Maybe it’s because they’ve been making movies together — from internet shorts to 2012’s “V/H/S” to 2019’s “Ready or Not” — for more than 12 years. Maybe it’s because they’re promoting their latest film — the new “Scream,” which is also the fifth “Scream,” but is just titled “Scream” — remotely during a global pandemic. Maybe it’s because they’re three white dudes. But when Tyler Gillett, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Chad Villella, the filmmaking collective known as Radio Silence, first sign on to their Zoom interview with Variety, it takes them about five seconds to realize that by sheer coincidence, they’re all wearing simple black T-shirts.
“Nice wardrobe coordination!” says Gillett, 39, with a gleeful smile.
“We’ve spent so much time together, we’ve morphed into one thing,” adds Bettinelli-Olpin, 43, cackling.
“A Voltron of anti-style,” says Villella, 44, which only makes the three laugh harder.
It’s the first hint of the shared comedic sensibility — and humility — that has sustained the trio throughout their career. Even their group’s name is a kind of prank on themselves.
“We used to always say it to each other,” says Bettinelli-Olpin. “When you’re trying to get started, it’s nothing but obstacles. The way that we dealt with that kind of like rejection was to just be like, ‘Hey, have you heard from so and so?’ ‘Radio silence. Radio silence.’ It was such a joke among us that, basically, nobody wanted to work with us.”
Then in 2011, Brad Miska, founder of the genre website Bloody Disgusting, invited them on the strength of their YouTube shorts to contribute a segment to “V/H/S,” the found footage horror anthology film he was producing. After they turned in their segment, “10/31/98” — about a group of friends (played by Villella, Bettinelli-Olpin, and Gillett) who accidentally stumble into an actual haunted house on Halloween — Miska asked the group who should be credited as the director.
“And we’re like, ‘Well, it’s all of us,’” Bettinelli-Olpin says. When Miska asked them for a name, their inside joke about the sorry state of their careers leapt to mind. “We put a grand total of five minutes of thought into it.”
Within that joke, however, is a deeper truth about what’s kept these guys together for so long in an industry as devoted to gatekeeping as the movie business.
“For us, it was like fuck it,” Gillett says “We could ask for permission or we can just ask each other for help.”
That spirit of brotherly camaraderie and cooperation has allowed this “Voltron of anti-style” to navigate their filmmaking path on their own creative (and quite stylish) terms — going from YouTube pioneers to the indie horror vanguard to becoming the new stewards of “Scream,” one of the most beloved horror franchises of the last 30 years. In an industry that has always heavily favored the individual auteur — like, for instance, the late Wes Craven — Villella, Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin understand just how remarkable it is to remain a semi-anonymous filmmaking troika and find success while doing it.
Here’s how they did it.
“This New Thing Called YouTube”
Bettinelli-Olpin and Villella met first in the mid-2000s, in the back row of an acting class the day Villella had signed the lease on his first apartment in Los Angeles. They became fast friends and creative collaborators.
“The typical acting thing wasn’t really for us,” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “So we sort of decided, hey, there’s this new thing called YouTube, let’s go start just making short films for YouTube.”
Gillett starts giggling: “‘New thing called YouTube!’ It was a long time ago.”
With Rob Polonsky, Bettinelli-Olpin and Villella formed the group Chad, Matt & Rob, and joined the first wave of young and hungry filmmakers to discover the wide-open creative freedom afforded by YouTube’s platform. Several of their videos cleared over a million videos, and one — “Roommate Alien Prank Goes Bad,” posted Feb. 25, 2008 — went truly viral; to date, it has amassed over 34 million views.
At that point, Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin knew each other only peripherally through their jobs at New Line Cinema, but he was already envious of what Chad, Matt and Rob were producing.
“They were doing the comedy thing, but it was wrapped up in a sort of larger, more ambitious storytelling package,” he says.
That was especially evident in a series of elaborate choose-your-own-adventure–style shorts that asked the viewer to decide the characters’ paths, even branching out into separate storylines. Often, if the viewer chose wrong, the characters would die in increasingly macabre ways.
One day, as Bettinelli-Olpin and Villella were hashing out one of those shorts at the Farmers Market on 3rd and Fairfax in L.A., they happened to run into Gillett.
“Tyler was walking by and off the cuff was like, ‘Hey, if you guys ever need somebody to shoot something with, I’m around,’” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “And we’re like, ‘What about next weekend?’ We started working together and have been together ever since.”
The result was “The Birthday Party,” a madcap interactive adventure that included a zombie infested hospital and a media heiress with a bomb strapped to her chest. Gillett still looks wistful recalling the memory.
“It was the first time in my life creative life waking up just so fucking excited to show up and make something with you guys,” he says.
“And hang out with us cool dudes,” Bettinelli-Olpin adds with a chuckle.
“Let’s Take the Big Shot”
While other collaborators they’ve worked with — including Polonsky and Justin Martinez, who pioneered the group’s use of cheap and effective visual effects — have moved on to other things over the years, Gillett, Bettinelli-Olpin and Villella all say they knew pretty much from that first short that they wanted to build their filmmaking careers together.
“For me, it was day one,” says Bettinelli-Olpin. He understood innately the enduring value of creative partnerships: As a teenager, he was a founding member of the punk band Link 80, and when he first moved to L.A. in the early 2000s, Bettinelli-Olpin wound up living with Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone and Andy Samberg, the wildly successful comedy trio also known as the Lonely Island.
“It was that mentality of, the only way that this works is if we stick together,” he says. “We trust each other, and we grow together and we learn together. We can all go off and get jobs being a DP, a writer in a writers’ room, an actor on a show. Or we can have a collective voice, and we can move forward as one, have a loftier goal for ourselves. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but let’s take the big shot, not the smaller shots.”
When “V/H/S” basically forced Villella, Gillett and Bettinelli-Olpin to name their group, their alliance was sealed — especially after the film debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and suddenly everyone wanted to know who those Radio Silence guys were. The sudden intense attention after spending so much time toiling in obscurity was at times bewildering, but it also seems to have helped clarify how important it was for them to stay together.
“We all really recognize that the opportunity that we have is super fucking rare and really precious — and that it is ours to lose,” Gillett says. “So let’s make this unit function as well as it can.”
That doesn’t mean everything moves smoothly between them. Far from it, really.
“Every day isn’t perfect,” Villella says. “We do have arguments, creative debates, on a daily basis. When you have an adult job where the worst thing you could say about your day is my best friends didn’t want to pretend the way I want to do today, you’re in a good spot.”
“The friction that we apply on each other is actually the good shit,” Gillett adds. “That’s where the good ideas exist, in the collision of our taste.”
“Fear and Fun Weren’t Compatible Feelings”
Two years after “V/H/S” became a Sundance sensation, Radio Silence directed their first studio feature: “Devil’s Due,” for 20th Century Fox. The quasi-update of “Rosemary’s Baby” was meant to capitalize on the found footage horror craze but found itself instead on the downswing of a backlash against it. Reviews were not kind, and the film made a decent $37 million worldwide on a reported $7 million budget.
So they regrouped and produced another independent horror anthology film, 2016’s “Southbound,” that eschewed found footage for a lean, dread-filled series of deceptively linked stories set in the unforgiving American desert. Radio Silence directed the first and final segments, and produced the rest; the film made several lists as one of the best horror movies of the year.
When they were younger, horror wasn’t something at least two of the Radio Silence guys actively sought out. Bettinelli-Olpin was all-in on horror from an early age, especially after he saw “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” in elementary school as part of a yearly movie screening reward for kids who — perhaps ironically — hadn’t gotten into trouble. (“I know saying that out loud sounds absolutely crazy, but I remember it so well,” he says.)
Villella and Gillett, however, weren’t so thrilled by horror at first. Villella was scarred early, when one of his friend’s older siblings showed him movies like “Evil Dead,” “Poltergeist,” and “Dawn of the Dead” when Villella was still in first or second grade.
“It freaked me out,” he says. “Honestly, ‘E.T.’ freaked me out.”
Similarly, Gillett says that growing up, “Fear and fun weren’t compatible feelings.” His parents did introduce him to horror-adjacent thrillers like “Predator” and “RoboCop” as a kid — but they would fast-forward through the truly scary and gory parts. “When Alex Murphy gets shot up in ‘RoboCop,’ that was a section of the movie that I legitimately didn’t see until I was in my 20s,” he says.
As the three began independently to consider a future in moviemaking, their sensibilities were molded more by the freer genre-skipping of movies like “Gremlins” or “Ghostbusters” than straight-on horror like “Friday the 13th” or “Halloween.”
“Spielberg, some of his best movies had some of the most well-crafted horror moments of any movie,” Gillett says. “So many of our of the icons that we were raised on were doing things that you maybe wouldn’t necessarily consider a horror movie, but they all had a horror genre element.”
Through the 2010s, horror became the best — really, the only — conduit for success for upcoming filmmakers who weren’t on the superhero franchise express, and that certainly has been true for Radio Silence. But they’ve tried to chart their own course inside it.
“It’s been interesting to be to be a part of a genre where things do get so distilled and so defined,” Gillett says. “I think we’ve always fought that a little bit. We’ve always tried to push the walls out. For us, it has to do a little bit of genre dance, it has to do that tone dance. That’s just where our sensibilities lie.”
“We Don’t Want to Do This If We Don’t Think We Can Do Wes Craven Justice”
Of all the horror franchises from the last 30 years, the “Scream” movies stand deliberately apart, as much about horror cinema as of it, thanks to the alchemy of screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s deftly self-aware screenplays and Craven’s peerless horror filmmaking. But “Scream 4,” which debuted in 2011, was Craven’s last film before he died in 2015, and without him, the franchise fell dormant.
So there was no reason for Gillett, Villella or Bettinelli-Olpin to expect that they were being considered to direct a fifth “Scream” movie when James Vanderbilt, who co-wrote Radio Silence’s 2019 horror hit “Ready or Not,” asked them to come in to Spyglass Media Group for a general meeting. Even when executive Gary Barber mentioned offhand that Vanderbilt was writing the screenplay for a new “Scream” with Guy Busick, they didn’t really allow themselves the space to believe they were up for the director’s chair.
“I think our brains were slowly like, Oh…is this…?” Gillett says. “No. Fuck, are they gonna ask us?“
“Mine wasn’t!” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “Mine never went there!”
A week later, they were indeed formally asked if they wanted to make “Scream,” and they painstakingly read through the script over three-and-a-half hours. “We just savored every single bit of that script,” Gillett says.
They especially loved how Vanderbilt and Busick had used the idea of yet another “Scream” movie to skewer both the idea of legacy franchise sequels — or “requels,” in the film’s parlance — and how much online fan culture has become such a powerful culture force of its own. That heady mix of meta-humor and real terror was right in the sweet spot of their own sensibilities. But they also knew that taking over for Craven was no small thing.
“We have spent so much of the last two years thinking about [how] we need this to be as special to people when they watch it as the stuff that we watched when we were younger was to us,” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “We don’t want to do this if we don’t think we can do Wes Craven justice.”
Because Williamson (who remains an executive producer) didn’t write the script, Radio Silence also found themselves wading into the surreal space of directing the original stars of a franchise like Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette, while themselves being brand new to it. “So much of the movie is about fandom and what it means to be a fan and how you feel about it,” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “We have these meta-upon-meta moments, where we’re like, holy shit, like we are making a fan film about the making of a fan film about one of our favorite franchises. You could spiral.”
Gillett jumps in. “There was really some comfort in that, I think,” he says. “Knowing that the movie itself was about fandom, I think that there was, there was an entry point for us that was really, really personal, and really emotional. The love letter of it was really real for us and was really easy for us to connect to.”
And should audiences respond with the same degree of love and enthusiasm, the Radio Silence guys are eager to keep playing in that blood-soaked world.
“The whole experience has been such like a family experience, with the cast with the crew with the producers,” Bettinelli-Olpin says. “Not to be corny, but it’s been a love fest, and I think we’d be crazy not to want to continue it.”
As Villella starts to say something, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett begin to laugh at their own cheesiness, then stop so their best friend and creative partner can weigh in.
Villella smiles for a second. “I was gonna say, it’s definitely a dream come true, so why wake up now?” He pauses to let the cornball sentiment set in. “Boom!”
The guys lose their minds.
“Ohhhh!” Gillett says, pumping his fists. “That’s going in the article!”