The Short Cut is a new column on Under The Gun that showcases the careers of short film directors. Shorts are often overlooked when it comes to the entire spectrum of film, and by including interviews with the directors themselves and information about their creative efforts, this column will highlight the work of some of the medium’s dignitaries that we feel deserve your attention.
This year saw one of the most creative horror releases in recent memory with the anthology, V/H/S. Comprised of five found footage short films wrapped up in an intensely terrifying story arc, V/H/S explores new ground and old between several macabre styles and themes. Directors Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg and the film-maker collective Radio Silence all contributed their own segments to tie V/H/S together in one of this year’s most shockingly frightening films.
This installment of The Short Cut focuses on Radio Silence, the creators of V/H/S‘ final (and in my opinion, best) segment. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella came together with similar creative goals and dreams and have carved their niche in the short film world, releasing several efforts spanning a wide variety of genres. The film-making foursome took some time to speak with me about their involvement with V/H/S, their contribution about a Halloween party gone awry and some horror films that have influenced their collective work. Read through to get some insight from Radio Silence and make sure to see V/H/S (if you think you can handle it); now On Demand and in theaters October 5 from Magnet Releasing and Magnolia Pictures!
How did you guys come together as Radio Silence and begin making videos and short films?
We all joined forces 4 years ago to work on an interactive project called The Birthday Party and have been working together every day since. Our coming together was a perfect intersection of where all of us were at personally and creatively. We all were aspiring to do something larger with our storytelling and it was clear right from the start that we could achieve far more together as a group of collaborators than we could as individuals on our own. Sort of like Voltron.
How did you get involved with V/H/S?
Our involvement in V/H/S started with a comedy/horror short we made called Mountain Devil Prank Fails Horribly. When the project was finished and we released it online, we sent an anonymous email to Brad Miska over at Bloody Disgusting to get his omnipotent seal of approval. What followed was a series of conversations that began with Brad asking if we wanted to be a part of an anthology TV show concept he was developing that ultimately became V/H/S. We were the last filmmakers “hired” to shoot a short for the anthology and Brad was very clear, given that he knew the overall tone of the project based on the stories that were already in post, that he wanted something action based with strong comedy and horror elements. The idea of a group of good dudes who accidentally stumble into an exorcism was something we’d been kicking around for awhile and it was a perfect fit for what Brad was looking for.
What inspired the idea/theme for your part of the film?
We didn’t originally come from the horror genre. Our earlier work was much more in the action, adventure, comedy vein; telling stories about likeable, average dudes who end up in a situation that they’re completely unequipped to deal with. And this has really become the cornerstone of the style of stories we want to tell, regardless of the genre we’re working in; good characters who make tough choices, do the right thing morally (even if we learn later that it was ultimately the wrong thing) and find themselves facing the consequences of their actions. For us, truly terrifying and resonant horror is built around being on an adventure with people you love and can relate to. There’s something entertaining in the style of horror that’s all about watching bad guys get their comeuppance, but we’re more interested in putting average joes in anything but average situations.
10/31/98 felt entirely real. You guys looked genuinely terrified, confused, and excited, respectively, as if it were really happening to you. Why did you choose to act as the main characters yourselves and did you do anything specifically to bring those emotions out in yourselves while filming?
The main reason we cast ourselves in the film was out of necessity. Our short was the last to be given the greenlight and we had a very limited amount of time to put the project together before a rough cut was due. We had all acted together in various other projects and felt that, aside from the fact that we weren’t going to have the time to do a casting call, our friendship and the familiarity we have with each other was something that needed to be inherent in that group of friends for the tone of the story to work, and this chemistry can be a hard thing to fabricate from scratch. We were also genuinely terrified of the location we shot in and that fear definitely helped us achieve a heightened level of performance. Even after 3 days of shooting at the house, we all still refused to be left alone in any of the rooms. It was easy to find the physicality our story required because we all felt like we were running from something sinister while in the location.
The segment was extremely ambitious but you pulled it off perfectly. What software and techniques did you use to execute the effects so well?
Thanks! Our approach to visual effects for V/H/S followed a very similar path to all of our previous projects. We use Adobe After Effects for compositing and Cinema 4D for 3D models and animation. Our approach to VFX is always photorealistic, and if we know we can’t achieve photorealism with the amount of time and resources we have, then we change the idea. We did a short internet video once where we planned on a ghost attacking our characters. We never knew exactly what it would look like, but we knew the kind of things we wanted it to do so we shot everything with that in mind. Once it got to post production, it became obvious that the ghost wasn’t going to look as real as it needed to look, so it was changed to a creature that we eventually called the Mountain Devil. I think we’d all love to say that we know exactly what we want, but sometimes it’s more about reacting and working with what we’ve got. In V/H/S, the door and window sealing up, the handprints, the arms coming out of the walls, and the goon’s flying into the roof were all planned. The dishes floating in the air and then flying at the camera were an additional effect that we didn’t plan on. Originally, that scene was suppose to have the windows sealing up, but due to the difficulties of the task and the time given, we had to improvise. We do that a lot.
Was there any reasoning as to why your part was last in V/H/S?
We weren’t sure of how the shorts were going to be ordered in the finished film and we know that Brad was toying with the order right up until the cut was locked. When we screened a rough assembly, our short was in the anchor position, but at the end of our segment, Adam Wingard’s Tape 56 (the wraparound segment) popped back on for its conclusion. After watching this cut, Adam and Simon Barrett (Adam’s producer) felt that the definitive end of the film should be the final shot of our short instead. They argued a convincing case to Brad and the other producers.
What are you guys working on now that V/H/S is completed and circulating?
We have a long list of ideas; horror, action/adventure, comedy, that always seems to be growing. We’re excited to check the next one off the list.
What do you feel is the status of short films in a predominantly full-length scene? Overrated or overlooked?
Short films are an incredibly valuable storytelling medium, for audiences and filmmakers. Working within a set amount of time really forces a creator to make choices that pack the story with as much information, character, action, etc. as possible. It’s great practice. There’s also something to be said about working with an easily digestible length and process that doesn’t allow you to become too precious about the work. Short films are experimental in nature and the permissions and conventions can be incredibly fun to work with and to watch.
What are some of your favorite or most influential horror films?
We’re all big fans of films like Poltergeist, The Shining, The Strangers, Joy Ride, Alien, The Lost Boys, Evil Dead 2, 28 Days Later, etc. Most of these movies have done a lot to influence our work in the horror genre. Movies like Joy Ride (because of the blend of situational comedy and horror) and Poltergeist get brought up frequently while we write, so it’s safe to say they’re pretty influential to us.
What “found footage” film do you feel paved the way for the genre that has become so popular?
Simple; The Blair Witch Project. Everything starts there…
Between four minds contributing, how does your process work of bringing a film together beginning to end?
We do a lot of work in the writing phase and with four filmmakers attacking the same project at the same time, we usually have first drafts that feel like 4th drafts. Once we’re happy with the script, we start planning our approach to making the movie. This is an important step for the four of us because we need to make sure we’re all on the same page once we move into production. By the time we make it to set, we’ve had so many discussions that it makes it easy for us to make decisions as a group without affecting the flow of the process.
What is your ultimate goal as a filmmaking team?
We just want to keep making things together. That’s the plan. Since we love the entire process, from writing, to pre-production, to production, to post, to visual fx, it’s really kind of nice to work on something the whole way through and immediately start the next project. It’s also very hard to get in a creative rut that way, because you are constantly having exciting creative conversations and reinventing your role on every project. We also would love to branch out over several different mediums; features, shorts, television and digital. The way people watch their entertainment is constantly changing and we’d like to stay a bit ahead of the curve and keep people entertained over all of those platforms. But, in the end, we just want to tell good stories and have fun doing it.
Written and conducted by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter