One of the most enjoyable aspects of the anthology film, especially those with multiple directors at the helm, is the sense of discovery that each segment encapsulates. As the short-form storytelling format lends itself to creativity and innovative framework, the element of surprise and subversion of expectations that can happen subsequently lends towards the moviegoing experience associated with a multi-faceted film. And when thematically falling in line with the vision of others and showcasing intuitive skills as a filmmaker, sometimes even by accident, a segment from an unknown talent or underdog can sometimes steal the show.
It was by these set of standards that the popular online filmmaking collective Radio Silence blindsided the horror genre with a frightening fervor in V/H/S, flooring audiences with their concluding segment, “10/31/98”. By not doubting the intelligence of the audience and injecting a ferocious dose of humor, the four-man team made a haunted house short for the ages and nearly upstaged established genre names like Ti West and Adam Wingard. And with their upcoming first feature film, Devil’s Due, shrouded in mystery, only the four directors (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez and Chad Villella) know what else they have in store for the genre world. Finally wrapping up our “First Generation: V/H/S” series, Diabolique spoke to the collective about their segment, their process and their future as genre filmmakers…
DIABOLIQUE: Your V/H/S segment, “10/31/98”, was one of the most ambitious out of the bunch, and definitely was one of the most inspired in terms of execution. How did you formulate the concept for this segment?
CHAD VILLELLA: That was one of our concepts when we were doing our digital stuff online. We always thought it’d be fun to have dudes dressed up in costumes going through hell. We thought it’d be funny in that way but we ended up steering it a little bit more in the horror direction for V/H/S when the opportunity arose for us to actually produce it.
TYLER GILLETT: Didn’t it originally start off as an exorcism gone wrong? I think it started as a group of guys becoming part of what they think is a joke exorcism. They’d be looking for a party and instead they’d walk into an exorcism, and that developed to become what “10/31/98” is.
MATT BETTINELLI-OLPIN: A lot of our online stuff was “Normal dudes going to do normal things that go terribly wrong,” and in a lot of ways, “10/31/98” was just an extension of that.
DIABOLIQUE: Was there any specific reason why you guys had the segment take place in 1998 rather than present time? Was that a technological catalyst to be in line with the V/H/S theme?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Yeah. It was born out of a camera that I had in college from ‘98/’99, and we really liked the look of it. We started talking and said, “Well, we could set it then and make it look authentic.” Then, we loved the idea that we didn’t have to deal with cell phones, because so many things in our short could have easily been solved with modern technology.
GILLETT: Including the whole “getting lost” part of it. It’d be over from the beginning, so if it’s in ’98, these guys can be looking for a party, go to the wrong house and they can’t just Google search it or whatever. Once we started going down that rabbit hole, it was fun to be like, “Let’s use a pager! What costumes would have been a part of a 1998 Halloween party?” The Unabomber was one of the costumes, too.
DIABOLIQUE: Yeah, that pre-millennium aspect does give a great lighthearted feel to the piece and adds to the misdirection. But I digress: considering that, aside from Joe Swanberg who had previously worked in genres outside of horror, you guys were the newcomers to this projects. You have a great following for your online stuff, but in terms of theatrical release, this was your first big effort and a chance to prove your name as a talent. Did you feel any extra pressure on your end to perform because of those expectations?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: No. I mean, yes, obviously, there was an inherent, “Gee, we don’t want to suck now that we’ve gotten people to support us,” but at the same time, our method was always doing what we wanted to and entertaining each other and making something we really like, and then hopefully, that’ll play for others like it did for us. So that worked for us [previously] and the digital stuff was a ton of fun, and V/H/S was still a short so it felt like there has just been a constant progression where we have to work a little bit harder and think of new things, which is where all the fun is.
GILLETT: Yeah, and one of the other cool things about how we came aboard V/H/S was that we were the last to get involved, so by the time [V/H/S Producer] Brad Miska came to us and vented a few ideas, and then we came up to them and said what we wanted to do was what eventually became “10/31/98,” we didn’t have a whole lot of time to second guess anything. From the time that they went, “Okay guys, go make your movie,” to the time that we actually delivered the movie, there wasn’t any chance to be nervous about it. We just had to jump in, all four of us, and make it fucking cool.
VILLELLA: Yeah, and the way we did it, too; we kind of created “10/31/98” in a vacuum. We knew nothing about the other segments and what those pieces were on. We just got one word descriptions and that was it. It was just like, “Go ahead and do your thing.” So we went and did what we did because we didn’t know what the bar was.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: And also, with V/H/S getting into Sundance and getting released theatrically, when we actually made the short, it was just basically Brad Miska, Roxanne Benjamin and Zak Zeman saying, “Hey, make something for this thing we’re doing!” Then we were like, “Cool!” and they were like, “Cool!” so we did it. It didn’t even have a name when we were doing it. We didn’t really know what it was going to be, and I don’t think really anybody really [knew]. Which was probably a good thing, because had everybody known that the goal was the festival circuit and a wider release, I think all the parties involved would have approached V/H/S from a more self-conscious place. So, the fact that V/H/S was this homegrown thing, that [aspect] allowed for us to create something that was more honest and gritty and raw rather than if we had that pressure.
VILLELLA: And the segments weren’t precious to us.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Yeah, it totally wasn’t precious. That’s a perfect way to put it.
DIABOLIQUE: Yeah, from doing this “First Generation V/H/S” series, it’s come to light that nobody really knew what each other were doing until they saw V/H/S at Sundance. Based off of that knowledge, what was your reaction from the first time you saw the other segments from V/H/S?
GILLETT: Well, I know that we were all super nervous sitting in the premiere. We knew that the other people who were there wanted to be there just as much, considering the nature of what the screening was: it was midnight show at Sundance after it had been snowing all day. So the people who showed up were really there to enjoy it. But we were still nervous about what the film actually was because the only thing that we knew was roughly what order the shorts were going to play in, but we didn’t know much about what those shorts were.
It was like 2-3 minutes into David Bruckner’s when there was the first sort of laugh/scare, and after that, there was a big collective sigh of relief from the filmmakers because we were like, “Oh, okay. People are actually getting it and watching it.” From then on, it was one of the most enjoyable screening experience I, or any of us, have had. It was so much fun to be there and see people react to it in real time. It was really cool.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: It was such a thrill, really. Regardless if people hated V/H/S, and obviously a lot of people do, I think we were still like, “Whoa, this is so neat!” We’re very wide-eyed about all of it.
DIABOLIQUE: As with many of your online pieces, the four of you pulled double-duty by acting and directing in “10/31/98.” What was your directing process like in terms of making sure you didn’t step on one another’s feet, so to speak?
VILLELLA: We just did what we always do. So we’d been working together for a couple years up until then, and we all know each other really well. We write together, and we sit together in the same room with no windows every day so we got to know how the process works. We all know each other’s strengths, too, so we know how to capitalize on that and get the best elements of the entire process, and keep it all in-house with just the four of us.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Also, by having four of us, it’s almost like we don’t fight, in a weird way. We don’t argue about things because we kind of have to listen to everybody. If there was just two, I feel like it’d be like, “I’m right!”, “No I’m right!” But with four people, it’s a democracy.
GILLETT: We also don’t wear labels. From the beginning when we started out, we’ve never given credits to each other because we came from the online world where credit doesn’t mean shit. People either like something or they don’t like it. Because we’ve never doled out prescribed roles to people, that gave us an equal investment and voice in the process. That continues now. We all are very much a part of every step of the process.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: We don’t have that group mentality, which I like. We’re like, “I think it should be A,” and then someone else is like, “I think it should be B,” and then we have to talk about it. We’re the opposite of each others “Yes Men”.
VILLELLA: We work out our differences from our debates.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: We also have a boxing ring in the office.
GILLETT: Lawn darts, too. [laughs]
DIABOLIQUE: As actors, was “10/31/98” a difficult project because of the various technical aspects and the kinds of digital manipulation that had to be pulled off?
GILLETT: I actually thought it was easier than most of the things we had shot. We had started shooting more conventionally beforehand, with a few found footage things scattered in there. But for the most part, we had shot these larger, more conventional stories. So coming into V/H/S and being able to literally strap a camera onto my head and capture the action, be natural and hang out with all of our buddies, the shooting of “10/31/98” was actually very easy and fun. We also shot in sequence for a lot of it, which makes things much easier. We weren’t jumping around as much as possible so we could create the illusion of longer takes and the chronology that comes with that.
DIABOLIQUE: V/H/S offer you all a lot of creative freedom in terms of storytelling but also limited the perspective as how it could be told. Did you find it difficult to work with the found footage techniques in this particular segment?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: No, not really, because once you figure out what the point-of-view is for the camera and the character, and you make those the same thing, it basically becomes telling that persons story through their eyes. So we just figured out what that is and we went ahead and did it. From a shooting point of view, it makes it very, very easy, as Tyler just said, so we didn’t have a lot of light or anything so it just became, “Alright, let’s just do it again and try this version.” So we got three takes in during the time it literally takes to do three takes. If the shot is 1 minute long, it takes us 5 minutes to do it a couple of times. That was nice.
DIABOLIQUE: Was there anything you wanted to include in this particular segment that you had while mapping it out or conceptually speaking that you couldn’t pull off, considering the found footage, the budget and the schedule of making “10/31/98”?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: I don’t remember anything [that we couldn’t pull off.] A large part of that is that we wrote it for the schedule and for the budget. When we were writing it, we had thought, “What can we do in 4 days with X amount of dollars?” and then proceeded accordingly, as opposed to the other way.
VILLELLA: We found the house three days before we started shooting. Then we did an actual walkthrough of the house so that we could make sure we could utilize each room for what it was and what we could turn it into on the way back down.
GILLETT: Another cool thing about how we work together, on this project especially, is that we start small, and then we show up with something very specific and small in mind, and then as we walk through it, we start having conversations and fleshing out what it is. Only then does [the project] become what it ends up being. So we never went into “10/31/98” planning on it to be this big thing and then have to scale back. It was actually the opposite. We went in planning on it to be these small, intimate shoot, and when we could do grow that and add effects and the crazier stuff was all born from the profits of making a small idea.
So I don’t think we ever once felt like we weren’t achieving what we set out to do. We were always feeling like we were doing more and that there was a wealth of ideas in our original concept that we only discovered during the making of the project.
DIABOLIQUE: Your V/H/S short has a very devilish sense of humor, even aside from the parts in the beginning. Was it important that “10/31/98” had an element of humor?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Yeah. We kind of lean everything that we do into comedy, including this. “10/31/98” makes us laugh and we think it’s funny, so our big thing is to always, always, always include humor. Not like “set-up/punchline” or jokes or anything like that, but that sense of humor you have with your friends, and it may not be laugh-out-loud but you don’t lose that sense of humor that you have in real life where you find certain things funny; also, how ludicrous things can get when you go out looking to have a good time.
VILLELLA: Also, that goes with a lot of the ways that we approach characters, because we want the characters to be very relatable and disarming, especially in “10/31/98”, because we like to lull you a little bit [into our segment] with a bit of humor and realism of the whole thing, and then take the training wheels off and go fucking crazy in the third act. Even though it is just a short segment, I think we had a good act structure for that short.
DIABOLIQUE: What is it, as a group, that you think makes horror and comedy work together so well, considering it’s so crucial to have it within your genre pieces?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: [John Dahl’s] Joy Ride. Joy Ride is the Holy Grail of horror movies that survives and is amazing because of the humor, and it’s not like jokey. The Shining is another one that we talk about where the sense of humor, in both of those movies, is so clear and so funny but you’re never taken out of [the film] by the humor. If anything, it’s the comic relief but not in a goofy or overt way. If anything, it makes the characters really relatable, like Lewis and Fuller in Joy Ride, because their relationship is what gets you through that movie and their relationship is funny. We try to avoid, although we still do it towards the ends of ours, full-on humor. Like jokes where someone is like, “What could possibly go wrong?” before something explodes. We try to steer away from that but we don’t always.
I also think that laughing and being scared compliment each other in an interesting way. One actually enhances the other, like if you’re laughing and not expecting a scare, then a scare is all the more powerful. Vice versa as well; if you’re scared by something scary and the relief is something that’s funny, you’ll laugh a little bit harder. Those two things have always been a good compliment to one another. [Horror Comedy] has become something that defines our style and will continue to be the first thing that we try whenever we have an idea. The first thing we’ll see is, “Can this be funny and scary at the same time?” It’s never like, “Let’s make a crazy horror film.” We always want that levity and reality that we all have in our lives, and that all comes from the characters.
DIABOLIQUE: On the V/H/S Blu-ray, your segment has an alternate ending where you guys survive the ordeal. What’s the story behind that? Was that the original ending you conceived?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: [laughs] That wasn’t the original ending, although that would have been great. That was the joke ending. That was something where, like I said earlier, when we were shooting “10/31/98” and it was easier for us to do alternate takes, and we did that a lot on this shoot because the camera was strapped to Tyler’s head. As long as Tyler could move, we could take another shot. So we thought, “Hey, let’s do one where we escape!”
DIABOLIQUE: Well, in that sense, did you guys always formulate the short with that “full circle” ending or was there ever a version where you guys would have gotten picked off, one by one?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Yeah, the ending that we used was a big part of it. The mentality was “We were in it together, we’re out of it together.” We loved the bookend of these guys in a car, having a good time, and the end up in a car and they’re having a really shitty night. [laughs].
GILLETT: The worst night ever.
DIABOLIQUE: You guys have your first studio film, Devil’s Due, aiming for release this January from 20th Century Fox. Did you guys want to continue working in the horror genre intentionally or was that more or less what was available following the warm reaction to V/H/S and your segment in particular?
GILLETT: Well I think we have always had, and always will have, an interest in horror, especially with stories that allow you to develop interesting characters. That’s really what we saw in Devil’s Due: we were really able to tell a story about some interesting people. Approaching it that way, we were able to find heart where maybe there wouldn’t be in many situations and then apply the genre stuff later. I think that’s sort of the model with the way that we approach any story. We approach it from the character’s first and then add in the cool “wow” factor on top of that.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: For us, all of the awesome horror elements in the best ones that we look up to, all play secondary to what could be removed from that movie and would work as a character drama. If you took the killing out of The Shining, it’d be about a guy going crazy. We could go on and on, but to us, that is what’s fun and the obstacle that you have to overcome in a horror movie would be a ghost or a haunted house or whatever the fuck it is, wherein a love story, it would be cancer.
DIABOLIQUE: Devil’s Due has a big and mostly young cast, according to the credits that have been released. How did that project originate, without giving anything away, of course?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: A woman named Lindsay Devlin wrote Devil’s Due and then we came along and worked with her on the script. Then we went to the Dominican Republic and New Orleans and we shot it earlier this year. We have Allison Miller and Zach Gilford from Friday Night Lights in the lead. They were fantastic, and it’s really their story. It relied a lot on them and they were really just a blast to work with.
DIABOLIQUE: Is there anything you can tell us about that project and considering the locales in which you filmed, is there any sort of Voodoo element to the story?
GILLETT: No, it was just a really cool place to shoot. [laughs]
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: It was the most gorgeous place in the entire world.
GILLETT: I think all of us were blown away by how much we loved New Orleans.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Unfortunately, as to what we can say, we have no idea.
GILLETT: We’re not sure about what we’re allowed to say or not allowed to say.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: We’d love to tell you everything, but we can’t. [laughs]
DIABOLIQUE: Totally understandable. Well, since you all starred in your projects thus far, do you all make an appearance in the film at all or are you going towards this project on a clearly directorial standpoint?
GILLETT: We approached Devil’s Due from a clearly directorial place, and we don’t have or need any supporting role in the film, which is actually really fun. For the first time, we all just got to step back and really direct in an involved, critical way. I think the movie is better for it.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: It was super weird to be on set and not have to worry about cleaning up afterwards or where in the budget the pizza is coming from. It was really jarring, actually, and took me a couple days to get used to. It was like, “Shit, we’ve only got one role here and not all of the roles.” It was bizarre.
VILLELLA: But it was fun!
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: We also had the best fucking crew ever; well, they were really our only crew ever but they were fantastic.
DIABOLIQUE: Aside from Devil’s Due, what else do you guys have going on, as a collective?
GILLETT: Well, right now we’re working on the television side of things. We had a pilot presentation that we sold to Comedy Central, which is funny enough, I guess, but it’s based on our digital stuff called The Interactive Adventures, where a couple of random guys go on a series of outlandish adventures. So we’re working on that.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Random guys?
GILLETT: Yep, Random. Three specific random dudes, although we’re changing it to two dudes and a girl for Comedy Central, and we’re working on that script now. We’re looking to shoot that in the fall and get that to Comedy Central before the end of the year.
VILLELLA: And we’re not sure about how we’re going to leak them but we have a Radio Silence sex tape that’ll come out in fall or spring, and that’ll be really cool.
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Yeah, that’ll be super good.
GILLETT: Brutal, that’s what you would say it is?
BETTINELLI-OLPIN: Brutal, yet sensual. [laughs]
V/H/S/2, which features segments from V/H/S director Adam Wingard, as well as Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, is currently available for rental on VOD, iTunes, Amazon and other streaming services, and is available for preorder on DVD/Blu-ray, which will release September 24th. For more from Radio Silence, visit their original website or you can follow them on Twitter: @hiradiosilence. Radio Silence’s segment can be seen in V/H/S, currently available on DVD/Blu-ray and Netflix Instant Streaming. For more on Devil’s Due and Radio Sielnce’s future projects, keep checking back at DiaboliqueMagazine.com! Don’t forget to pick up Diabolique #17, now available for preorder, which features more on Horror Comedy from the likes of Alex Winter, Doug Benson and Lloyd Kaufman, and even more exclusive comments on V/H/S/2!
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.