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Arts & Entertainment

Bonus Features’ Latest Short Proves the Strength of North Texas’ Film Scene

Ryan Polly’s “I Bet You’re Wondering How I Got Here” is an entertaining crime-comedy that doubles as a testament to the talented cast and crew who work in Dallas-Fort Worth.
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The cast of "I Bet You're Wondering How I Got Here," a short film that is generating big buzz around Texas. Julio C. Cedillo

Four thieves, a bank robbery, and a meeting to deliver their ill-gotten gains to a notorious criminal: “I Bet You’re Wondering How I Got Here,” the latest short from director Ryan Polly and North Texas-based production company Bonus Features wears its genre inspirations on its sleeve. 

The 15-minute film, set in the 1970s, could have easily been little more than an exercise in style, paying homage to classic films like Reservoir Dogs. But in the hands of Polly, who co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Black, and his cast and crew, the film becomes a riotous crime-comedy thanks to a twist. All four of the thieves are secretly undercover law enforcement agents are planning on arresting each other.

“I Bet You’re Wondering How I Got Here” was filmed at Dallas’ South Side Studios in the studio’s mill shop. The cast and crew are peppered with North Texas natives. That’s common for Bonus Features productions, which is leveraging local talent in front of and behind the camera to prove you don’t have to go to Los Angeles or New York to have a successful career in film.

Polly, producer Grant Wakefield, and their colleague Daniel Routh—who was the director of photography on the short—began building out a commercial production company (now called Weekend Video) in 2015. The trio is from the Denton area and saw this as an opportunity to use their interest in filmmaking to grow a business.

“We always had the dream of making movies,” says Polly. They eventually set up Bonus Features as an offshoot of Weekend Video, to focus on film production.

 “[It was] purely a passion project that we were hoping to one day…as we continue to make short films, kind of grow and grow and then eventually get into the feature film business,” says Polly.

That passion project has produced 13 short films and is in varying stages of development on three features. These shorts have served as calling cards for their work and that of their collaborators. “I Bet You’re Wondering How I Got Here” has been warmly received on the festival circuit, winning an Audience Award at Fort Worth’s Lone Star Film Festival.

“Everyone we’ve ever…mentioned [the premise] to has always either laughed or chuckled or…smirked,” says Wakefield. “And Ryan has done such a great job of executing on that premise successfully that…we’ve talked about for so long, [we’re now] hearing people…seeing the final film…respond to it, and feel like, ‘Okay, yeah, we were able to…follow through on it.’”

While Bonus Features productions are not strictly confined to North Texas, Wakefield and Polly say the majority of their projects have been filmed in Denton, Fort Worth, or Dallas. “I Bet You’re Wondering How I Got Here” continues this trend.

The team settled on South Side Studios in the Cedars during pre-production when looking for a location that would fit the film’s 1970s aesthetic and still accommodate the needs of a modern production, such as access to working restrooms. Their production designer recommended the mill shop, which ended up being a perfect fit: a large warehouse-like space that needed limited set dressing to take viewers back 50 years.

Location alone wouldn’t be enough to sell the retro look Polly wanted, however, and they were further helped by costume designer Elizabeth Farrell. “Sh had all these incredible looks that…obviously go a long way to sell that period,” says Polly.

The cast does a tremendous job playing the comedic elements of the story, committing fully to the bizarre circumstances Polly and Black have conjured up. Polly worked with prior collaborators like Jacob Daniels and Gunner Willis on this production while also bringing new faces to the Bonus Features roster. Julio Cesar Cedillo, known for his work on Cowboys & Aliens and Sicario, was a major get for the short, playing the villainous Terry Barrera.

“[Cedillo] had seen my previous short, “Pizza Time,” and sent me a message on Instagram,” says Polly. Cedillo lives in Fort Worth and expressed interest in collaborating with Polly on a project. 

“I’m just so happy with our cast,” says Polly. “I just think everybody’s so perfect for [their] part. And in this movie… the characters aren’t super deep. You know, they’re kind of archetypes of characters. But that was intentional on my part, because I knew if I got 15 minutes, I really want these characters to feel clear and feel like they each have a little mini arc.”

A major reason the Bonus Features team has been able to carve out a space for themselves and lay the foundation for their brand is the strength of the D-FW film scene. They can work with experienced professionals such as Farrell and Cedillo, elevating their finished product and providing work for talent who don’t want to relocate to more traditional film hubs.

“This is home for us,” says Wakefield. “Plus, we just know so many incredible…filmmakers [and] crew people that…we didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, we have to immediately go to L.A. That’s the only way…to make this reality.’”

“We have the Taylor Sheridans [creator of Yellowstone] who are making the big TV westerns, you know, these big Paramount shows here, and then we have people like David Lowery, who every few years will make a movie in Dallas, but there’s…so much room for further kinds of films,” says Polly. “There’s such a diversity of looks and locations but also just really talented filmmakers here that are ready to work.”

As they work toward producing feature films, Bonus Features’ existing productions (many of which, like 2022’s “Stalled,” are available to stream for free on YouTube) represent the level of craftsmanship at hand in DFW’s film scene and the variety of projects that can be made—and made well—here.

“It’s like…how can we continue to bring more work here,” says Wakefield. “There’s a lot of incredible, you know, crafts people right here in D-FW. It’s just a matter of…continuing to have this sustaining work that lets them work here in their hometown.”

“We love making movies,” says Polly. “And we love…working with people here.”

Author

Austin Zook

Austin Zook

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