Monday, January 13, 2014

A chat with Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, co-director of Radio Silence's DEVIL'S DUE - Part 1

 About three years ago, I ran an interview with some good friends of mine who had made a name for themselves with web short released as the comedy troupe Chad, Matt and Rob.  You can find all three part of that interview here, here and here.

Since then the team has reorganized as the film-making collective Radio Silence, with Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Chad Villella, and Justin Martinez.  Two years ago, they were among several filmmakers involved with the original V/H/S.  Many reviewers pointed to their segment, 10/31/98, as being the strongest of the bunch and most deserving of its placement as the film's closing segment.

Their first feature, DEVIL'S DUE, comes out this Friday.  It's already found a big fan in Eli Roth, who moderated a media event last month promoting the film.  The guys had some interesting things to say about the film and found footage in general, so if you're at all interested, you should check out the links below.

 In advance of the film's release, I arranged a two part interview with Bettinelli-Olpin, who along with Gillett, is credited as co-director. (Villella and Martinez are credited as executive producers, while Martinez is also credited as cinematographer and visual effects supervisor.)  In it we talk about found-footage in general, creative freedom and how one of the influences on the film was... The Notebook?

It's interesting that while you guys have done a fair number of "typical" narrative shorts for the web, the work that's made the most impact among a wider audience is all found footage. CHAD HATES ALIENS was your first viral short. MOUNTAIN DEVIL PRANK FAILS HORRIBLY was what got you V/H/S and your first foray into VFX, and then of course there's 10/31/98 from V/H/S

What are your thoughts on found footage in general and do you have any theories on why your work in it is so well-received? Is there something you're bringing to it that few others are? 

 There are obviously huge disadvantages when talking about FF, the most common ones are always "why are you filming" and too much "shaky cam." but there are also some advantages that we love -- mainly the intimacy you can create which in turn can heighten the humor and the horror. We love how intimate it can be, it's a real unique chance to bring the audience into the scene with the characters.

Since way back with CHAD HATES ALIENS, we've always focused on justifying the camera and making sure that it serves as an extension of the character and authentically have a place in the world of the story. But where the online pranks and V/H/S could literally be considered "found" footage, DEVIL'S DUE doesn't pretend to be footage that anyone has found or compiled, it's simply a story told through cameras that exists in that world. In that sense, it's a bit of an experiment that we were able to have fun with and as the character's lives spiral out of control we were able to mirror that journey visually by shifting to different (and hopefully creepier) POVs.

But all that said, our number on FF rule is always to be sure that the cameras in our story always function as an extension of character.

You guys have mentioned that Fox gave you guys a lot of creative freedom. Given that it's pretty normal for first-time feature directors to feel like their work is compromised, was that a surprise? Can you point to an instance where might not have expected the studio to go with an idea and they were won over? 

We wanted to create a sense of realism throughout so to allow for lots of improv within our scenes we had to meticulously structure the rest of the movie. And then try to hide that structure as much as possible. We're hoping to create an intentional feeling of free-flowing authenticity so from day one Fox agreed to let us go off the script a lot, as long as we got the scripted version first. But from there they were more of a creative partner than anything. We were given great and helpful ideas but never told "do this" or "do that" -- it was almost always left up to us to decide what should make the cut.

We found that a good conversation can go a long way, just talking through ideas as fully as possible whenever possible. And the people at Fox, Emma Watts and Steve Asbell especially, felt like true partners, not our bosses (even though they were, of course). At the end of the day, whatever felt like the best idea to serve the story would win out. And of course a few times that just meant trying all the different versions to see what truly fit the movie.

What do you think found footage skeptics will be most surprised by in this film? 

I wish I had a better answer but I feel like skeptics are always going to be skeptics and that's fine. We're not making a movie to change hearts and minds, we're just hoping to entertain people who want to be entertained and hopefully a little moved by Sam and Zach's plight.

We focused on their love story from day one. The first thing we said when we read the script was "let's hone in on their love story and then watch what happens when you throw a huge obstacle between them..." Not joking at all, we talked about THE NOTEBOOK quite a bit in terms of the horror of watching the person you love degenerate and being left helpless beyond continuing to love them unconditionally.

Read on in Part II!

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