One of the nice surprises at the box office this weekend was that Fox Searchlight’s Ready or Not ended up making $10.5 million since opening last Tuesday. That isn’t bad for a movie reportedly cost $6 million to make, and apparently, that is the smallest budget for a movie produced directly by Searchlight (rather than being bought from a festival).
Ready or Not is the work of a filmmaking collective called Radio Silence – Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and Chad Villella – although only Matt and Tyler get directing credit due to DGA rules. Villella is listed as an “Executive Producer.”
Ready or Not stars Samara Weaving as Grace, a young woman recently married into a wealthy gaming family (as in board games, not Fortnite), who learns of the family’s tradition to play a game after midnight with any new member joining them. Grace’s game is what seems like a fun game of hide and seek, but she soon learns that this game has far more nefarious and deadly intentions. The dysfunctional family Grace has joined is played by the likes of Henry Czerny, Adam Brody, Andie MacDowell and Mark O’Brien.
I sat down in-person with the three members of Radio Silence last week for the following interview, and the three guys ended up being a lot of fun to talk to, as they would often complete each other’s sentences. Because of this, the interview does go off in a few tangents besides their movie. Hopefully, you’ve have already seen the movie, but if not, we’re still trying to avoid spoilers in this interview, and it should be a fun read.
THE BEAT: Was this a script you originated or something that Searchlight brought to you?
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin: Guy [Busick] and Ryan [Murphy – not that one], the writers, they wrote it like seven or eight years ago – a long time ago – and they’re really good friends with Jamie Vanderbilt the producer, and he hooked up with Tripp [Vinson],the other producer, and then it got sent to us. We said, “We really want to make this.” They said, “No, thank you, we found someone else.” (everyone laughs) Two years later, after we had gone off and made a movie called Southbound and then after that, it came back around, and we were like, “Hey, it’s that script we read two years ago…
Chad Villella: That we loved.
Tyler Gillett: I remember thinking that it was a joke, that we got resent this thing that had already been made.
Matt: Exactly. It was like why are they sending this? We already got passed on this. And then we met Tripp and Jamie, and Guy and Ryan, the writers, and it just felt like we all had the same voice, the same ideas, that we wanted to make the same movie. “Oh, my God! This will be amazing!” They hired us, and then we worked on it with Searchlight for two years in development. But Guy and Ryan wrote it, and we were jealous of how great the writing was, to say the least.
Tyler: I think it was also, having made a handful of things and we get sent a lot of scripts. 90% of the time when we’re reading stuff, it’s okay, “There’s a cool concept in here, but we’d really have to dig in to make it our own,” and this was the one that we read, and said, “If we went and shot this tomorrow, it would be great.” It was more about just finding the right moments to put ourselves and put our specific tone and voice into it, but the script was just…
Chad: Yeah, and we were able to get a lot of our voice into it, as well, so that was kind of the fun of … the dialogue was written so improvisational that it added to better improvs from the actors who are actually really good at improvs. Adam Brody is fantastic at it, and Henry Czerny is great, but then with the ending, too. It had a much darker end previously, without giving spoilers away.
THE BEAT: I’ve tried to be really careful about spoilers on this. I just say, “Go watch the trailer and you’ll know if it’s for you.”
Chad: That’s great. No, that’s cool. So we were able to get our stamp on it at the end and end it with a nice punctuation mark, and that was a lot of fun. Thank God Fox Searchlight let us do that ending, and it quickly became a favorite of the room when we were talking about it, and it stuck.
Matt: I think we just answered all the questions you could have. We really rolled that one.
THE BEAT: You’d be surprised. I have a lot of questions about Radio Silence in general. I saw V/H/S when it first came out, and no offense to the other filmmakers, but your segment just blew me away because it was not what you’d expect from a low-budget installment of an anthology movie.
Matt: Thank you.
Chad: Thank you for that, and we made that one in five weeks from concept to finished short was five weeks, so that was a hustle. But that was a lot of fun, and we locked ourselves in the office, and we were just there basically for 18 hours a day doing the edit and visual FX and rotoscoping and everything. Thank God that Bloody Disgusting and the collective at the time gave us that chance, because we came onto that project at the very, very end of it. We were the last segment to be made, and they’re like, “It would be cool if you want to do this,” and we’re like, “Yeah!” and they’re like, “You need to do it by this time,” and we’re like, “Oh, shit! That’s quick!”
THE BEAT: Had you done a lot of music videos or shorts or anything before that?
Chad: Shorts. A whole bunch of shorts. We used to do a YouTube channel called ChadMattAndRob where we did a lot of these prank-gone-wrong videos that lend itself to the found footage space, and then the other things we made were more interactive adventures which were like a “Choose your own adventure” narrative where it would be like “Get these guys to Happy Hour without dying,” and then you would have choices along the way.
Matt: And those were how we got V/H/S. Brad Miska, who runs Bloody Disgusting, and produced V/H/S, he saw those shorts and was like, “Hey, do you guys want to do this thing I’m putting together?” We didn’t know anything about it, going into it. We were like “Sure.”
THE BEAT: At that time, were you doing all the editing and visual FX, everything yourself?
Tyler: Yeah, everything. From the writing to the sound mixing…
Matt: This is only the second movie…
Tyler: Where we hired people to do their job. It’s so much better than us. It’s been really lovely. We’d love to continue to do that. Even Southbound…
Matt: No, Southbound we did ourselves…
Chad: Yeah, we did everything in Southbound
Matt: We just got the sound mixed at the end.
THE BEAT: I talked to Samara a little bit about working with you guys as a team…
Matt: How much she hated it?
THE BEAT: No, no, she said it was great how you split up the duties. I’ve spoken to a few directing teams, which is becoming a thing apparently. How did that come about that you worked like this, especially once you started getting other people’s scripts to direct?
Matt: It all evolved from the way we just started shooting, because when we started working together, it was so zero budget DIY. We were paying for everything, which was not much. We’d go buy new shirts so that we could throw blood on it. That was like our budget, and we’d borrow cameras. It was such an all-hands-on-deck process that we’ve just sort of carried that with us. What’s been really great as we’ve evolved is that the producers, the studios that we’ve worked with, have embraced that and been like, “Okay, we want you to do what you guys do, so we’re not going to mess it up.”
Tyler: And I think they want to make sure obviously that it’s going to be efficient, and everything’s going to happen on time and the cast isn’t going to be confused and that there’s cohesion, but they’ve never asked us to change the way we operate.
Matt: So it’s confusing on set…. No… (laughter)
Tyler: It’s really incredible. I think that there’s been a really incredible level of trust on the part of Searchlight doing this that they believed in… not only was the script already a weird experiment but then the making of it and bringing us on board to make it was like an experiment within the experiment. We can’t say enough about how amazing they were as a support system for this movie.
THE BEAT: Did you know each other since college or even earlier? Samara wasn’t sure.
Matt: Yeah, Chad and I met his first day out here (i.e. L.A) from Pittsburgh in 2006, and then Tyler and I worked together at New Line. We were like work buddies…
Tyler: Yeah, more like acquaintances.
Matt: And then after New Line got shrunk down, and we lost our jobs, we ran into each other one summer and said, “Let’s go shoot something!” Chad and I had been shooting stuff, so we just all started working together in that capacity, but we were too old…
Chad: To be doing what we were doing, yeah.
Matt: I was going on 30…
Tyler: But honestly, having all come from the office jobs and bartending jobs, that it was like, “Oh, fuck. We’re gonna make stuff that gives us an opportunity in the making of it to go and kind of have the fantasy of… drive to Lone Pine, California and shoot in an old abandoned ore mine.
Matt: It was always an adventure…
Tyler: There was something about it.
Matt: We were making adventures, but the experience of making them became an adventure in of itself.
Tyler: There was a youthfulness in it…
Matt: That kept us young.
Tyler: But I think it was an escape from the office jobs and the bartending jobs.
Matt: Ironically, we would shoot at my office though. (laughs)
THE BEAT: Were you guys at New Line when they were remaking all the horror classics like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street?
Tyler: That was before our time.
Matt: No, the remakes, I was there for all that.
Tyler: You were there for the remakes?
Matt: Yeah, I worked at New Line from 2000 to 2008. That was all the Freddy vs. Jason and all that. When I got my job, it was my first job out of college, and I had a friend who was going to go interview for it, decided not to and called me and said, “You should just go interview,” so I did, got it. The first question they asked me was, “Why do you want to go work at New Line?” And I was like, “Well, you made Pump Up the Volume, Friday and Nightmare on Elm Street, three of my favorite movies, so…”
Tyler: Why not?
Chad: Yeah, good spot to be.
Matt: And then I basically worked in the mail room for 8 years, so…
THE BEAT: Because New Line has done all this classic horror stuff…
Matt: Yeah, they do all the stuff we love.
THE BEAT: And now they’re coming back with a pretty amazing horror Renaissance. Are you going to go back and say, “Remember me?”
Tyler: And horror and comedy is like their [thing] at Warner Bros, the straight horror and the weird sort of off-kilter comedy, that’s New Line’s sweet spot. Honestly, I think that…
Matt: We would love to make another movie with Searchlight but if New Line…
Chad: Yeah, we would…
Matt: That would be a homecoming. (laughs)
THE BEAT: Okay, let’s talk a little more specifically about Ready or Not. Let’s talk about the casting first of all. Samara, I’m not sure if you saw Mayhem, she’s amazing in that.
Tyler: Yeah, she’s incredible.
THE BEAT: Had you seen The Babysitter, too?
Matt: Yeah, she’s incredible. She actually got pitched to us by Searchlight, and…
Tyler: They had done Three Billboards…
THE BEAT: I’ve seen that movie a bunch and I don’t remember her at all.
Matt: She’s fantastic. She’s like a scene-stealer. How has this person I’ve never really seen stealing a scene from John Hawkes.?
Tyler: Oddly enough, I guess it’s also a little bit of a similar tonal pivot in her scene in Three Billboards. John Hawkes is like fighting with Frances McDormand, and it’s a borderline domestic violence moment, and she walks in to use the bathroom.Matt: Yeah, it’s so funny.
Tyler: It’s immediately one of the funnest, biggest laughs in the movie.
Matt: But they sent her to us, and we were like, “Cool. Let’s watch all her stuff,” and we were just floored but what really sold us on her was when we met her in person.
Tyler: We actually first met her via Skype, and she was in Germany shooting Guns Akimbo, so she didn’t have eyebrows. She had all these face tattoos, and we were seeing her and being like, “Wow, Searchlight is pitching a really bold choice.” (laughs) And then, of course, we met her and…
Matt: She was fantastic. Just when you meet her… you met her…
THE BEAT: No, I just did a phoner.
Matt: Oh, it was a phoner? She just has that thing where you’re like, “Oh, you can do everything. You’ve very talented.” You can tell just talking to her. She is very good at what she does.
THE BEAT: Maybe it’s from her time doing Home and Away. All these actors who did the Australian soap end up being amazing actors in other things.
Tyler: It’s a factory, Home and Away.
Matt: She actually talked about that when we were shooting. She was saying, “You guys gotta make sure that I don’t dip into anything soapy, because that’s where I was for so long. I gotta make sure I don’t dip into soapy…” and she clearly doesn’t.
THE BEAT: What about the rest of the cast? I think that’s just amazing finding the rest of these characters.
Tyler: The casting took a long time, and it came together quick at the end.
Matt: It was as lot of not-casting.
Tyler: Yeah, there was a casting board in our production office that had places where all of the headshots were supposed to be, and we were like two weeks out from shooting and Sam’s picture.
Matt: It was terrifying.
Chad: It was very difficult, yeah.
Tyler: We would be walking in pulling our hair out, but to the credit of the script, it was so specific, and the characters are so well-represented on the page that we were getting a lot of great reads. The people who loved it, we automatically knew that they loved it for the same reasons we did, because of it’s specificity. We talk often about how there are a lot of options, a lot of variables when you’re going into making something but then you end up with a cast like this, and it feels so inevitable. We can’t imagine what the project would be with even one of those roles cast differently, it’s just a different movie. It’s this weird… it’s incredible that we got who we got, and they all worked so well together. It became a family… this weird, unconventional family in the making of it.
THE BEAT: Most of the time when you cast a family you want to make sure they all get along and have a history together, and in fact, they have a history together but don’t get along, which is actually more like a real family.
Chad: Right, yeah.
Matt: I asked Tripp about that. I remember I was like, “Can we get everybody together?” Because we wanted that, and truthfully, we were very nervous ‘cause they were basically meeting two days before shooting.
Tyler: Yeah, there was no rehearsal time or anything.
Matt: We had like little mini-rehearsals during shooting, but we only had one day of rehearsal before the movie started shooting. It was more about choreography. It wasn’t really about performance. It wasn’t like a chemistry thing at all, but we were really nervous, and it was one of those things where we got rained out. Our first day was supposed to be the basic wedding photography stuff. We got rained out. We ended up doing the fight with Sam and Andy first, and it just broke the ice, and instantly, everybody was like, “Alright. It’s like we’re at summer camp. This is fun.”
THE BEAT: It must have been hard to capture that tone, so the fact you didn’t do a lot of rehearsing is amazing.
Matt: And a lot of that is obviously a testament to the actors, and the fun of it was finding. As you know, the movie has a large tone. It’s a big tent, and you can have Aunt Helene being Aunt Helene, and you can also have Adam Brody’s character being so grounded in the same scenes and still understand it. That was sort of the trick of the entire thing, and they just pulled it off.
THE BEAT: I actually asked Sam what it was like when the cameras stop rolling…
Tyler: A laugh. After every take, people are just busting up. I think that was also something that was evident in the concept from the early stages that it was going to be make-believe on a crazy, crazy level. There were so many moments in the script that are like, “Oh, shit, we get to go to 11 and stay there.” It was certainly fun on a craft level, just getting to make something that was so full of so many of those exceptionally crazy moments. The cast certainly seemed to be having a blast doing it as well, and the performances are evidence of that.
THE BEAT: Would you consider this a horror-comedy? Would you accept that as a thing or do you feel that it’s bad to label it as such?
Matt: No fault of horror-comedy… just for some reason that’s become a negative for some reason, which is funny, because it’s two of my favorite things. It’s two of all of our favorite things. You can scare me and make me laugh? Holy shit! I’m there all the time.
THE BEAT: And there are some great horror-comedies…
Chad: Yeah, exactly.
Matt: You know what? This might not come out as a cool thought, because it’s just occurring to me, but we had a conversation yesterday about how kind of lame it is now when people are “elevated horror this, elevated horror that.” Really? Go fuck yourselves.
Tyler: What does that mean? Why do you have to qualify it?
Matt: It’s so reductive for the great movies that came before, and I feel like horror-comedy is on the other end of that spectrum where people use it as a throwaway, but if you ask people, most people like… I mean, Screamis a horror-comedy. It’s one of the greatest movies of all time. So to answer your question, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t care.
Tyler: I think that given the reception of it, and people are loving both of those things about it equally. I think we’re warming up to that position a little bit more every day.
Matt: We definitely at first were pushing against it. Were like this is a thriller first and foremost, and then we’re hoping you enjoy the laughs along the way.
Tyler: We were steering away from comedy altogether. We were talking about satire a lot, but it’s so clear that the comedy works so well in this, so we’re okay with it just being that.
THE BEAT: I’m bummed I didn’t get to see it at Fantasia or last night at “Scary Movies” because I feel those audiences would have been great to see it with. At least if you go into it as a “horror-comedy,” you can go in knowing you can laugh at some of the things that happen. When I first saw it, I wasn’t sure if I could or should laugh since it’s so violent. Like when the maids start dying…
Chad: Yeah, even the first couple test audiences where they got absolutely nothing going into it, you could see them allowing themselves to laugh a little bit like, “Wait, am I supposed to be laughing now?” Now with the fantastic marketing that they did with the trailer and the poster, you kind of get a little bit more tone, so you’re not as surprised when those things come, but that was fun just watching that roll-out. It was a guilty laugh, and then it was a chuckle, and then by the end, everybody was up for it.
Tyler: One of the first conversations we had with the studio after those previews was making sure the audience knows they can laugh as early as possible. Crafting a really specific joke which is the moment that Aunt Helene is watching, staring daggers at Grace during the family photos. The teaser plays like a straight fucked-up horror open. It’s scary. It’s psychologically weird. There are kids involved. It’s just a very fucked-up moment, and then making sure that on the heels of that, the audience is getting the other end of the range as soon as possible.
Matt: To that end, if you watch the movie and take a step back, it has a trajectory where the first act is fairly straight. There’s moments of it, but then it’s after the maid is killed that things amp up a bit, and then you start getting more jokes, essentially. That continues till and obviously, spoiler alert, but we have to figure a way to ramp to [the film’s climactic ending], and it can’t feel too out of left field.
Tyler: It has to feel inevitable but surprising at the same time.
THE BEAT: Even the butler’s love of classical music is played in a way that when you keep bringing it back, and it’s constantly his downfall that he can’t get away from his beloved classical music. I want to ask about the location because I know you filmed at the Parkwood Estate in Toronto. Were you able to most of the movie in and out of there, too?
Tyler: Yeah, it’s all practical. We found three locations: Casa Loma in Downtown Toronto and then the Parkwood Estate, which is where they shot Billy Madison, is like 45 minutes outside Toronto. Those two locations represent the majority of what the house is in the movie. The dining room where the end scene takes place was shot at a different location. It was the only place that we could find that would allow us to actually use practical blood.
Matt: But it’s the same architect that designed Parkwood, so they had the same vibe.
Tyler: It was this wild and serendipitous thing that worked out that it did. It was on the shoulders of the department heads, and they did incredible work merging all of those spaces. Our production designer, Andrew Stearn, brought elements from all of the locations, combined with all of the sort of gaming language and iconography of the family and was able to really create this feeling of cohesion from space to space. The DP, Bret Jutkiewicz, just did an amazing job of creating lighting continuity and motifs throughout the house that make it feel like one continuous space.
Matt: We only had five candelabras to work with.
Chad: Right, so he kept reusing those.
Tyler: “First, we’re looking this way, and then…”
Chad: Moving them across the hall!
Tyler: “Move all the candelabras to the other side…”
Matt: It was really funny.
Tyler: We probably lifted 200 candelabras.
Chad: So funny….
Matt: It was like, “This is going to make it look like there are 8,000 candles in here.” We literally had 50 candles the whole shoot.
Chad: That was the fight, too. They wouldn’t let us use fire in any of the places. We had to beg just to light a candle, and we ended up getting that, too. They had like a fire marshall on set, too.
THE BEAT: I’m not sure if you’ve been inside Casa Loma, but that very much seems like one of those places that was built with so much money, like “Let’s put an elevator in here.”
Tyler: It’s crazy.
Chad: The servant’s quarters, they’re all through Casa Loma, those hallways and things like that.
Matt: All that secret room stuff that we do, that was all inspired by Casa Loma. A lot of that wasn’t in the script, and then when we found the location, we were like, “Let’s use that,” and then Guy and Ryan would write a version to get us that.
THE BEAT: Getting back into the tone and the horror-comedy thing, you might have heard about this Blumhouse movie The Hunt, which got pulled from release because they were so worried about violence after the San Antonio/Dayton shootings. In Ready or Not you don’t really have guns in it, so at least there’s that…
Matt: When they do, they’re not used well.
THE BEAT: Were there any worries when that happened as you were about to release this movie?
Matt: If there ever was a conversation, we never heard anything.
Chad: Yeah, exactly.
Tyler: And I don’t that we were ever worried, and it’s unfortunate that people are having opinions about a movie that hasn’t even come out. Those creators are obviously smart guys. The work that they’ve done before speaks for itself, it’s incredible. We imagine that there’s a dialogue of some value happening in that movie, but Ready or Not, in comparison, is fairly apolitical. Obviously, there’s a lot happening thematically in it, and we have a very clear point of view and idea what the movie is about, but at the end of the day, what we wanted to do was hide all of the more important thematic elements in this incredibly fun ride. Hopefully, however you go in and watch the movie, if you want to watch it for its thematic relevance, there’s a lot to be mined from that. If you want to just show up and have a great fucking time, it works on a superficial level as well. It’s definitely an interesting time to be releasing any movie culturally right now, because there are so many conversations that we’re not having. I think we hope that the art we engage with maybe can have or at least help us have [these conversations}…
Matt: I think one of the weird things, too, and we talk about this a lot is that we can’t seem to ban guns. We can’t even have the conversation about it, but then people can get freaked out about a movie, and we can be like, “That’s done.” I’m sorry, but one of these actually hurts people.
THE BEAT: I’m bummed I haven’t seen this with an audience, and I haven’t really been able to talk to other people who have seen it (other than critics). Do you have any idea what you want to do next besides going back to New Line and saying, “Hey, give us a Stephen King movie.”
Matt: Not really. We just want to make our next thing, and we don’t know what it is yet. I wish we did. But we love working with this team, and if we can find something else to do with them, that would be amazing.
Tyler: I think if we can find something else that, at the very least… when you have a great experience making something, your hope is that you’re able to replicate the best parts of that on whatever you do next. Every project we work on we learn so much about ourselves and so much about our value systems and what we love as creatives. I think that this was a really illuminating shoot for us. I think that we really learned how to fall in love really hard with a project. It’s going to be hard to find something that matches that, but we’re ready to find that next thing. I think we’ll know it in our guts. We know what it feels like now. We have this muscle memory of, “Oh, no. This is the thing we can spend 3 ½ fucking years on and get made and not ever lose interest in it.” We now have a high watermark.
THE BEAT: Does that mean you’re done with “found footage” now?
Tyler: I dunno… never say never.
Matt: Brad is actually talking about another V/H/S…
Chad: V/H/S 4, yeah.
Ready or Not is now playing in theaters nationwide.