Interview – ‘Talk To Me’ directors Danny and Michael Phillipou (Racka Racka) on their new hit Aussie horror film

When a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill, until one of them goes too far and opens the door to the spirit world,  them to choose who to trust: the dead or the living.

Crafting their filmmaking skills from a young age and debuting them to the world with a bang on their chaotic and energetic YouTube channel, ‘Racka Racka’, directors Danny and Michael Phillipou are now moving into the next stage of their journey with their feature film directorial debut, Talk To Me. I had the chance to chat with Danny and Michael about the film, their love of practical effects, and how they crafted the film’s shocking opening scene.

Nick: I flew in from Brisbane this morning just to do this interview so I could be face to face with you guys…

Danny Phillipou: Oh wow!

Michael Phillipou: Oh my god!

Nick: Because I wanted to tell you that Talk To Me is my favourite movie of the year so far!

Danny Phillipou: Ohhh!

Michael Phillipou: Thank you so much!

Nick: I want to talk to you both about the journey you’ve gone on with this film. The YouTube video you put up about going to Sundance and selling the film to A24 in unreal. When the concept of the film was first being discussed, was there any idea that this would be the path you go on?

Danny Phillipou: Oh no, you never have any expectations like that anywhere. Even when we had to reinvest our fees into the film, our lawyers were like: “only 8% of Australian films make their budget back” and all these figures like that. All our friends joked that it would be direct to streaming or to DVD and everything. So we didn’t go in with the expectation of it being seen by anyone! We just, like, were trying to do the best thing we could possibly do with no expectations. Yeah, we were blown out of the water by what happened. It was crazy.

Michael Phillipou: We we’re gonna do it [Talk To Me] with an American company in Hollywood. And it was going to have a guaranteed theatrical release. But the notes they were giving us was going to change it from—it was going to take away our vision. You always hear those horror stories from Hollywood of, like, directors getting screwed over, and we didn’t want to become one of them. And it was hard to walk away from that and be like now we’re gonna do it on a much smaller budget, independently. But, it will be our film. Good or bad, we got what we wanted and we made the movie we wanted to make. How it was going to be received, we had no idea!

Nick: The opening scene of this film is such a great hook. It’s going to be a scene everyone remembers because it’s fucking awesome. The one-shot take that leads to that shocking climax! What was the process like in creating that hook for Talk To Me?

Danny Phillipou: The actual cold open didn’t come until way later into the process. Probably like five drafts in, or something. Initially, I just wanted it to be about the character, about Mia [Sophie Wilde]. So, it just opened with Mia and not that cold open. Then, I don’t know… I was just picturing everyone coming into the theatre and sitting down, and I was like: “how can I pull everyone into this world?” and give them a big moment. Start the movie off with a bang. I had a fear that it [Talk To Me] would’ve been too much of a slow burn to being with, so I just was thinking of something that I could start it off with a bang.

Michael Phillipou: It was also the very last thing we shot, and there was so many people there. We just wanted the camera to be revealing stuff around every corner. Like every camera movement around a corner reveals something new.

Danny Phillipou: And we just wanted to capture an Aussie house party! [laughs]

Michael Phillipou: [laughs] A banging, good old Aussie house party!

Nick: Talking about the technical crafts, practical effects are at the foundation of Talk To Me. Even back with your Racka Racka videos on YouTube! Everything you guys do with practical effects is noticeable in this movie. How important was it for you to keep that filmmaking style you love so much in this film as well?

Danny Phillipou: Oh, our make up bible was super extensive. Our makeup team was so cool. Even the makeup artists we had on Racka Racka, we got to bring them on board here. Like Bec Buratto, she got to be a head of department which was so cool to have her and be able to rely on her. The makeup effects group just brought it every single day. We were very, very specific and I wanted to pull, like, every single effect off practically.

Michael Phillipou: And it was tough because it was originally supposed to be an 8-week shoot, then it got withered down to a 7, then to a 6 and 5. And we had big prosthetics. So keeping on top of that was crazy. We never wanted to take away from the practical aspect of it. It’s so easy to go and fix something in post, but you always notice that. Movies like Alien or The Thing hold up more now that some movies that were made a year ago. Practical is always better.

Nick: Speaking of great movies that hold up, when we spoke last Michael, you told me that your favourite movie was Memories of Murder. I hadn’t seen it at that point, but I did watch it earlier this year and it’s insane! But there is an amazing scare in that film when the killer leaps out of the tall grass. So I’m curious to know, what’s a scary moment in a film that’s not necessarily a horror film, that has stuck out to you, or maybe even served as inspiration for a scene in Talk To Me?

Danny Phillipou: From a jump scare aspect that had a lot of weight on me, do you remember that scene in Fellowship of the Ring?

Nick: Oh yeah, when Gandalf tries to grab the ring of Bilbo?

Danny Phillipou: Yeah, yeah, when he goes “EUGHHH!”. [laughs]

Michael Phillipou: [mocking Danny] What was that? “EUGHHH!” [laughs]

Danny Phillipou: Like, that scared the shit out of me! It was such a cool scare. It’s a more mainstream one, but it’s one of the best.

Michael Phillipou: There was a movie I watched recently called Throne of Blood. It’s an old Japanese film. It’s about a samurai who has taken over the kingdom, and he’s killing all his friends to become the top dog. But, there’s this really creepy scene where his friends aren’t going to show up to a dinner because they’ve been murdered, and he looks over and his friend is sitting there, but it’s his ghost. It’s so scary. It’s an old film but it still gets you.

Danny Phillipou: There’s another one called The Innocents that’s really creepy to me as well. It’s crazy how you can date films back to the 1930s and 40s that are still terrifying. So many good moments in the history of cinema!

Thank you so much to Danny and Michael for their time, and thank you to NixCo PR and Maslow Entertainment for organising the interview. Talk To Me is in Australian cinemas July 27.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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