PR ON THE GO November 17, 2023

Indie Film PR

Talk To Me - A Filmmaking Duo's Journey from YouTube to Box Office Hit

Jonathon Norcross portrait at Tribeca Film Festival

Jonathon Norcross has written about entertainment and sports for People, Collider, Brooklyn Magazine, InsideHook, Operation Sports, Tilt Magazine, Obsev, and Channel Nonfiction. Norcross co-produced and post-produced the feature documentary Break the Game, which had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival.

Talk to Me, the hit horror sensation from A24, has made more than $55 million (and counting) at the global box office. With a budget of just $4.5 million, the film is not only a success, it’s become one of A24’s top grossing films ever, alongside Oscar winners such as Everything Everywhere All At Once and Moonlight. Initially projected to earn around $4 or $5 million on its opening weekend, Talk to Me ended up pulling in $10.4 million that weekend instead. To no one’s surprise, a sequel, entitled Talk 2 Me, is already in the works.

From directors Danny and Michael Philippou (RackaRacka) - TALK TO ME

From YouTube to cinema

Perhaps most remarkable of all, the film was the feature debut of directors Danny and Michael Philippou, two brothers from Australia previously best known for their YouTube channel, RackaRacka. Their first short film, uploaded to this YouTube channel, was a bizarre three-minute dark comedy called Ronald McDonald Tastes Burger King. In the short, Ronald McDonald loses his mind over McDonald’s competitors and commits heinous acts of violence and destruction.

So how exactly did these twins go from uploading twisted Ronald McDonald videos on YouTube to being the hottest directors in the industry? As is often the case, the “overnight sensation” Philippous actually spent nearly two decades honing their skills as storytellers. And they used YouTube to both acquire a large following, and learn the practical skills necessary to become successful filmmakers.

First film stunts

The directing duo’s journey began in Adelaide, where as young kids, they staged backyard wrestling matches (akin to World Wrestling Entertainment, not the Olympic sport). Before long, they were filming some of these matches, perhaps to capture on tape their death-defying stunts. The brothers were daredevils, leaping off roofs and generally beating the crap out of each other. Michael even once broke his arm during a ladder match stunt gone wrong.

Despite suffering some injuries, it was professional wrestling that allowed the youngsters to create their first characters, storylines, and films. They even developed a production schedule of sorts that mimicked WWE. “There was always four episodes and then a "pay per view" at the end of the month,” Danny once told MTV News. “I played CEO Jacob, Hillbilly Joe, and Hardcore. Very interesting, three-dimensional characters.”

Although the brothers moved beyond professional wrestling as they aged, they never stopped recording their hijinks. “If you've seen any of our RackaRacka videos, you'll see we're pretty much exactly the same as we were,” Danny said. “It's all just a little more safe now (only a little bit).”

The next step on the Philippou brothers’ journey to Hollywood was uploading “fake fail” videos to Facebook. A couple of these videos went viral but were soon downloaded and re-uploaded by other accounts, thus causing the brothers to lose control of their own work. So they turned their focus towards creating a YouTube channel, which they called RackaRacka.

Bootstrapped film making

Their first YouTube shorts were sophisticated enough to require some financing. In classic indie filmmaking fashion, the brothers picked up odd jobs in order to make enough money to produce their videos. “To fund my projects, I used to check into hospitals for a month and test drugs that weren’t on the market yet,” Danny said on the Cold Ones podcast. (Although this seems like an unorthodox way to raise funds, iconic indie director Robert Rodriguez similarly participated in medical testing studies to finance his breakout hit El Mariachi.)

As the RackaRacka channel began to take off with viral hits like Harry Potter vs. Star Wars, the brothers became self-taught in the art of both digital and practical visual effects, with particular emphasis on making their VFX work as realistic as possible.

Outside of YouTube, the duo garnered some on-set experience as electricians and production runners on the hit Australian horror film The Babadook. Their time as crew members on the film served as a major source of inspiration. "I saw with [director Jennifer Kent] on that film… I knew it would be good because she cared so much about every frame,” Michael told Total Film. “She wasn't there for a paycheck. She wanted to make the best film possible and everything meant so much to her. I love this and that's the energy I wanted to have with [our film] as well.“


Attention from production companies

As their YouTube channel continued to generate viral hits with tens of millions of views, it wasn’t long before the Philippous began attracting the attention of production companies looking to produce the duo’s first feature film. But the brothers held out for the right opportunity, and finally found it when Causeway Films came knocking. Causeway’s co-founder, producer Samantha Jennings, had met the brothers on the set of The Babadook. She helped them develop their wild idea for a feature film about a creepy severed hand.

Attention from international distributors

With the support of Causeway Films, two additional Australian production companies, and local government-funded organizations, the Philippous shot Talk to Me in their hometown of Adelaide. The film soon caught the attention of international distributors at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. And when Talk to Me made its official world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, a bidding war erupted for distribution rights. Ultimately, A24 secured rights to distribute the film in the U.S., where seven months later it began raking in cash.

Key learnings

The journey of the Philippous, like that of all filmmakers, took its own unique path. But if there are 3 key lessons to be learned from the duo’s road to Hollywood, it’s these:

1. Far from being overnight sensations, the brothers spent nearly two decades directing videos, starting at the tender age of 11.

2. On-set experience proved to be vitally important. Their time as crew members on The Babadook taught them how they wanted to make a film, and it gave them important connections to producers and production companies.

3. They learned how to be self-sufficient. In other words, they developed the skills and resources they needed to finance, write, shoot, star in, and edit their work themselves.


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