'Jurassic Games' Director Ryan Bellgardt On Bringing Dinosaurs to (Virtual) Life

If you want to see dinosaurs chasing people around a modern-day landscape, you don't have to wait until June 22.

Boiling Point Media and Uncork'd Entertainment today released The Jurassic Games, a mash-up that blends elements of popular genre films like Jurassic World and The Hunger Games with a plot structure out of Death Race. The film stars Gremlin co-stars Adam Hampton and Katie Burgess in a dystopian adventure about death-row convicts forced to battle dinosaurs in a virtual reality jungle and fight against each other to be the last person standing -- and walk away to freedom.

Director Ryan Bellgardt joined ComicBook.com to discuss his genre mash-up, which is available for purchase on streaming services today and will be available on DVD on July 3.

How did this movie come together?

I work with my sales agent, a guy named Galen Christy with High Octane Pictures, and we surveyed the market a little bit. We talked to different buyers about what kind of movies they're looking for. When we got that information back, we found out that dinosaur movies were going to be popular -- obviously, because of Jurassic World coming out, and that kind of thing -- so we started coming up with concepts.

Galen's brilliant about knowing what buyers want, knowing what kind of things they want, not just in the United States, but all over the world.

He was saying to me, "I wish we could do a Jurassic Park/Hunger Games mash-up, because those two franchises have everything that everybody loves in them."

At that point it was really up to me to come up with some different concepts and ideas on how we could make that work. We talked back and forth about different ways to make it work, and finally I was like, "let's let the ridiculousness of a mash-up like this kind of work in our favor, and make the movie, in a way, be about that."

It became about this TV show, where they're calling it The Jurassic Games because that's what an audience would want to see. They've got the certain kinds of contestants on the show, because those are the kinds of contestants that people would want to see. They're actually being chased by virtual dinosaurs because "dinosaurs tested better that robots," which is actually true in our case.

There's a lot of stuff in the movie that's kind of meta in that way, because the movie was kind of a reflection of what it was like for us to actually make this movie. We translated our experience and what we needed to do to make the movie onto the television show that was presenting this to the world. That was a fun thing for us to do. There are lines in the movie that are right out of real life for us, trying to come up with a movie that would have everything in it that an audience would want. We had a lot of fun with that, actually.

The blend of the reality show and the violence and the cultural commentary felt a bit to me like Series 7: The Contenders, which came out right around the time Survivor launched. Any chance that was on purpose?

I've never seen [Series 7: The Contenders], but it was definitely inspired by Survivor in some ways. Before I wrote Jurassic Games, I started watching Survivor again, and I liked some of their ideas.

They had the little chains connected to little puzzles and things like that, and I found a way to use that. It helped to have the challenges on the game show be very simple, but then add dinosaurs to them. That was what inspired some of the situations the contestants are in during the game: All you have to do is solve this simple maze and you'll get a gun, and you'll win.

Then you just add the dinosaurs on top of it, then all of a sudden this simple puzzle becomes a lot harder to solve if a dinosaur's about to come chomp you down.

You thread the needle pretty well in this film, in terms of taking the material seriously enough without ever forgetting that it is pretty ridiculous on the face of it.

That's something that I want to do in the stories that we tell. The way that I'm making movies now is: we get a genre, an idea, like what I talked about earlier. I've got my sales agent saying, "Hey, we need to make this kind of movie, the buyers are wanting this kind of movie," and we could totally go that way like you're sort of expecting. But what's neat is I have the freedom and the leeway to try to take the challenge of taking an idea like this and saying, "How can we make this into an interesting story? Or how can we potentially ask questions or try to really mean something?"

Obviously you've got the campiness of the dinosaurs chasing guys around, but is there a scenario where that would actually really happen?

The Jurassic Games idea of a reality show that was based in virtual reality kind of made sense to me in that way. You can see how they might make a ridiculous show like this, to get as many viewers as they could, and they would have crazy things like a raptor maze and a T-Rex showdown and stuff like that to draw audiences in, and to get them talking about it.

Originally, we were just going to do something like, "they're cloned dinosaurs, and these convicts are on an island." I just found that the TV show aspect of it was a little bit more interesting. I actually have a little bit of background in broadcast TV and radio, so I had a little bit of that behind-the-scenes knowledge to draw on, understanding the idea that you'll kind of do anything, say anything, to get viewers and for ratings.

Then we thought, this would probably be controversial, so let's have a group of people try to take it down, which was another subplot that I thought would be cool. We had a fun time writing that, to where it all came together at the end, and the two stories met.

Another thing that we wanted to do: to come up with a story that would allow us to have our biggest stars, Ryan Merriman and Perrey Reeves, not on set for tons of days. We shot everything in that little studio in just a few days, which helped keep our budget down, but also felt like they're in the movie a lot.

As a movie that obviously is inspired by The Hunger Games, it's interesting that Joy is a kind of bastardization of the strong, young woman of that kind of fiction. Did you write that knowing it was something that Katie [Burgess] could kill?

We knew we wanted to cast Katie in the movie because we really liked her, and we worked with her on Gremlin, and she's a great actress.

Story-wise, we wanted the character of Joy to really be so evil that she didn't even need a backstory. I think part of the challenge of writing a really tight script like this -- where it moves very quickly and you have so many characters -- is that I try to come up with characters that the audience would be okay with not knowing everything about. You don't really want to spend too much time on backstory. For example, that's why I had brothers. Because you knew brothers would be thematically aligned, you didn't have to explain why they're aligned.

With Joy, we just thought, "Hey, you know what would be really fun? To have this character who's just crazy, and she likes killing people, and who cares why?" I think the host even says that in the movie a little bit later. Who cares why she's like this?

I like that about her, and it gave Katie as an actress a lot more flexibility. She could come up with her own backstory if she wanted to, but it wasn't really necessary. There wasn't any direction from me. We were just like, "Hey, you're crazy. You like killing people, and she's there to kill everybody and make everybody's life miserable." That was fun, and I thought she did a really great job on it, especially near the end when she has her big moment. I remember we were all filming that, and more watching her performance than filming the movie.

There are a couple of times in this where they change the course of the game because "okay, it's terrible TV if this happens." What was the math on when to use the deus ex machina of the network?

You hopefully get the sense that they are guiding who they want to move forward in the game, or who they think is dispensable. That's why there's a moment where the host calls the raptors off. The director comes in and asks, "Why are you doing that? Why are you doing that?" And he's like, "Because I wanna save them. I wanna see where their story goes."

So you get the sort of sense that behind the scenes, they're really callous, and they've grown callous to the idea that they're actually executing people. To them, it's more about entertainment and ratings. That's the fun thing to show: maybe you've got these 10 bad guys, but maybe the people that are running the show are the worst bad guys.

It was also a fun story to write and tell, because you could tell the story from different perspectives. You could tell it from inside the game, you could tell it from inside the control studios and you could also tell it from the perspective of an audience watching at a bar, or outside in the world. You've got people crying in the studio who are maybe not who you think they are, but then you've got people that should be crying that are laughing out in the audience, and it's a lot of interesting perspectives that you can play with. They all kind of examine how people might react to something like this if it were real.

That was the thing that was the most interesting for me to write, more so than dinosaurs, or dinosaurs chasing convicts, was more so how would people react to this kind of thing.

This film comes out not long after Avengers: Infinity War, which was a superhero movie where the villain was essentially the main character. I feel like Joy is that kind of character: she is clearly smarter and stronger than everyone else, and in another version of this, she is the hero rather than the villain.

I loved Infinity War for that reason. I thought that having a bad guy like Thanos being somebody who I thought was an actual threat to the Avengers, and somebody who you could almost sympathize with...

I can kind of see Thanos's point, right? Maybe if I was in his position, I would do the same thing, and I think that that's something that's always been interesting to me. If you can make the villains more sympathetic, I think that's really cool.

Even people that worked on the movie in the visual effects department, there were a few of them that were rooting for Katie's character and rooting for Joy.

I think that's what we tried to do with The Host and the director of the show, where they're villainous, but you can see they're just doing their job the best they can. You can kind of see their point.

Have you thought about the potential for a sequel?

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We thought of all kinds of ideas for a sequel. Obviously we'd want to upgrade the challenges, and I've had some really cool ideas for upgrading the challenges and upgrading the dinosaurs.

Even more than that, bringing back people you think might be gone...I think there's a way for them to still be there, because if you're talking about an advanced computer system and a virtual reality world, then who's to say how these people interfacing with this computer, and what's stored in there? If the construct is the contestant when they're inside the game, what is that really?