When you read the credits for the new horror/comedy Ready or Not, the directing credits will read “Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet.” However, they, along with executive producer Chad Villella, make up the filmmaking collective Radio Silence, friends who have been working together since the mid-noughties.
After working on a slew of massively popular online videos and interactive adventures, Radio Silence was hired to direct the final segment of the horror anthology V/H/S. The filmmakers directed the features Devil’s Due and Southbound.
With Ready or Not, Radio Silence has brought its brand of storytelling to a wider audience who may not be ready for the wild ride the filmmakers have created out of Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy’s script. We had some time to talk to the trio about what it took to get this project off the ground, its talented cast, and what games they might want to die playing:
When Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy’s script came to you guys, was it always the same as what we generally got? Or did it lean a little bit more toward the straight forward horror side or maybe the more outrageous comedy side?
Tyler: Actually, when we got the script, one of the things that we were blown away by was how specific and consistent the tone was. I would say that overall, the tone of the movie didn’t really change much over the course of development. What you see on the screen now was really well represented in the earliest drafts of the script. We obviously went in, we made a bunch of tweaks in development, but thankfully, the thing that we never touched, and never wanted to touch — and this is us, the producers, and thankfully the studio — was that really weird, unique tightrope that the movie walks the entire time. It’s a real feat of writing that it worked as well as it did on the page, and it was so convincing, that it was something that we were all desperate to protect as we were moving the project forward.
That being said, when attaching yourselves to the film, what was the more interesting part you wanted to explore. Was it the overall message? Or was it that madcap journey that helped deliver it?
Matt: I think it is an even mix of both. That was sort of the magic of it for us, that you had this cool, biting social commentary that we all love and then you also had this incredibly fun, survive the night thriller…and it’s funny. For us, it was those things, and the characters being so well written and so distinct. It’s like 7 or 8 main characters, and they all have a very unique perspective. It was a mix of all that for us, and it just thrilled us. We just had to try and make this.
Do you think this is the type of film that could be made without being satirical?
Chad: I don’t know, this one in particular, I think it needs to have that ability to not take itself too, too seriously. That is the way we always try to approach things and the way we work with all of our projects. You always want to have a little bit of levity in it in some way to give the audience some sort of release that maybe they were not expecting. I think even in V/H/S we had some things that were a little comical or funny in it. But I guess that is a taste question. The serious version of this would be a much different movie, but that is actually a really good question.
When it came to casting Samara Weaving, beyond what you knew she could already bring to the table, did it help knowing that she already had some credits to her name that were within the same genre?
Tyler: We are huge fans of all of her work. Fox Searchlight actually pitched Sam to us. When we were first starting the casting process, we knew we had to build the entire acting ensemble around the character of Grace because she is out point of view. We walk into the insanity of the movie with her character. So it was essential that everything be built on that foundation, and when we met Sam — and of course we had known her body of work at the time, and are huge fans of her ability, not only to do the horror and dramatic moments, but also to pull off the action in a way that feels extraordinarily convincing and grounded and real. We were certainly familiar, and knew that she had the skill set, but I don’t think we were prepared, at all, for just how great she is. She over delivered in every way for us.
There is a fearlessness, and a vulnerability, and a strength…there is just something about her that is so eminently watchable, that you root for her from the jump. You want her to win, the second that you meet her in person, and the second that you see Grace on screen. The stakes are really high because you care about this person. A lot of that is just who Sam is. She’s a really wonderful person, she is great to work with, and she’s incredible on-screen. She’s really, really good at her job.
You’re also graced with the legendary like Andie MacDowell. Not only is she in your movie, I don’t think she’s ever done anything like this before?
Matt: She hasn’t, and she really embraced that, which we are so grateful for. On her first day of shooting, we shot the fight scene with her and Samara, where they basically fight to the death. It was supposed to be the second day of shooting, but we got rained out and had to do some rearranging. So, day one, and we’re still a little star struck because it’s Andie MacDowell in our movie — which still feels surreal — and she’s throwing punches, and choking Samara, and she had a moment after the first or second take. She turned to us and said, “Guys, I’ve never thrown a punch in my life. Not in movies or in real life. So let’s really figure out how this is going to work.” From that moment on, after starting with such a wild, not really what you’re expecting from Andie MacDowell kind of moment, she just embraced it wholeheartedly.
Chad: She also — what I think we got really lucky with in Andie is she also brought everything we loved from her as an actor to the movie. It’s all the stuff we love about Andie, and then this new thing you’ve never seen.
You also get Henry Czerny, who really brought that great sarcastic nature out for the role.
Matt: Yeah, Henry really blew us away. We’re familiar with his work, we love him, and he brought something to that character that was kind of hinted at on the page, but I think Henry really brought that character to life in a way that none of us expected really, but as soon as he did his thing, we were like, “Oh my God! We love him. Let’s lean into this.” To his credit, and this probably goes for everybody in the cast, he really trusted us to be able to really blow it out and go for it on this because he was aware of the tone. He was aware he had to play it straight, but he’s also insane! He manages to ground this character that is so unique. We can’t even imagine the movie without him. We now have no idea what Tony would be if it wasn’t played by Henry.
Tyler: I’ll also say, to that end, we knew how great of a dramatic actor Henry is, having been fans of his work, but I don’t think we were prepared for how funny he is. He is one of the most hilarious human beings we’ve ever met in our lives. So much of the mojo and the vibe on set was something that Henry set,in a lot of ways. Every time he was in a scene with people, everyone was just laughing their asses off. He is wildly professional and he takes his work very seriously, but he also knows, at the end of the day, everyone’s showing up to play make-believe. I think he is really aware of the fun and the artifice of what the product is. He set the tone on set whenever he was around and he was an absolute pleasure to work with.
Did the fact you were filming this at actual locations as opposed to stage sets, did that pose any issues with the type of movie this is?
Chad: We were lucky enough that the dining room scene was in the only physical location that allowed us to get blood everywhere; that worked out well. We weren’t allowed to use blood in the other locations. The house is comprised of mainly three separate places throughout Toronto — Casa Loma, The Parkwood Estates, and WYCA. We knew we had to find a place that would let us have blood for that scene. We’re not big fans of CG blood, obviously we can use some to enhance it, but the more practical it can be, the better for us. In terms of location and special effects, we love doing things practically because it lends itself to a more visceral and real feel, which just feels better when you’re watching it. The only thing we ended up building, was the bottom of the goat pit, and we shot that on the very last day. We built it upstairs in a barn, right above where we shot [Samara] falling into it. So that was an interesting dynamic — falling downstiars to then go upstairs, to be down below that.
Matt: I was confused just hearing it and I shot it.
I think it is funny talking about practical effects because I first became aware of Radio Silence through V/H/S, where your portion was really relying on what seems like CG. It doesn’t seem though like that is part of your MO. I wonder if that is what people expected from you after V/H/S?
Tyler: You know, when we first started, we really didn’t have any access to digital effects. When we were first all working together, the visual effects stuff was always along the lines of, if there was an effect that was going to appear in anything, it was something that would be photographed practically and then comped in. Part of that was, we really didn’t have the practice, or the time, or the money to do actual legitimate effects. V/H/S was the first time we really…well, we did some stuff on our interactive adventures that had some effects work, but for us, it was always about, those were the moments where you over-delivered. The stuff that was important, that was at the core of the story, were the characters and the practical situation that they were dealing with.
Ready or Not is really like a return to that for us. We really like those big, fun genre moments, but it’s a character story at its heart. Hopefully, the icing on the cake is that end, where shit goes really crazy. We’ve built up this inevitable outcome to such an extent that when it finally happens, it’s so satisfying. Yet, we really wanted to keep the movie grounded in every way we could, so we knew that handling things practically was just going to be the right touch for this movie. It feels really tangible and real, and it gives something for the performers to react to and act against, which makes the whole thing feel more believable and engaging.
Ready or Not obviously revolves around a game of hide and seek. What game would you want to play if you were forced to play something to the death?
Matt: Maybe Monopoly because it never really ends.
Chad: Yeah, but you would just die of boredom.
Matt: Yeah, you just die of boredom after 8 hours of buying and trading property.
Tyler: It’s funny to think about the genre spin on a game. It’s what so fun about board games, right? You’ve transposed all the stakes of winning and losing, and life and death, into this fun, silly, innocent experience. It is definitely a fun thought experiment to think about. What would be a real life peril version of Boggle, or Scrabble, or Sorry?
Matt: Shoots and Ladders!
Of course, we don’t know yet, but if there is a Ready or Not sequel, do you think it would be about following the box/game or a continuation of Grace’s journey?
Chad: Yeah, we haven’t talked about sequels, but if we were going to develop it, I think following the box is a great idea, and let’s us tell someone else’s story. Or even turning Grace into an Ash like character from Evil Dead, where she is hunting down these awful human beings and destroying them one by one.
Tyler: I say whatever gets Sam to work with us again, that is the one I want to do. Whatever project, sequel or not, that we want to do, we just want her to be involved.
Ok, so we can expect to see her in The Memory Thief?
Tyler: Ah, well, we’ve had that conversation.
Ready or Not is in theaters now.
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