Punxsy native’s film scores big at Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah — After years of hard work, Punxsy native Chad Villella had the chance to experience every young filmmaker’s dream, as he was invited to attend the mecca of all independent film festivals, The Sundance Film Festival.

Villella was excited to premiere his horror film, “V/H/S,” at Sundance but also saw it as an opportunity.

“We want to enjoy the experience and also use it to get us to the next level creatively,” he said.

Villella’s wish came true, as “V/H/S” quickly emerged as a fan favorite at Sundance. As a result, it was purchased by Magnolia Pictures for more than $1 million.

It was the first horror picture at Sundance to be purchased by a film distributor and will be featured on Magnolia’s Ultra VOD program; receive a pre-theatrical video-on-demand release; then be released to select theaters nationwide after the 30-day VOD window.

“We are excited, we’re happy, shocked and humbled this has happened,” Villella said.

The movie is so scary that some viewers had uncanny reactions. One viewer walked out of the movie and fainted, while another left the audience crying and sat in the lobby for the remainder of the film.

The film first premiered Jan. 22 and had three more screenings throughout the week.

The festival began Jan. 19 and runs through Sunday.

Sundance, founded by actor Robert Redford in 1978, is held annually in January at Park City, Salt Lake City and Ogden, all in Utah. The purpose of the festival is to showcase new work from up-and-coming American and International filmmakers.

Villella premiered “V/H/S” all week at the festival in Park City. The movie had generated quite a buzz and was one of the most highly-anticipated films at Sundance. It was featured on MTV’s “Sundance 2012: 10 Most-Anticipated Films.”

While attending Mercyhurst, Villella — son of Ken and Sally Villella, and a 1995 graduate of PAHS — decided he wanted to pursue acting, first becoming involved in theater, then into commercials and radio.

After graduating from Mercyhurst in 1999, Villella sought a bigger market for acting, so he headed to Los Angeles. Soon after, he began taking acting classes at the Actor’s Play Pen, then at the Groundlings Improv School.

Villella met Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Rob Polonsky at Improv School and formed the Chad, Matt & Rob sketch team, along with Tyler Gillett and Justin Martinez.

They began making videos for YouTube that blended comedy with action/horror. What really separated the group from other sketch comedy groups on YouTube was their “interactive adventure” videos.

“The interactive videos are really what put us on the map,” Villella said.

Videos such as “The Time Machine,” “The Birthday Party” and “The Treasure Hunt” gave viewers the chance to navigate the story. At the end of each video, the viewer has the choice to decide where he or she wants the story to go. Based on what he or she click, it would navigate to a new video.

The combination of comedy/action and the chance to “choose your own adventure” made their innovative videos a huge success on YouTube, Villella said.

The videos, having reached more than 55 million views on YouTube, have generated a lot of attention and were featured in the Wall Street Journal and on G4’s “Attack of the Show.” Their popularity also got them into L.A. film festivals. “The Birthday Party” was shown at the L.A. Shorts Fest.

This past summer, Polonsky left the group and as a result, Villella and the remaining members formed Radio Silence. Soon after, they met producers from Bloody Disgusting Selects and began working on their segment for “V/H/S.”

“V/H/S” is a combination of multiple up-and-coming horror directors, including Adam Wingard (“A Horrible Way to Die”), David Bruckner (“The Signal”), Ti West (“House of the Devil”), Glenn McQuaid (“I Sell the Dead”), Joe Swanberg (“LOL”) and of course, Radio Silence.

In the film, a group of burglars are told to break into a house and steal a certain VHS tape, that “they’ll know when they see it.” But once in the house, they find multiple tapes. Once they view the tapes, the burglars are horrified by what they’ve discovered.

Each director was in charge of directing one the “tapes” in the film. Radio Silence was in charge of directing the final segment/tape.

In addition to directing, Radio Silence was in charge of just about everything else needed for its segment, such as creating the initial concept, script-writing, production, location production, acting, editing, sound mixing and whatever else was needed.

Villella, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett star in their segment of the film.

Radio Silence’s segment, titled “10/31/98,” was filmed with low resolution so as to appear as if it was shot in the 1990s. It was then combined with a blend of CGI (Computer Generated Images) to give it an innovative feel.

Starting Aug. 6 and for six weeks afterward, the group filmed part of its “tape” in Villella’s apartment and the rest in a historic house — with a haunted look — just north of Pasadena, Calif.

The segment involves a girl and a Halloween party, with some comedy along with the overall horror theme.

“We still write from a style like all our other projects,” Villella said. “We want you to like the guys before you see them go through hell.”

The producers enjoyed Radio Silence’s segment so much, they decided to end the film with it.

“We are really the anchor to the movie; we ended it with a bang,” Villella said.

The film was pushed heavily by the producers, and the week after Thanksgiving, the group learned that its video was chosen by the Sundance film festival because it put a new take on the “found footage” horror movie genre.

In the future, the group has two comedy/horror features in development, as well as an idea for an interactive full-length feature and a few ideas for TV shows.

“We’re looking for an early fall release (for “V/H/S”) and are curious to see what other people think, and we’re ready to start working on other projects,” Villella said.

He said he and Radio Silence plan to “ride the wave” while they see just how much more buzz “V/H/S” generates.