Talk To Me – A high-concept horror that reflects current society with a classic lens

The inspiration for Talk To Me came from observing neighbourhood kids growing up and marks the debut feature film from Australian twins Danny and Michael Philippou, best known as online global sensations RACKARACKA, with more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube. “It’s is a sincere movie about not knowing how to cope with your feelings as a teenager and finding outlets that mess with your mind. We want this to be our first film because it’s the closest to our world as it is now and we want to capture that. We want our first movie to feel vivid and alive.”

“We are always interested in the age where you go from being a kid to being an adult, where you’re still taking risks but now the consequences are more brutal. Where you’re trying to just have fun, but now hidden emotions convince you of negativity that isn’t real. You are your own worst enemy.” says Danny and Michael Philippou.

Named one of Variety’s 2016 Fame Changers and ranked 5th on the Australian Financial Review’s Cultural Power List, the brothers are the creators of action comic horror online content, which has racked up more than 1.5 billion views and over 6.6 million subscribers on Youtube alone. Their numerous awards include Best Integrational Channel Streamy Award; Best Overall at the Online Video Awards; and AACTA Award for Best Web Show

“Given the huge popularity of the horror genre right now – and the appetite for more emotionally sophisticated horror that says something about the world we are in now – we are hopeful that the combination of a strong concept and rich real characters will not only connect with a large audience, but also evoke a response that will generate thought and conversation from international audiences of all ages.”

The real-world horror in the film stems from the consequences of reckless behaviour as an outlet; and the
supernatural horror stems from the fallout of repressed feelings breaking free.

“Our starting point is to create a completely believable world – teenagers can sniff out artifice and posturing. We have cast teenagers who speak and act like teenagers, and not adults acting young. We’re very inspired by smart psychological horror films in recent years that reflect current society but with a classic lens. These movies are not just entertaining, but evolve the form, by respecting the audience’s
intelligence. That is the contribution to the conversation of cinema we want this film to make.”

In Talk To Me, 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, forcing them to choose who to trust: the dead or the living.

From Inspiration To Writing the Screenplay

“One of the kids was experimenting with drugs – their friends filmed the experience and they were having a really negative reaction to the drug, they were on the floor convulsing and having a really bad reaction. Everyone was filming him on the floor and laughing at him. I found the footage quite striking and
horrifying at the same time,” says Danny and Michael Philippou.

Daley Pearson, a friend of the brothers, shared a short film script he’d written about a group of teenagers
who used possession to get high. The concept sparked Danny’s imagination and he started discussing it with his co-writer Bill Hinzman.

“At the first drafting stage, the story just flowed out, the characters felt real and it evolved really naturally,” says Danny. “I wrote the initial 80 pages of scenes and ideas and characters, and from there Hinzman started throwing in his ideas to find the theme and the structure.”

The film is about a teenage girl who gets hooked on possessions as a new high. But on a deeper level it’s about young people dealing with addiction and mental illness, the way that what begins as an escape from suppressed pain, can actually become a terrifying eruption of that pain.

As the characters and story gained their own momentum, Danny and Michael agreed that Talk To Me felt right to be their first feature film.

Causeway Films’ Samantha Jennings and Kristina Ceyton had crossed paths with Danny and Michael years
before they worked together.

Kristina recalls “I originally met Michael when he was our production runner and Danny was lighting assistant on The Babadook,” Samantha adds. “Later they worked with us on Cargo and they were part of a Google and Screen Australia workshop I led for YouTubers developing longer form scripts.”

Kristina says “We kept in touch with them and their work, so when they reached out with a few feature film concepts we were intrigued. We had seen their shorts as well as their online content, and knew that they had a rare connection to audience and also had the talent to be taken seriously as international filmmakers.”

Samantha recalls “The concept for Talk To Me was the one that stood out for us, because it was infused with their infectious energy, we felt it would really deliver on its genre and at the same time express themes relevant to what young people are going through now. We all decided to collaborate on developing the script and it took off from there.”

Samantha explains, “One of the biggest priorities for us as producers is that we knew from the beginning we all wanted to make a really good film. Danny and Michael have always wanted to be filmmakers, and to be taken seriously as filmmakers. Their YouTube work as RACKARACKA is amazingly inventive, they worked out how to do incredible things, for real, and built up a huge following around the world. But that is one part of them.”

“In making Talk To Me, we set out to harness the huge talent, imagination and skill they’ve developed in their online work and at the same time elevate it. The whole team – directors, producers, Heads of Department, were constantly aware of their audience and alongside that a new potential audience too. We wanted to make a debut feature that was smart, cinematic and well crafted, that had layers and depth and was also exhilarating. Maintaining both sides of that equation throughout was key, and it meant that we all never stopped trying to push the material.”

The Transition From You Tube To Feature Film

For Danny and Michael, making the jump from their online content to a serious feature film was a challenge they enjoyed, bringing their energetic approach to the incredibly structured world of a feature film set.

Danny says “In the YouTube videos, we have no characters. We have no plot. We have no idea what we’re
doing, where we’re going, or what the hell we’re shooting or why we’re shooting it. That’s the YouTube thing. Nothing was really thought through very much. It was all just sort of made up on the spot and we just went with things.”

“With the film, there was more of a plan. But we still adopted the same energy that we have on our
RACKARACKA videos – we are really, you know, energetic,” explains Danny.

Michael continues “It was so good working with other creatives, and other talented people and they could
bring their specialty to the table as well. It was a massive collaborative experience. Even workshopping with the actors, playing through scenes, they added other dimensions to it, that we couldn’t have with the script and never have with YouTube, except for Danny in Nerf Battle Three.”

Causeway Films Samantha Jennings and Kristina Ceyton say “What has been a delightful surprise in making this film has been experiencing how fun the process can be. Making independent films is hard, it demands a huge amount from everyone involved, there is never enough time or money and you are asking everyone for an extreme level of commitment.”

“But working with these directors was a constant reminder to everyone that it can also be enormous fun. There can be wild exhilaration in a way that still encourages deep interrogation of every element and intense seriousness about the work. In fact, that little bit of crazy can make people work even harder, and it was a privilege to see that happen.

“Everything that we’ve ever done, everything we’ve ever made was in pursuit of this, of making our first
feature film. So it was literally a dream come true. It was the most incredible experience. Every single part of it. It was so overstimulating we couldn’t sleep at night. Every time that we’d shoot, we’d come home and we’d edit because it was just so… it was just the best experience ever. We loved every second of it. We felt like we were dreaming and we cannot wait to make another movie.”