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It's a cold, rainy mid-December afternoon, and the four members of the Los Angeles-based filmmaking team Radio Silence are somewhere they never thought they'd be: inside the 20th Century Fox offices in New York City. Even more to their disbelief, they're in town to screen a 15-minute sizzle reel for a major motion picture they've directed, Devil's Due, a found-footage horror pic opening in theaters nationwide tonight at midnight. And preceded by that wonderful New York City promo with the evil baby in the carriage.
Two of the members, Tyler Gillett, 31, and Justin Martinez, 33, are all smiles but also all business once the footage ends, following the studio's reps into a conference room; the other two, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, 35, and Chad Villella, 36, have something a bit more mischievous in mind.
In one of the office's hallways rests a row of stand-up posters for 20 Century's Fox's early 2014 new release slate. First in line is the one-sheet for Devil's Due, which shows a pregnant woman seated inside a chalk-drawn, clearly occultist symbol on a bedroom floor, with a baby's crib off in the background; two posters down from Devil's Due is the one for Son of God, an upcoming film inspired by the recent hit miniseries The Bible, about, yes, Jesus Christ himself. The irony isn't missed by Bettinelli-Olpin and Villella, who move the floor posters around to have Son of God standing next to Devil's Due, ready for Villella's camera-phone snapping. "That would be the perfect double feature," he says as the others laugh behind him.
You would never see other directors of upcoming Fox films like Bryan Singer (X-Men: Days of Future Past) or David Fincher (Gone Girl) pulling such a harmless but fun-loving stunt like that, especially in front of reporters. That's because the Radio Silence quartet are just a bunch of wide-eyed, can't-believe-they're-here dudes who, three years ago, were making viral videos with titles like "Mountain Devil Prank Fails Horribly" and distributing the clips themselves online. The fact that they've actually directed a feature-length film—about a newly married couple (Allison Miller and Friday Night Lights alum Zach Gilford) whose unexpected, in utero baby shows all signs of being Satan incarnate—for a major studio is still too surreal to allow the guys to take themselves too seriously yet. "We keep thinking that someone is going to come in and tell us this isn't really happening," says Bettinelli-Olpin. "Maybe we have a rich friend who's pranking us, like this is The Game. One of us will fall out of a window before the end of the day, I'm sure."
Originally known as Chad, Matt & Rob (back when their friend Rob Polonsky was part of the outfit), Radio Silence—named during a time when they couldn't get any studio heads to pay them any mind, hence the "radio silence" they experienced—started making vibrant, effects-heavy web videos back in 2009, paving the way for their first movie assignment, a segment in the 2012 indie found-footage horror anthology V/H/S. Devil's Due, though, is the biggest project they've ever worked on, a multi-million-dollar production shot in New Orleans and, tomorrow, set to open on a whopping 2,700 theaters across the country. Which is why 20th Century Fox is flying the guys all around the United States to promote the movie. They've certainly come a long way from the days when promotion was all autonomous and achieved by simply uploading files into the cyber abyss.
Not that they've lost the sense of humor that brought attention to the original Chad, Matt & Rob videos. Minutes after their Devil's Due/Son of God poster prank in the hallway, their response to a question about crazy it must be to have such a major film to their credits signals that they're anything but jaded or filled with newfound entitlement. "The whole process has been amazing so far, except this New York Trip," says Villella, looking directly at the publicist in the room with them. "It's been such a pain in the ass here." As everyone laughs, the publicist's grinning but somewhat uncertain facial expression causes Villella to switch his tone. "I'm just kidding! Please still release our movie!"
The good news for him: Devil's Due is definitely still opening tonight. Now, take a trip through memory lane with Radio Silence as they detail the road from making cheap-o YouTube videos to even having the opportunity to crack wise in front of movie studio PR folks.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)