“We Can Text Ari Aster!”: Danny and Michael Philippou on ‘Talk to Me’ Success

Talk to Me interview with Danny and Michael Philippou

When Adelaide-born twins Danny and Michael Philippou were 11 years old, they began filming their backyard wrestling videos. Soon enough, they were giants of YouTube, and their channel, TheRackaRacka, had amassed 6.74 million subscribers. Now, the 30-year-old twins’ first feature, the A24 horror film Talk to Me, is in cinemas globally.

Talk to Me follows a group of friends who discover they can call spirits into their body via an embalmed hand — a thrill they quickly become hooked on. Among the group is Mia (Sophie Wilde), who wants nothing more than to be distracted from the anniversary of her mother’s death. It is, of course, a recipe for disaster. Soon enough, Mia ignores the rules, and opens the door to disturbing supernatural visions that leave her unable to know who to trust; the dead or the living.

The film is a thrill from start to finish, and received glowing reviews out of its global premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in January. Soon enough, it was snapped up by A24 for distribution, placing the debut feature next to the likes of MidsommarHereditary, Bodies Bodies Bodies, The WitchPearl and more.

Speaking to The Latch over Zoom, Danny and Michael tell us all about the “surreal” journey from YouTube to A24.

Talk to Me Trailer

Where the Idea for Talk to Me Came From

“There were so many different elements that inspired this film,” Danny says. “There was a short film that Daley Pearson had sent me that he’d written that a lot of it came from, there was a lot of stuff that was from personal experiences.”

Crediting Pearson’s short film as “an amazing starting off point”, Danny says that he spent a lot of time “just tapping into things that were scaring [him] at the time” as he and Talk to Me co-writer Bill Hinzman fleshed out the concept.

As an example, Danny recalls an incident in which a neighbour he and Michael grew up with “had a negative reaction” while experimenting with drugs for the first time.

“He was on the floor convulsing, and all the kids that he was with were just filming him and laughing instead of helping him,” Danny says. “So I remember that being really striking and that is all the way through the film, as well.”

The Horror Movies That Influenced Talk to Me

Like all horror fans, the Philippou brothers have a long list of films that they loved growing up. When asked what their favourite horror films were as they were growing up, Michael immediately offers up the 2007 film The Mist, based on Stephen King’s 1980 novella of the same name.

“Oh yeah, The Mist is pretty bad ass!” Danny agrees.

Michael adds that the way they filmed The Mist — “really quickly with the camera guys that did The Shield” — was similar to their own approach filming YouTube videos for RackaRacka.

“I saw them on set creating it and shooting it like a play, and I think we always kind of did that with RackaRacka,” Michael explains.

“For me, The Exorcist and Let the Right One In,” Danny says. “They’re just ones where the characters feel so real, and the horror feels like it’s grounded in a reality, so I definitely wanted to try to capture that sort of reality in Talk to Me.”

“And Shaun of the Dead!” Michael exclaims, as both of them crack up.

On the Reaction to Talk to Me From the Horror Community

In a vlog posted to their YouTube channel, Danny and Michael take their audience along with them as they get ready to premiere Talk to Me at the Sundance Film Festival. From the moment they find out that the film has been accepted, through to their astounded reaction when the reviews of the film are good, fans see it all.

In the video, there’s a moment where Danny receives a text from Jordan Peele. Speaking to the camera, Michael adds that Ari Aster, Steven King and Steven Spielberg have also reached out, wanting to see the film.

Six months later, the twins recall what it was like to have some of the masters of modern horror reach out.

“Oh, man!” Danny exclaims. “When Jordan Peele texted me, I was like ‘WHAT THE F-!’” he cuts himself off. “And then he FaceTimed me! He FaceTimed me, and I was like ‘oh my God, what is happening?!’

“Everything just felt so surreal and impossible, like, who hacked the universe?!” Danny continues. 

Michael adds: “Especially from Australia! Like, all those people aren’t from Australia, but the horror community’s actually quite small, so word travels quick when [people are responding to] a horror movie”.

Even now, the pair still seem starstruck by some of their new friends.

“Ari Aster, he’s like, texting! Like, we can text Ari!” Danny exclaims, with a tone of excited disbelief.

“Yeah, we’ve hung out like five or six times!” Michael adds.

The twins are both beaming.

“That’s so crazy!” Danny says. “Yeah, I dunno. It’s so unreal.”

The Importance of Making Talk to Me in Australia

Early on, the twins were in talks to make Talk to Me with a studio, but decided not to proceed when “they were talking about maybe not using Australian accents or doing an Australian film”.

Instead, they chose to retain their creative control, and signed on to make Talk to Me independently. In the end, the film was produced by Causeway Films’ Samantha Jennings and Kristina Ceyton, the team behind The Babadook. Like The Babadook, which the twins also worked on, Talk to Me was filmed in Adelaide.

As an Adelaide girl myself, I joke to Danny and Michael that I never thought I’d see the Mawson Lakes Interchange up on the big screen.

They cackle.

“That’s so funny!” Danny exclaims.

“Ari Aster’s seen the Mawson Lakes Interchange!” Michael adds.

“Jordan Peele saw the Pooraka skate park!” Danny shoots back.

The Mawson Lakes Interchange quickly becomes a running theme of our conversation.

The Australian nature of the film, Danny says, “was just ingrained in the script and ingrained in the characters”.

“And it meant so much to be able to film at the Mawson Lakes Interchange or to even be able to go back to our old high school, Para Hills High and shoot there,” he adds. “I definitely want to film another film in Australia, for sure.”

“I wanna shoot a lot in Australia!” Michael agrees.

Of the decision to forgo studio funding in order to retain creative control, the brothers say that yes, it was terrifying, but ultimately, they didn’t want to get stuck making a film that wasn’t in-line with their vision.

“What really made us feel safe and really sure about the decision was our producer Samantha Jennings,” Danny says. “She put the film first and she really made us feel comfortable with every part of it.”

Crediting Jennings’ transparent communication and commitment to the film, Danny adds: “When we put our fees back into the movie to make sure we could get it made, she did the exact same thing… She always put the film first, so I felt so protected and secure”.

“It is funny,” Michael muses. “We could’ve been in this hotel in Los Angeles and it would’ve been like, the film dream, but instead we were shooting it, and we were staying at Dad’s house, filming at the Mawson Lakes Interchange!”

He laughs.

“But it’s the best!” Danny exclaims.

“Yeah, it’s the best!” Michael agrees. “It’s so much better, and it’s a side that people haven’t seen before. I feel like we’ve seen all the American versions of things. This is a new way … it’s like ‘let’s show Australia!’ and I hope it opens the door for more Australian stories to be told. I hope it does that.”

Putting Australia in the Spotlight

Since Talk to Me’s Sundance premiere, the brothers have been busy travelling the world to promote the film. Although they were steadfast in their decision to make the film in Australia, they did question how the film would be received by international audiences.

“I thought that it wouldn’t translate, some of the humour and stuff, but it does, worldwide!” Michael says. “Every screening we’ve been to, it lands!”

He continues: “That being said, the Australian screening we went to in Sydney was probably one of the best, because it was Australians. All the really small subtleties, like the really small, minute things, everyone was responding to, extra!”

Michael mentions that “even the music” — which is distinctly Australian throughout the film — had Sydney filmgoers hyped.

“I think the most Australian part is how much swearing there is in the movie!” Danny adds, laughing. “It’s very like… northern suburbs, how many swear words there are in the film!”

I mention the music, and ask if they chose Sia’s “Chandelier” as the song Mia and Riley sing along to because Sia is also from Adelaide.

“Part of it was that, and part of it was because the song really felt like the film!” Danny says. “Because it’s this party anthem with really dark lyrics, so that was part of it. We approached her, asked for it, and she gave it to us for a quarter of the price, because we were from Australia. Because we weren’t going to be able to afford the whole thing! But yeah, shout out to Sia! How cool is that?”

“And who doesn’t like listening to Sia slappers in the car?!” Michael exclaims.

“‘Chandelier’ in the car is the greatest f**ken car-ride karaoke song there is!” Danny agrees.

Making the Leap From YouTube to Feature Films

Although the duo had years of experience shooting YouTube videos, not all of the skills they’d developed over the years were easily transferrable to shooting a feature film.

“I knew that me shooting it wasn’t going to work,” Danny says.

Instead, Danny says they leapt at the opportunity to  work with “these incredible artists at the top of their fields”.

“The heads of departments was the biggest plus,” he adds. “That was the most exciting part, to have their powers be in the project.”

Another thing that didn’t translate from YouTube to filming a movie?

“Sneaking into places!” Michael exclaims. They laugh.

“If we wanted to shoot at the Mawson Lakes Interchange, we’d just go there and shoot with a camera and two friends,” Michael explains. “Whereas on a film there’s 10 grip trucks, traffic control, and you know, council permission, all this extra stuff! So it just moves slower, but we had crewed before we did YouTube, we worked on film sets, so we knew what we were getting into.”

On the other hand, the pair credit their experience on YouTube for the frenetic energy of some of the sequences in Talk to Me.

Danny uses the montage sequence, in which the group take turns summoning demons, as an example.

“That was run like a YouTube video,” he says. “Like, we went rogue. We were like ‘we have 50 shots to get in two hours, we need to like, send it!’ so the rule book went out the window in that scene.”

Will There Be a Talk to Me Sequel?

With the already immense success of Talk to Me comes the inevitable question: Will we get Talk to Me 2Talk Back to Me, perhaps? Talk 2 Me?

“I’d love the opportunity to do a sequel,” Danny says, “and we really wanna do an action film!”

“We’ve got another horror film that we’ve written called Bring Her Back, but we literally have ADHD and can never focus on one thing at a time, so like, I dunno!” Danny adds.

They laugh, and Michael agrees, adding they have “about 13 things” in the works currently.

“We’ll see which one catches fire!” he says.

For the moment, the brothers are happy to bask in the hype for Talk to Me, and to see what comes next.

“I just want people to want to see it again!” Danny says. “I’d love for it to be a film that people want to watch again —”

Michael interjects: “To be like ‘oh, that was a wild ride! I’ve gotta tell my friends about this, let’s go!’ Something that has rewatchability.”

“And something that connects to people in some way, whether it’s emotionally or tapping into a fear that they have, or seeing their world onscreen, I just hope they connect with it in some way,” Danny says.

Talk to Me is in HOYTS cinemas now. Buy tickets here.

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