The directing quartet Radio Silence talk about their segment of the horror anthology V/H/S, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD
The horror anthology V/H/S is comprised of six short films made by a host of celebrated directors. One of those filmmakers is actually of a quartet of young directors known as Radio Silence (a.k.a. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella, and Justin Martinez). They make their feature debut with V/H/S, after making a popular series of viral videos through their YouTube channel, which has over 60 million views. Their segment of V/H/S entitled 10/31/98, which they wrote, directed, edited, shot, and starred in, follows a group of friends who think they're going to a Halloween party... and get much more than they bargained for. I recently had the chance to speak with these talented multi-hyphenates over the phone. Here's what they had to say.
I'm always curious about how these anthologies come together. When you were first approached for this, was this an idea you already had for something else?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: We had thrown around a version of that for awhile. I believe it was called The Halloween Party, really, really breaking the bounds of title imagination. When (producer) Brad Miska came to us to be involved with V/H/S, we pitched him four or five ideas, and that was one of them. It was our favorite and his favorite, and it just took on a whole new life, in the found footage world and the story we were telling. It was a story we had kicking around in some form, more like the wocka-wocka version of what happens.
Tyler Gillett: It didn't take much exploring of what Brad's sensibilities are, as far as the genre goes. Then, of course, with the other filmmakers who were involved, we thought there was a real opportunity to make it funny but also really, really dark and haunting. That was a really fun opportunity for us, to take this idea that was originally conceived as more comedy than horror, and give it an appropriate balance between the two.
When this came together, you obviously knew that other filmmakers were involved, but did you know anything about their stories? Or was everything compartmentalized?
Chad Villella: We saw the cut of everybody's shorts at the final sound check. We didn't see any other footage, we didn't know what anyone else was doing. We did what we had to do, and it was really fun to show up and watch everybody else's shorts, the way they pieced them together, and the order they put them in too.
Tyler Gillett: For a style like this, found footage, it's funny that the only information we had about the other people's shorts was how they were using the style, and how that influenced the story we were going to tell. We knew that Joe Swanberg was using the Skype camera, and we knew that Ti West was using the honeymoon home video look. Given that, and what we desired to do with found footage, we knew that people were trying to fix some of the problems they had with that style, and answering the questions that they didn't think were answered in some of the other found footage movies they had seen. We knew it was a smart group of filmmakers who were tackling it in a smart and experimental way, and that really set the stage for what our approach was going to be.
Were you always planning on starring in this as well?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: We talked about casting the roles, but it was such a short schedule. We basically got the go, and we were shooting about a week later. Casting wasn't really an option. We were like, 'Well, if we're going to do it, let's be in it. Have some fun with it.' It turned out to be a ton of fun. The only role we cast with somebody we had never met before was Nicole Erb, the girl in the attic. Everybody else was a friend.
Can you talk about where this actual house is, and how long it took you to shoot this?
Chad Villella We found the house about three days before we shot. It came together at the last minute. It was in Altadena, which is just north of Pasadena. We found the house and did a walk-through, and it was terrifying, even in the middle of the afternoon, and knowing we would have to be there for two nights. The first time we walked in, for the initial location scout, there was a phantom radio somewhere playing "Bohemian Rhapsody." We made it into the kitchen and we all just stopped and went, 'Where the hell is that coming from.' Somebody left the radio on, and we had to go and turn it off. It was just terrifying. That kind of set the stage for it.
That story is great, trying to find the radio, because one of my favorite parts of the short is where you hear these really faint noises that keep gradually getting louder. At first, I wasn't sure what I was really hearing, and as they kept moving, you realize something is going on upstairs. I thought that was a really awesome aspect of it. That was a lot of fun.
Tyler Gillett: Yeah, that was a really fun aspect to play with, planting those bread crumbs deeper and deeper and deeper. Walking through and getting scared in each room just wasn't enough. There needed to be something that they were trying to discover. They needed to be hearing something. That was really fun, to plant the bread crumbs that get them deeper and deeper into peril.
I believe two of you did the camera work as well. Was there anything you had to unlearn to make this look like a couple of kids who just have a camera?
Tyler Gillett: That's a great question. I think the easiest solution to that problem is to put it in a place where it couldn't be controlled. I was in the nanny-cam costume the whole time, and the camera was on my head for the whole film. There were certainly moments that needed to be choreographed, to a certain extent, so the visual effects could work. Those were, by and large, the most challenging shots, because they needed to speak to a certain technical proficiency that allows us to tell the story that we want to tell, but they can't be so perfect that the audience feels like it's lingering too long, that it's paying too much credit to the visual effects. There is definitely an intentional choice to always be in motion, to always be looking around, and to never linger for too long.
I'm not sure if you know this or not, but were the production schedules for each individual short staggered a bit, or did everything come together at the same time?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: We were the last group brought on. I think Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett shot the wraparound first, about eight or nine months before we shot ours, so that was a period of shooting and everybody kind of did their own thing at their own time. There was very little, if any communication, especially for us. We had never met a single one of the other guys involved. We knew Miska and (executive producer) Zak Zeman and those guys, but that was it. We hung out with all of those guys for the first time at Sundance.
It seems like there are more of these dual directors, brothers or husband and wife, but we don't usually see a four-headed monster like you guys. Can you talk a bit about your style? Does each one of you have a certain aspect of the production is yours?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: We're actually a mythical beast.
Tyler Gillett: You know, in the beginning, we used to all have a slightly more specific role, and that just disappeared, the more we worked together. Whatever it is, that faded, and a couple of years ago, we were kind of all doing everything. It's true. It seems to be the next way. After V/H/S premiered at Sundance, we heard all these people saying, 'Hey, we're doing the same thing in Texas. We're doing the same thing in Georgia.' YouTube has a lot to do with that. We just found it was way more productive, way more fun, way more inclusive, to be like, 'We all have a voice,' from page one of the script to the final edit. It never changes.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: I also think there's a real desire to just stay involved throughout the whole process. The old style of filmmaking is everyone comes in, does their job, and walks away and hope that you did it right. There are so many steps along the way, where movies can either succeed or fail. We just want to be involved in every single step of that process, and every creative conversation. There is no desire to just walk away and let the other people take care of it. At some point, all of that is directing, so it just made sense to become the four-headed beast instead of just parsing out these strange credits.
Is there anything else you're working on now, or that you know is going next?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: We have a list of ideas. We're having a lot of conversations right now.
Justin Martinez: About how much people don't want unicorn movies.
Justin Martinez: You know what though? Found footage unicorn movie? I don't know what's wrong with this city.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: But it's across all genres, whether it's horror or action-adventure, comedy. The process is the same for us, and we love the process so much. We hope to have something rolling really soon.
Justin Martinez: We're definitely looking for a feature of our own. We've done the short thing, so that's definitely the next step.
What would you like to say to anyone who's curious about V/H/S about why they should check it out on VOD this week or in theaters October 5?
Justin Martinez: I think they should go download it for free right now (Laughs). No, go with your friends. It's definitely a party movie.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Just to go in with an open mind and to have fun. It's a loud, raucous experience, and I think there's something in it for everyone.
Tyler Gillett: It's fun to talk about after, because everyone has their favorite parts, and the parts they hate. People have this desire, this default setting, to go into a found footage movie ready to skewer it and ready to criticize it. That's totally fine. Myself, as a movie goer, I don't go to a movie ready to hate it. I would encourage people to go ready to enjoy, because there are some really fun moments.
Justin Martinez: Also, if you're of age, and you watch it on VOD, there is a very fun drinking game online. So that exists.
Great. That's my time. Thanks so much, guys.
Radio Silence: Thank you.