11-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Creates and Directs Animated Film

Neshama Ryman even voices characters in her film.

Neshama Ryman, of Riverdale, New York, created the characters and storyline for her movie, “The Klumz,” while she was undergoing treatment for the alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma she was diagnosed with while in kindergarten.

The now fifth-grade student knew during her treatment that she would have a wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Once her health improved, the Foundation paired Neshama with world renowned animators at FableVision Studios to make her wish to create her own movie come alive.

“She took a very long time developing this idea,” Neshama’s mom, Lamelle Ryman, told ABC News. “I really believe that it has been part of her medical healing to have this incredible wish ongoing. “

A Wish In the Making

The characters featured in “The Klumz” have long been part of the Ryman family’s folklore. The family uses the term “klumz” as a way to diffuse tense situations. If a glass of milk falls on the floor, for example, the family will blame it on a “klumz.”

“The 'Klumz' have been living with our family for quite some time,” said Ryman, who with Neshama’s father, Rob, has two other children. “Neshama was the one who named them ‘klumz,’ a cross between klutz and clumsy.”

Neshama, who also suffers from a congenital condition in her leg that has required six reconstructive surgeries to date, carried a sketchbook with her at treatments and began to draw how she envisioned the “klumz” would look.

Animation At Work

Neshama first met with the animators at FableVision last year, traveling to the Boston headquarters of the global media production studio.

“Usually we create things for kids and families and our clients are adults,” said Peter Reynolds, FableVision’s founder and a best-selling children’s book author and illustrator. “In this case we had a child ‘hire’ us to get her vision off the ground.”

He added, “We took it quite seriously. She was the boss and our goal was to make our client happy.”

The FableVision team corresponded with Neshama, their director, frequently and even traveled to her hospital bedside in Maryland at one point to keep the movie moving forward.

“Animation is a very cumulative process and we couldn’t take a step forward until our director said, ‘Yes that’s good, go forward,’” said Tone Thyne, FableVision’s vice president of creative. “We would go on a plane and go there and sit on a hospital bed with her and do storyboards and whatever we needed to do to keep the process moving.”

Thyne added, “We realized that it was the journey itself – the film was going to be magnificent – but it was the making of it that really was the gift.”

The film’s background artwork is Neshama’s original paintings and the characters are based entirely on the sketches she made while undergoing treatment.

Thyne and Reynolds were preparing their pitch to ask Watson to join the movie when they had Neshama read the script and decided her voice would be better instead.

“We thought it’d be a shame to not have this authentic, kid voice narrating the story,” Reynolds explained. “We asked the director and she was tickled that we thought she was better suited than Emma Watson to tell the story.”

Neshama’s directorial debut is being shown for the first time publicly today.

When Neshama, who is on a school camping trip and not available for comment, saw the completed movie for the first time, she could not believe her eyes.

“She’s very dramatic so at times if she’s really excited she will fall to the floor and this was one of those moments,” Ryman said. “She was speechless and ecstatic.”

Ryman said her family’s experience with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and FableVision went “above and beyond” her expectations.

“As a parent going through this with a child, it gave me so much strength and positivity,” she said. “It became a template for something I created in our family, the idea that if you’re going through something difficult, follow the joy.”

She added of the movie, “It’s reminding us all that messes are part of life and we need to try to do what we can to find the joy and the hope in life no matter what we are dealing with.”

The FableVision team is also still involved in the process even though the animation is done. They are trying to get Neshama’s “The Klumz” movie entered in prestigious movie festivals like Sundance, Cannes and Tribeca.

“Why not an Academy Award?,” Thyne said. “We’re all so proud of it and now the fun part is trying to figure out how we’re going to showcase Neshama’s film.”