Ryan: In Ladysmith, I videotaped and interviewed a woman who makes these stuffed bears. She makes them out of clothing and the clothing that she gets is usually from people that have passed away. They’re called memory bears. They’re really adorable stuffed bears and they’re made out of flannel shirts, old football jerseys, old uniforms and old dresses.
The reason she started making these is unfortunate in the fact that her son passed away in a hunting accident. She was an avid sewer before that and it was her ritual that she would sit in her sewing room and her son would sit in the living room. They were really connected: He would be playing a video game and she would be sewing and they would talk back and forth. That was kind of how their relationship was and that’s how they would wind down their day.
After he passed away, she stopped sewing because it brought too much pain to her. Eventually, after a few months, maybe a year, she had all these clothes from him and she didn’t know what to do with them. She didn’t want to throw them away because they meant something to her and she got this idea that she should do something with these clothes. That’s when she got the idea to make these bears out of them. So, she made the bears and gave them to his friends and family members. People got wind of that and were asking, “Can you do this for me?” And she’s gone on from there. She’s actually made bears for people in Colorado. I think she made some for people in Alabama. She kind of has this following nationally.
What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work?
Ryan: I’m a big comic book nerd and pop culture nerd. I love Star Wars, I love all the Marvel movies. Pretty much anything from my childhood that I can bring into the now, I love. I love going to the movies and going to Comic-Con conventions and theme parks. Universal Studios has Harry Potter Land that my wife and I have gone to twice now. We actually traveled to London in October just so we could see the Harry Potter play and go to the Universal Studios tour.
From the perspective of the Lead Videographer, what are the top three best movies of 2017?
Ryan: In my personal opinion, the top three are Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Shape of Water, and then – this is a weird one – but War for the Planet of the Apes I think is an amazing movie. Those are my top three from this past year.
What’s your favorite place you’ve visited in Wisconsin either for work or outside of work?
Ryan: Washington Island was probably the coolest place I’ve been. They have this really old church there that I believe is Swedish inspired and is completely made out of wood and hand-carved. I remember I was walking down the road after a shoot one day to unwind, and I looked to the left and there was a little church back in the woods and it was amazing looking. You don’t really see a lot of that stuff in the United States, especially in the Midwest.