There’s the traditional route to a directorial debut; camcorder obsession, film school, an internship, personal assistant, directorial assistant, the keys to the store. And then there’s Radio Silence, a collective of four talented filmmakers who used YouTube to learn their craft, post their clips and advertise their wares with so much professional aplomb that Fox made all their dreams come true.
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella grew from the ashes of the former group known as Chad, Matt & Rob, three friends who had an idea, a camera, some technical expertise – much of it gleaned from YouTube tutorials –and got to work. Their breakout was Alien Roommate Prank Goes Bad, a found-footage style short they posted in February 2008; as of today, it’s been viewed more than 32 million times.
When Rob Polonsky left the group, they were joined by Justin and Tyler, reformed as Radio Silence and continued their YouTube domination, moving into a series of ‘interactive adventures’, narrative shorts in which the viewer guided the plot. Ultimately, however, they had ambitions beyond on-line media.
“TV and film were always the end game for us,” says Chad. “When we were in the digital space we were always working with concepts that felt bigger than even we maybe knew how to wrangle at the time. We were always wanting to make cool, big, cinematic things.”
Thankfully, writer Brad Miska was putting together a movie of found footage-style segments, and asked the soon-to-be-famous four to contribute. They were given a 17-minute slot, a $10,000 budget, and got to work: the movie, called part of a series called V/H/S, was a Sundance hit, and executives at Fox took notice.
“Lindsay Devlin had written a script and we got a phone call from John Davies at Fox when he was on vacation,” remembers Tyler. “We were standing in the parking lot of Poquito Mas on Sunset, literally spending our last dollars on lunch. He called, said he loved it on V/H/S, how he was really excited about it, and said ‘I think we should make this movie’. Literally the next day we were working on it.”
The resulting collaboration is Devil’s Due, starring TV’s “Friday Night Lights” Zach Gifford and Allison Miller, best known for her work on NBC series Kings and Go On, and the Spielberg-produced Terra Nova for Fox. The movie is a fresh, contemporary take on the Rosemary’s Baby-style horror story: as newlyweds, their lives are turned upside down when an unexpected pregnancy may be the devil’s work, with each twist and turn captured on ‘home’ video. “The point of view element is obviously it’s a much-used technique nowadays and Blair Witch Project was the first movie where the whole conceit of it was that it was real. It was really the first of its kind and felt so incredibly authentic,” says Tyler.
For “Devil’s Due,” tons of scenes and dialogue are improv’d according to the group. “All of the scenes and how they were serving the larger story were pretty specifically dialed in, but how we approached them, how the camera existed in the scene… there were many scenes where Zach was shooting with Allison and we were just there to make sure everything was framed right. It was an incredibly grass roots approach to each scene, and the improv was a part of that. Thankfully, Zach had been around cameras enough and is a photographer himself. I talked him through the camera for 15 minutes and there was a learning curve, and by the time we had shot a day and a half we knew exactly what we were doing, separating the scenes he was actually shooting from the ones we were shooting as him. It was a fun way to get him involved,” Matt shares.
Tyler concludes, “On YouTube the credit doesn’t matter – they’ll watch your stuff or not. That’s just how it works. It was never about credit-hogging, it was always about making cool shit. For the most part everyone’s been incredibly open to the idea of this group of four guys who want to make cool shit.”
“Devil’s Due” will be out in cinemas on March 19 from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros