On Wednesday evenng at the Film Center in Vineyard Haven, Meg Ryan paused outside by the poster for Ithaca. A handmade sold-out sign was taped across the front of it. She snapped a picture. Inside the theatre, every seat was filled to watch Ms. Ryan’s directorial debut.

Ithaca is based on William Saroyan’s novel The Human Comedy and follows a young telegraph bicycle messenger named Homer as he comes of age during the World War II.

Sold out crowd was treated to the movie and a Q&A with Ms. Ryan afterwards. — Jeanna Shepard

When the credits rolled, Ms. Ryan took the stage with Film Center director Richard Paradise for a question-and-answer session, and to discuss the making of the movie. Ms. Ryan spends summers on Chappaquiddick, where she owns a home.

The movie’s title is a Homeric reference, not one to Ithaca, N.Y. John Mellancamp did the music for the movie and Tom Hanks starred. The shoot took 23 days. Ms. Ryan spoke about directing herself (she also starred in the film), tips and tricks she learned from working behind the camera for the first time, and working with children.

It was a small production and Ms. Ryan said she originally cast herself thinking it would be one less thing to deal with, but it turned out to be even more work. She remembered trying to be emotionally engaged in the heart-tugging final scene, while at the same time being distracted by the movement of the camera crane, thinking, is it going too slowly?

“It was such a split experience,” she said. “As an actor you have to be so subjective and as a director so objective, it’s very hard. I’ll never do it again, direct myself.”

Meg Ryan has been spending summers on Chappaquiddick since she was a young girl. — Jeanna Shepard

But in directing others, she had a lot of fun. She told secrets to the actors, whispering in their ears “that character is a disappointment,” “your character can’t get approval,” but never telling all of them the full story. She took inspiration from directors she had workd with like Jane Campion and Nora Ephron. Ms. Campion directed her in In the Cut and told her to be an artist and emotional conduit. Ms. Ephron, who directed her in Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, always kept the set like a party. 
“She made it fun to be there, and easy and smart,” Ms. Ryan said. “She used her femininity in such an intelligent way.”

Many of the actors in Ithaca were children, and she turned to The Little Rascals and the approach of Hal Roach, producer of Our Gang/Little Rascals, for inspiration.

“They are the most natural actors ever, you just don’t want to get in the way,” she said.

Little Ulysses, played by blonde cherub Spencer Howell, was a crowd favorite. Ms. Ryan said Spencer came into the audition as a joke, but she just fell in love with him. She even used him as her screensaver for awhile. After filming, she met with five-year-old Spencer and his mom for lunch in New York.

When Meg met Richard. — Jeanna Shepard

“I realized halfway through the lunch he didn’t remember who I was,” she said to resulting laughter.

She was also happy to be working with her son, Jack Quaid, who plays Homer’s older brother Marcus in the film, and provides much of the narration.

“He’s got such an expressive voice,” she said. “And I love what he says. I love those ideas in the movie: trust yourself, when you fail get back up, listen, pay attention, all those pieces of advice that I hope I communicated to both of my kids.”

Much of the film comes from a place of motherhood, and The Human Comedy was dedicated to William Saroyan’s mother.

Though she chose drama instead of comedy for her debut, Ms. Ryan has been bitten by the directorial bug and is eyeing another project.

“Romantic comedy, here I come,” she said.