“I love the idea that you can imagine something and make it come alive.”
Ryan Bellgardt is a dreamer. He dreams of monsters, dinosaurs and aliens; of creating entire worlds out of nothing and inviting audiences to escape inside. But, unlike most dreamers, Ryan Bellgardt has found a way to make his dreams come true.
“In 2006, my wife and I were doing a puppet show in libraries called Big Magic Book,” Bellgardt recalls. “A guy really liked it and offered us money to turn it into a television show. So, I wrote, directed and produced a TV show. It was like my own personal film school. I watched the guys setting up the lights. I sat behind the editor every day as he edited. I paid attention to everything.”
Bellgardt was hooked. He took a job as an editor at channel 43, and when the station needed more content for late night, he and co-worker Lucas Ross created funny interstitials as the “2 Movie Guys.” Their bosses loved it. So, they kept on creating content, ultimately producing a pair of Christmas specials and winning a Heartland Emmy.
Not surprisingly, Bellgardt shot for the moon with his first feature film, Army of Frankensteins. He wrote, directed and produced a classic monster movie about a time travelling scientist who creates a battalion of patchwork soldiers to fight in the Civil War. Made on a shoestring budget, the film contained epic battle scenes, hundreds of period costumes and awesome special effects.
“Most people don’t realize that it is a ton of work. Even after production, you spend months and months working 16-hour days on special effects,” Bellgardt says. “I constantly push myself to keep getting better. If I don’t get the opportunities, it won’t be because I didn’t work hard enough.”
The hard work paid off. Army of Frankensteins premiered at the deadCenter Film Festival before travelling to festivals around the world, winning several awards. Audiences loved the film. Most importantly, it found a distributor.
“Army of Frankensteins led me down the rabbit hole, because I developed a good relationship with our distributor, Galen Christy of High Octane Pictures,” Bellgardt says. “I asked him what it would take to be one of his big movies. He gave me all of this insight into what buyers want. He taught me about the business side of filmmaking. He would send me trailers of other films or send me a photo of what was popular and selling right now. He said, ‘I’m not telling you what to do, I am just telling you what works for us to sell.’”
Bellgardt listened. While other filmmakers were thinking about their stories, their passions, their visions, Bellgardt was thinking about how his stories, passions and visions could fit into a model that distributors could actually sell. He made lists of the specific things that attract distributors to a movie. Then, he put the ideas into action when writing new scripts. As you can see, the guidelines Bellgardt followed for attracting distributors make a lot of sense:
“You have to have a strong opening. You need to hook people with the first 10 minutes. You need to show your creature or monster really earlier in the film so they know you can pull off the special effects. Make sure something happens every 10 minutes. And keep it moving.”
Bellgardt’s willingness to follow the basic guidelines that make films successful has led to a great partnership with Christy. “For the first movie, we made what we wanted and were fortunate to find the right person that believed in us,” he says. “For the second movie, we followed his suggestions and sold the movie based off of the trailer. The third film is only in concept form and we just sold it based on the poster alone. We will be able to pay for the movie before we shoot a single shot.
“Everyone has their path and their story,” Bellgardt concludes. “I’m just going to continue going down the path that I feel is the right way for me to go, and hopefully one day it will pay off.”
Ryan Bellgardt is a dreamer. Thanks to a ton of hard work and a focus on the business side of show business, he is making his dreams come true.