Andrew Getty spent millions of dollars and the better part of a decade attempting to make his directorial debut as a filmmaker – only to see that dream dissolve into a nightmare.
The 47-year-old oil heir, who died of probable natural causes on March 31, was a horror film fanatic who sank part of his own fortune into his longtime passion project.
Getty wrote, directed, and produced The Storyteller, the sadistic tale of a mentally handicapped boy whose dreams are haunted by a demonic creature that orders him to go on a murderous rampage. Production began in 2002 and dragged on until 2008, mostly due to complications with funding and problems between Getty and the cast.
Getty, who wrote hundreds of un-produced scripts, based the film on his own childhood nightmares, says Ryan Readenour, a post-production producer on the movie who became close friends with Getty.
“When he was young he would have these really powerful, sick, twisted dreams,” Readenour tells PEOPLE, “and [they were] so shocking to him that he didn’t think they came from him.
“He had this idea it was this ‘storyteller’ who was creating these crazy dreams of his, and that was kind of the genius of the [film’s] story.”
Much of the principle photography was shot in the mansion where Getty was found dead and where he had amassed a large collection of skulls, puppets, DVDs and animatronics that he made himself.
One clip from the film shows the prehistoric bird skeleton that Getty kept in the foyer of the Los Angeles estate.
The film’s budget is listed at an estimated $4 million on IMDB, but Readenour says Getty sunk closer to $6 million of his own cash into the project. Although the movie sports a respectable cast for an indie film – including Michael Berryman, who starred in The Hills Have Eyes, and Sean Patrick Flannery from The Boondocks Saints – Readenour notes that Getty blew much of the budget on wasteful purchases.
“He bought millions of dollars worth of equipment instead of renting it,” says the producer. “He had all these trucks, cameras and lenses. The people around him didn’t advise him the right way.”
He was also a “perfectionist” obsessed with creating his own complex special effects and animatronics.
“In one of the scenes was a spider octopus thing he made himself,” says Readenour. “It was very elaborate.”
While he acknowledges the film probably wasn’t up to par for a theatrical release, the producer believes “if it was wrapped, [Getty] would have gotten a DVD deal based on the names in it and the quality.”
In addition to the unnecessary spending, Readenour remembers Getty “had conflicts with the cast” – one of which even resulted in a lawsuit with a studio assistant named Ingrid Jacobs, according to the DailyMail.
(PEOPLE has confirmed Jacobs did file a lawsuit against Getty in 2002, although the details of the case file have been destroyed pursuant to a court order in 2013.)
Ultimately, Readenour says Getty simply ran out of cash. Despite his assets and trust fund money, the son of one of the richest men in the world couldn’t come up with the final “million or half a million” he needed to finish his film.
“I remember him saying his dad is very conservative,” Readenour says. “I don’t think they would give him the money to wrap.”
His failure to complete The Storyteller was a “devastating” and “traumatic” experience for Getty, according to the producer.
Although Getty will never see the film completed, a rep for the family tells PEOPLE that “there may be a push to get it released” posthumously in honor of his memory.
• Reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK
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