Is the auteur theory – the idea that the director provides the dominant vision and voice for a film – on the way out? Perhaps not quite yet, but Radio Silence is certainly adding an interesting new wrinkle to the conversation. Radio Silence is the four-man filmmaking collective – they direct, write, produce, edit and do many of the visual effects – behind Devil’s Due, a new horror film that takes the classic idea of a sinister pregnancy and gives it a 2014 “found footage” spin (although the screenplay on this one was by Lindsay Devlin, not the Radio Silence team).
Radio Silence – which consists of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella – got their start making short films and putting them online, before breaking out with “10/31/98,” the final and perhaps scariest segment in the acclaimed horror anthology V/H/S, which was also done in the team’s preferred “found footage” style. That paved the way for the collective to direct Devil’s Due, which finds the foursome moving from the independent world into the leagues of the major studios (20th Century Fox in this case).
Den Of Geek had the chance to speak with Radio Silence and although all four men were in the room, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett (the credited directors on the movie) handled the conversation as we talked about bringing a team effort to directing, finding new ways to make “found footage” films interesting, and going up against the Mount Everest of “bad pregnancy” movies.
Den Of Geek: What has the process been like for you to transition from the independent film world to a large studio, and how has that affected the way the four of you make a film?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: So far it’s been great. In the beginning with Fox, there was a little bit of a learning curve in trying to figure out how to take what we knew and do it on their level. But that lasted a very short period of time and frequently it felt like they were supporting us doing our thing with a great crew and people who knew what they were doing better than we ever could, as opposed to us being pigeonholed into some other thing.
Tyler Gillett: But it was definitely tough. We really had to defend what we are as a group, because it is unconventional and it doesn’t fit into the way that studios operate and the way that the guilds operate. So we really had to support each other and it’s actually helped us become a better team because we really had to stand up for what’s great about us as a group and really represent that to the studio. And they’ve been fantastic about it.
For decades now, filmmaking has been dominated by the auteur theory, which states that the director is the singular, final author of a film. How does what you’re doing – working as a collective – fit with that theory or even oppose it?
MBO: We have a shared goal. We want to make the project the best that it can be, and that involves lots of conversations and lots of debates and —
TG: I think what’s different about our process is that automatically from the start with a group of four people approaching an idea, the ego and the politics of the process are really sort of removed, and that’s maybe what is different from the auteur filmmakers – and I’m not saying, of course, that they’re all egotistical people, but I think there certainly is a preciousness when you’re one person heading up a project to make it something uniquely yours. That can create some dangerous relationships in that process and things can become kind of political and kind of territorial. We just always want to be serving the idea.
MBO: The funny thing is, though, we still want to make something that’s uniquely ours.
TG: But instead of approaching it from a “this is my idea and it has to be done this way” standpoint, it’s “all right, guys, as a collective, as a group of guys who all have opinions and who all love to work together and who all love movies, what’s the coolest thing we can do? How can we make great?” And automatically, being part of a team, it sort of drains all those superficial stresses out of the process. I know it’s certainly been more enjoyable for us because of that.
MBO: And also as a group, we’re not just one sort of hive director. We edit, we do the effects, we do acting – not on this project, but on others – we do writing…it’s a filmmaking collective more than anything.
When it comes to the horror genre, do the four of you have different favorite styles or subgenres?
MBO: We’ve all got a great appreciation for all different kinds of horror. I’m sure we all have our own favorites, but at the end of the day we all like good, fun horror across the board.
TG: And I think we also all share opinions about what movies we love and what’s great about those movies. I think that as different as we are, opinion-wise and taste-wise, there’s a strange alchemy within the group that, when the right idea comes and we’re brainstorming and we’re looking for the solution to “x” problem, when that solution finally presents itself, it’s really sort of clear and unanimous why it’s right. I don’t think that’s something we can necessarily explain, but I think it’s just the luck of the four of us having found each other five years ago and having formed a relationship that thankfully, gratefully has led us to such a cool place creatively.
Obviously for a film with a subject like this, the elephant in the room is Rosemary’s Baby. How do you tackle this subject matter within the context of having that one movie that dominates that particular corner of the horror genre?
MPO: We certainly are all fans of Rosemary’s Baby, first off, and when we all read this concept and it was presented to us, it was really clear that that’s actually what was attractive about it. Not that it was a parody or a remake or an attempt to spin off the idea, but it was a story about two people and the intimacy of their lives and giving the audience a chance to peek in on that in a way that’s really kind of sexy and interesting and fun, but also has the potential to be really voyeuristic and terrifying, and it just felt like a really cool chance to tell an honest story. And then of course the analogy of the pregnancy and the changes that happen to a woman during a pregnancy was just a really fun thing to make scary.
You’re also working within the “found footage” style on this film. We’ve seen so many movies done in this style, both good and bad, so what was the challenge of doing the film this way, keeping it fresh and avoiding the pitfalls?
TG: Trying to surprise ourselves is a big part of that. As makers of POV movies, we’re fans of them as well and we’ve seen many of them. When approaching this story, it was always from a place of how can we do this in a way that’s exciting to us and isn’t something that we’ve seen before, and that feels interesting and doesn’t feel like the booby traps of the style that you hear people kind of criticize all the time. The question of why are you filming and where did the camera come from and how does it fit into the scene. That’s certainly the conversation that we have the most in the process of making one of these movies, and as cheap and as easy as people think these films are to make, that’s really a hard problem to solve if you want to tell a story that has some integrity, and we really wanted to do that – we wanted to make a movie that felt very much like it was something original and that there was a real attention to solving those problems that are inherent to the style.
You’ve just finished this movie, but do you have any other projects that you’re ready to tackle next?
MPO: Avatar 3 is probably our next thing, or Gravity 2 (laughter). We’re just hungry for whatever that next thing is, and honestly are so excited for the release of this.
Devil’s Due is out in theaters this Friday (January 17).