Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions’ Unfriended has been making some major promotional rounds, and so far the film has gotten positive reviews. Though it’s already finished, the movie actually hasn’t been released yet, having already been screened at Fantasia Festival, SXSW, and most recently WonderCon in Anaheim. We were invited to talk to the cast of Shelley Hennig, Renee Olstead, Courtney Halverson, Jacob Wysocki, Will Peltz, Moses Jacob Storm, and Heather Sossaman, as well as the film’s writer, Nelson Greaves.
During our interview we talked about social media, what makes the film so relatable, how a film that takes place over Skype can work, the production process, improv, and more. Hit the jump to learn the Top Five Things You Need To Know Before Watching Unfriended.
1. — In Unfriended, a group of friends in a Skype conversation are interrupted by someone who had committed suicide after an embarrassing video of her was posted on the internet. With videos and images — some of them embarrassing — going viral in an instant, the actors recognized some of the dangers of posting things recklessly. Courtney Halverson says “I’m terrified of it now,” said Halverson, “I assume that nothing I post on the internet is safe anymore, so it’s really caused me to think about everything.” Shelly Hennig would only use it to help promote a TV show she is on or a movie she is in. “I use it as a business, not for personal things. Nothing has really changed for myself, but I am a little bit more cautious for other people,” said Hennig
Since a majority of the film takes place over a Skype group conversation, the familiar Skype ringtone has given Jacob Wysocki an eerie sensation every time he hears it. “That sound is so jarring to me that I don’t want to use it. Call me on the phone, just don’t Skype me please,” said Wysocki.
2. — The film was shot like a play. The director would let the actors do 20 to 30-minute takes. Ultimately, there was one long take that ran up to 80 minutes, which would end up being used in the film. There was also improv, with the directors feeding necessary information to the actors via earpiece so that they wouldn’t lose momentum. To enhance the scares, sometimes they would slap the windows of the house they were shooting at or they would randomly open doors during takes.
The process was actually helpful because shooting as takes would make the process longer and less organic. “At the end of the day it is a horror film, and some things are fantastical and hard to believe,” said Hennig, “but when you start from the beginning and go all the way through you’re in it. It takes a lot to come out of it.” Hennig had asked if she could do some of the scenes in one take, because it was getting hard for her to start and stop on cue without losing that momentum. “Doing it all in one, we all benefited. Because everyone was so good at improv. Because we knew Nelson’s story, he would let us play,” she added, “If he let us play for too long, he would just name the topic of the script we had to get back to.”
A lot of the twists and turns and large plot points we are finding out the same time as the audience does. Will Peltz said, “We are acting in real time. So we know the story, but the movie is heavily improved within that story.”
3. — The DP developed a Skype-esque program where all the actors were all hardwired into the computers. To give the film its real-time feel, production took place in an actual house, with actors sitting in different parts of the property, and for some of the scenes all of them would be shooting at once. But the walls were so thin that you could hear production going on during takes. It was so loud that you couldn’t flush during takes. A few of the actors even got shortchanged.
Renee Olstead said that Wyoscki got the worst of it since he was shooting his scenes in a shed outside of the house. “I got f***ed.” said Wyoscki. He added, “I was in a shed that had a bird’s nest in it, that I wasn’t allowed to touch. So we would cut, and there would be chirping, so I would open the door, and let momma bird in so she can feed her babies. No air conditioning, and it was a like a wood shop, so there was sawdust everywhere. It was like a dude’s man cave that was off the house.”
4. — So far the film has gotten a positive response during the promotional tour. Our own Emilia Fuentes said in her review that the film’s success and enjoyability comes through “its foundation in real fear.” Because the film uses modern technology, it makes it that much more relatable. “The reason it works, the reason it is scary, is the authenticity of it,” said writer Nelson Greaves.
5. — Portions of the film would focus on different chat windows. This allowed the actors to be in control of their scenes, and create their own cinematography. “One of the good things about this is we got to create a lot of the chaos, and doing our own cinematography. We had a camera that was strapped to the computer, so we had to do shaking and movements, reflecting where the characters are with our choices,” said Olstead. While some may think this would create confusion — since it is all being shot in real time with multiple chat windows open at once — the actors were all responsible for their sets and cues. “We were in charge of the start and the end of the scene because they gave us these cups to cover the lens, and basically when they said action, you pulled the cup off,” said Halverson.
Unfriended opens in theaters on April 17, 2015. You can watch the trailer right here if you haven’t seen it.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal Pictures. Used with permission.]