Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ryan Bellgardt on "Army of Frankensteins"

What was your filmmaking background before making Army of Frankensteins?

RYAN: This was my first feature length film, but I have worked for about 10 years producing all types of video from TV commercials to corporate videos. My friend, Lucas Ross and I, have been hosting movies on local TV, where we do lots of skits and have even produced a few 30 minute TV specials. Those really helped me feel confident about trying to tackle a huge project like a feature.

Where did the idea come from and what was the process of writing the script? 

RYAN: My friends and co-producers Josh McKamie, Andy Swanson and myself were having a discussion about movie monsters fighting each other, specifically the vampire showdown at the end of the Twilight series. We figured that we had seen armies of vampires, werewolves, mummies, and zombies, but never an army of classic, lumbering, green Frankenstein monsters. Then Andy said, "Yeah, then you gotta throw them all back in time, like to the civil war or something."

We laughed and filed it away with other dumb ideas we've had, but the difference with this idea is that we kept adding to it. One we established our ridiculous premise, it was pretty easy to start building the world. We had a notebook full of ideas that became an outline. Eventually, I forced myself to sit down and write the screenplay.

Did you write to existing resources?

RYAN: No. This might seem weird, but I purposely avoided researching anything about the civil war or Frankenstein's monster. I wanted all of the history to be based on what I called "pop-culture knowledge." I think it helped me stay focused on the story of the main character's journey.

Also, I kind of wanted there to be errors. Even our title is wrong according to people who claim that Frankenstein is the name of the doctor and not the monster. We know that, but having people argue about your title is a great way to get them talking about it.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your distribution plan for recouping your costs?

RYAN: My wife and I had about half of our micro budget in savings. The other half was provided by the production company that I partially own and work for.

We didn't really have a distribution plan starting out. We just wanted to have fun making the movie and then see what happened. Fortunately, because of our title and premise, we started getting offers from sales agents before we were finished filming.

We signed with Empress Road Pictures and the helped us secure our international deals as well as our domestic deal with Shout! Factory.

What were the specific issues you overcame in shooting a period movie?

RYAN: I'd say costumes were the biggest challenge. Earlier I mentioned that I didn’t research much about the civil war, but that's not entirely true. I made sure that the soldiers uniforms were correct and they had the correct rank insignias, colors, etc.

We were fortunate to choose the civil war era to replicate because there are a lot of re-enactment troops in our area that were very eager to help. They provided costumes, tents, guns, horses, and even a working cannon! 

What different visual techniques did you employ to create the army of Frankensteins?

RYAN: We used a lot of different tricks, bit the most successful one was simply locking the camera down and having our actor walk around the scene multiple times. As long as he didn't cross where he was on another take, it was simple to composite the takes together to create a single shot. We sometimes added even more copies using a green screen. 

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

RYAN: We were offered a good deal on using RED cameras but in the end we decided to go with two Panasonic AF-100s that we had been using constantly on other projects. One reason was to save money and the other was that we knew that camera inside and out.   

Not to get to technical, but people complain a little about the dynamic range of that camera compared to other options, but so far, critics and fans haven't seemed to notice and often comment very positively about the visual quality of the footage. 

We used some Zeiss lenses, but shot probably 90% of the movie on the Nokton Voightlander .95 50mm. I really love that lens. We were able to get some great stuff in low light situations.

How much did the story change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?

RYAN: Since we had written the screenplay, it read more like a blueprint. I left myself a lot of wiggle room and gave the actors a lot room to improvise.

Having said that, our story was laid out very specifically. We knew exactly what was supposed to happen and in what order. That did not change form the script to the final cut. After the movie was finished I had to go back and revise the original draft to match the movie for dubbing purposes. I was shocked to see that I had to rewrite almost every single line of dialogue.

What was the smartest thing you did during production?

RYAN: I'd say the smartest thing we did was putting all of our money in front of the lens. We knew we had to, to be even a little bit convincing as a period piece. We had a lot of great volunteer help with the crew, but we paid our actors and make-up artists. I did everything I could to make everyone feel like they were in a professional environment. I think that paid off because now we've got a dedicated group of people ready to jump into the next project.

And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?

RYAN: So much. I think the only true way to learn about making movies is to go out and make one.

I see Army of Frankensteins as the first rung on a very tall ladder that I'm trying to climb. I'm very proud of what our team has accomplished, but not satisfied. Filmmaking is essentially problem solving and nothing can prepare you for that like experience.  Hopefully, as we begin our next project, we'll be able to be more efficient and make less mistakes.

I also am much more savvy about the process of marketing and selling a film. We'll certainly be more aware of what buyers are looking for in the future.

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