In Ryan Bodie’s Christian-themed indie film series Click Clack Jack, a 19th-century train engineer named Jack "helps unfortunate and lost souls through generosity, kindness, and selflessness." Through him they find faith and life purpose. Bodie strives to do the same thing through his filmmaking. "One of the biggest reasons for starting Studio 26 was to help with ministry videos and Christian entertainment. There is a real need for both. My dream is to use profit from Studio 26 to produce high-end productions for ministries around the world and to produce clean entertainment for all ages."
In March, Bodie and the film’s co-creator and co-producer Keith Thomas traveled to Nashville to pitch their children’s series to Christian television networks and churches attending the 2008 NRB (National Religious Broadcasters) exposition. They also entered it in the Sarasota International Film Festival and plan to do the same with other major festivals.
Once that’s wrapped up, he’ll focus on another pet project, Real Treasure, currently in postproduction. Real Treasure was actually his first stab at a feature-length film, but it’s been simmering on the backburner for 6 years. Now, with a fresh (all-volunteer) cast and crew shooting on the weekends, Bodie says, "We are just about finished. I have to finish it," he adds. "I started it."
Bodie has started and finished a lot of projects, including an average of 55 wedding videos a year, untold numbers of regional and national broadcast commercials, corporate videos, music videos, and live event videos. It’s a varied repertoire, but it’s tied together with a common thread: storytelling. "We take our filmmaking to each of these mediums to tell a story and entertain. I have a passion for storytelling. I love it." Whether it’s a 30-second commercial or a music video (like the one he shot for Christian rock/metal band Since October, which will air on MTV2 in May), he says, "We have one objective: story."
"We filmed the music video over the course of two nights at an abandoned theater near our studio. The owner gave us full rein over the interior so we built sets, aged the walls, spray-painted lyrics and various elements onto the walls, buried lights, built a swinging light bulb marionette for overhead, and filmed." (For a sneak peek, click here.)
Believe it or not, Studio 26 Productions isn’t named after the number of projects Bodie can be found working on at any given time. He was simply 26 years old when he started the company. By then he already had a solid background in production. At Manatee Community College in Florida, he auditioned for the speech debate and acting team with renowned director Lynette Jett and received one of six full rides—a godsend since, at that time, he was maxed out financially. "I joined for speech and debate and then, oddly, fell in love with acting," he says.
The following semester he took a film course "and was hooked," he remembers. He graduated with a 3-year degree in child developmental psychology but turned down an invitation to the master’s program in favor of immediately re-enrolling in the film program, for which he received a 2-year degree. His final exam was a silent, experimental short called Sugar, inspired by the eponymous Louis Armstrong tune. His film explored drug abuse, societal class conflicts, and "a volatile relationship between a couple madly in love." He explains, "The girl was from the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks and desperately trying to get away from her life of living on the streets, drugs, and her ex-boyfriend/major drug dealer. Her love interest was from a ‘respectable’ family. He grew up in a nice house, went to private school, and loved his girlfriend. His father made him choose his life of everything or the girl. He chose the girl. In a fight to keep her he lost her, as she ended her life so that he could have a better life … or did the drug dealer end her life?" Regardless, Sugar won the Canadian International Film Festival’s Best Experimental Entry and helped Bodie land spots at NYC Film and UCF (University of Central Florida) Film.
Enter Studio 26
To offset tuition costs, Bodie accepted an internship with two-time Emmy Award-winning producer and director Bob Lorentzen. "He really took me under his wing and helped me to hone my chops for editing and directing. We would duplicate wedding videos for companies. Knowing my passion, Bob suggested that I start a company and bring my style of storytelling to wedding videos. This way, I could make money and use that equipment to make indie films when not working."
Bodie took Lorentzen’s advice and started Studio 26 Productions. "It was part time at first, doing a wedding video here and there for $200 mostly. Looking back I’m not even sure they were worth that. But people liked them." Back then, he jokes, "I would beg, borrow, and steal to get equipment. My first wedding was a three-camera ceremony only, and I used one VHS for the master wide shot, one Sony Digital 8mm handycam, and one Optima DV camera. The VHS was from a place I worked, the Sony Digital 8 was from my parents, and the DV camera was from school." Looking back, he wonders how he ever managed. "I shot three weddings that way before I borrowed money, with the help of my father-in-law, to purchase two Sony PD-150s and an Avid Editing Suite."
A Career-Making Move
With the feeling that he still had a lot to learn, Bodie accepted a morning show editor position with ABC "to get my foot in the door." This was all while working two other jobs and completing yet another film internship through school. It was a career-making move for Bodie. "I began staying after my 3 a.m.-to-noon shift to shadow news photographers. I did this for months, learning about white balance and shooting on-the-fly or run-and-gun. I learned how to tell a story in a few shots. The chief photographer was John Nopper, and I learned a great deal from him. Four months later John gave me a chance to shoot a story. All the shooters were out and a body was found nearby. I just finished my editing shift and out I ran with a Beta SP Camera. That first story too was pretty poor, I’m sure," he says, but within weeks he was a full-time shooter. One year later he was offered a job at Time Warner producing and directing commercials.
Time Warner taught him how to tell another kind of story with tight time constraints: a TV ad. "You still have all the elements of any other medium, but you have just 30 seconds to tell the story and create a call to action." He won his first ADDY Awards during his tenure at Time Warner. Meanwhile he’d been growing his weekend wedding business, which he was pleased to discover was more profitable than 50-hour weeks directing commercials.
The Key and the Treasure
So he devoted all his attention to Studio 26. "Within two years, with the help of my wife Erin, we took our small business and built it up to several full-time employees and started bringing in over $300,000 a year." Though Studio 26 is a decidedly Christian company, Bodie says, "We don’t care what religion you are." Studio 26 shoots a lot of Christian, Jewish, Indian, and Persian traditional wedding ceremonies. Being in Florida, about 70% of his weddings take place outdoors. In all these years, he says, "We’ve never been rained out."
Three full-time employees are now devoted to wedding work (which comprises about two-thirds of his business). Still, Bodie says he wants to "pull a ‘Jerry Maguire’ and produce fewer weddings so we can spend more time on each one," he says, as well as leave more time for his indie film projects, which allow him to grow professionally and produce films that are close to his heart.
Two such films, which involved entirely different shooting approaches, made the top 250 in the Project Greenlight and Miramax Films competition. "The first project, The Key, was DP’d and lit by Keith Slade, who also worked on Alex Kendrick’s 2006 film Facing The Giants. I was more of an audio location guy than anything," Bodie recalls. "I was surrounded by a great director, Jason Sotolongo"—whose national TV credits include spots for Best Buy and Dupont and Aaron Carter music videos—locations scout Missy Malloy, and producer Lisa Sotolongo. "Working with great industry people makes the day so creative. We shot on Sony Cinealta F900 with a full 10-ton grip truck and HMI lighting." While Bodie admits that "having a professional crew allows for more creative freedom," he found a different kind of freedom working on Real Treasure, which he "shot with Sony PD150s, no budget, a bunch of volunteers, and a vision."
"Now," he says, "I needed the right project to work on." While Real Treasure may not have been that quintessential "right project," Bodie says it did teach him something profound that led him to the right one: "If you have a dream, don’t let money, crew, or equipment stop you. Just do it." Which is exactly what he did with the project he came up with next, Click Clack Jack. Like the film’s hero, for his own work Bodie is banking on hope: "Dream as though it were impossible to fail."