[This article was originally published in STARBURST #471]
With an original silent horror movie idea - inspired by Alien and the work of M. Night Shyamalan - filmmakers BRYAN WOODS and SCOTT BECK went on to create one of the most refreshingly original scripts of recent years, A QUIET PLACE. With the eagerly awaited A QUIET PLACE: PART II finally hitting cinemas after a long delay, we reflect with the duo on the destined journey from page to screen, while going into larger detail about how John Krasinski and Emily Blunt helped flesh out the franchise-to-be...
STARBURST: How did the idea for A Quiet Place come about?
Scott Beck: Back when Bryan and I were in college - this was probably about 2007 - we were watching a lot of silent movies, such as Charlie Chaplin and the French filmmaker Jacques Tati. They astounded us with their command of storytelling without really having to say anything. So, for the longest time, Bryan and I kept going back and forth, wondering if we could make a silent movie, but in a modern-day context. Over the years we started coming up with ideas - what if it was one part Alien, or one-part Jaws, or The Man Who Knew Too Much - just trying to bring in all of our love of suspense, horror, and sci-fi into the idea that ultimately became A Quiet Place. We reacted against it at first, because it was a gimmick idea. We quickly formed the fact that it needed to be based in emotion. Steep in this whole conundrum of this family going through something very tragic. That would be the backbone of the story.
Bryan Woods and Scott Beck
It’s common to hear about how long it can take for a script to make it to the screen, if at all. With a limited dialogue script like this, what was the journey to the big screen like, and were there any hurdles that you had to overcome?
Bryan Woods: It was a weird one. So Scott was describing the gestation process, but when we finally decided that we wanted to make it as a movie, we wrote the script fairly fast. It was a four or five-month process at most. When we were writing it, we were getting excited about the idea. So we would kind of, off the cuff, pitch it to different studio executives, or producers that we knew. Or even other filmmakers. Every time we pitched the idea - “You make a sound, you die”; “there’s a family in this barn, with aliens living outside” - people would look at us like we were crazy! So we started to get really self-conscious, thinking that the script wasn’t going to sell. We were getting a little nervous about it. So, as we were writing the script, we decided that in order to capture what we wanted, what our vision of the film was, which was this kind of cool modern-day silent film, we needed to take some big swings on the page. So, the script that we wrote ended up having a lot of images in it. It ended up playing with the format in a very unique way. So when our agents finally took it to the marketplace, it actually sold immediately. Paramount snatched it up, and Michael Bay immediately came on to produce. It was an extremely fast process. That really blew our minds, because we just weren’t sure. We have written a lot of movies that have taken years to get made, and we’ve written a lot of movies that have taken years to sell, or to convince people that it was the right thing. With this one, it happened surprisingly quickly once it was finished.
Stephen King said that this film is all about the silence. First off, congrats on getting a compliment from King, and also, would you agree with that? Would you say that the silence is truly what makes the film thrive?
Scott: For us, it was always about the silence, but at the same time, it was about the sound design in general. Sound design is at the tip of our mind, any time when we’re writing a script. A Quiet Place was the amalgamation of our love for that, and what we try to gun towards every time we are writing something. We knew that silence would hold the audience in suspense if everybody did their job right. At the same time, you also can’t beat that dead horse over and over again. You have to be able to build to that point, where you suck all of the sound out. So writing the script was a process of us describing what the sound would be like by the visual gimmick on the page. So if there’s a really loud sound, then we would put one word on a single page by itself. Basically saying, “This is a loud sound!” Then as things got quieter and quieter, we would shrink the font. We try to give all of our creative collaborators some sort of skeleton to work from, as they begin to flush that out through pre and post-production.
You submitted the script with the idea of John Krasinski being involved. Why do you think he was so perfect for A Quiet Place?
Bryan: It was crazy, we set it up with Paramount and sold it with no attachments whatsoever. Then once the studio was in, it got sent to John just to star in it. I think what made him connect to it so much was that John and Emily had just had their second child, weeks before reading the script. So he was in that state of mind of being a parent. Obviously, the script is so steeped in that world of, “What does it mean to be a father?”; “how do you protect your children in a world like this?” He just connected to it so deeply, and Emily as well. When we got the phone call from our agent saying that John had read the script, and that he loved it, and that he had passed it over to Emily, and she read it and loved it, we were very shocked and confused. Excited and nervous. Just all of those feelings that you feel when a project comes together like that. We are very proud of what they created.
The chemistry between John and Emily on screen is brilliant. Can you tell us what Emily Blunt brought to the film, and why you think that she’s the perfect Evelyn Abbott?
Scott: What’s funny about that is, when we sold the script, or before anyone was attached, our producers were like “Just tell us who you’d like to see in this role?” We were way too embarrassed to say Emily Blunt because she’s one of the best actors working today, so we thought that we would never get her. Part of that is that she hadn’t done horror at all. We didn’t know if she would do it. What’s so perfect about her is that she’s operated so well in these incredibly strong roles. Looking at her roles in Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow alone, she just nails bringing a human quality to it, but also this essence of badass, which is something that we felt worked so perfectly with what we were gunning towards with the script. Then you are always getting elevated by the actors and their brilliant decisions on set. One of the things that wasn’t scripted, or necessarily intended, was when she’s teaching Noah Jupe and she’s signing. She’s very softly also uttering the words that she’s saying. For Bryan and I, watching that on the big screen, there’s something unintended, but also incredibly beautiful about the way that she brings that to life through her own instincts.
The fact that she is pregnant seems like a harsh concept in this particular world. However, it also suggests a potentially positive future for the family. Can you tell us about what that idea was like to work on in this setting, and what you think it added?
Scott: In terms of her pregnancy, to a certain degree of what you’re saying, that was planned because there ‘is’ a hope for the future. That narrative thread also evolved throughout the scriptwriting process. Originally in the early draft of the script, the pregnancy actually happened before the invasion occurred. Now you have to deal with the fact that you are pregnant. As the drafts have evolved and as John got involved, the intent of that was more that they made a deliberate choice, because of the tragedy that they suffered in their life, of losing a kid, that they wanted to live more than just for survival. They wanted to live so that there was some future that could evolve from their family.
When you watch the film, what stands out to you as the most rewarding moment? Something that was just so true to your script, or maybe, something entirely different to that?
Scott: The first time we saw the movie, it was actually in rough shape, meaning that the special effects were only 40% there, and the sound design wasn’t fully done yet. That was a crazy screening because we watched it, and we were like, “I don’t know if the storytelling is there?” and as the screenwriters, that’s our fault. We were thinking, “Did we really mess up the storytelling!” A few weeks later, and with the post-production on this film being really quick, the sound designers knocked it out of the park. Industrial Light & Magic had hustled to get it done in time. So, when we watched it again, that journey became so much more tangible. That’s ultimately the film that everyone else saw.
Bryan: Yeah, it’s kind of a reminder that sound design, and music, and the effects, are also storytelling devices. When those elements are not finished, the story is not complete. Another big difference was with the ending, as it was slightly different. The ending in the script had a bit more of an emotional resolution. They shot elements of that during production. But John had the idea of chopping it off with that shotgun moment. That was really powerful to see, and just wondering how that would play with the audience was something interesting to think about as well.
There was a rumour before its release that the film was nearly adopted into the Cloverfield world…
Scott: Well, to directly address what that rumour was referring to, it was when we were writing the script we had a meeting about another project at Paramount Pictures. They, of course, asked what we were working on, so we kind of teased A Quiet Place, saying that it was this totally silent movie about a family on a farm. This was right before 10 Cloverfield Lane came out. They had this glazed look in their eyes, wondering if it sounded too commercial; they didn’t know if it was going to fit in a world where we already have this Cloverfield movie that takes place in a remote location with just a few people, with creatures just outside. Cloverfield was very exciting when it first came out in 2008. It was something brand new, and it was teasing something in the most subtle way. It just got you excited to see it. Those are the movies that Bryan and I flock towards. Of course we love the franchises, and we do adore sequels - we can’t wait for the next Mission: Impossible movie! As filmmakers, writers, directors, and producers, the content that we enjoy putting out in the world is the stuff that would excite us when we are in the audience. For us, being original is of paramount importance.
Bryan: When we grew up, we came of age as filmmakers in 1999 where it was the year of every great original movie ever! You had films such as The Sixth Sense, Magnolia, American Beauty, and it feels like right now studios are mostly making comic book movies, sequels and remakes. So, our dream for A Quiet Place was that it would be a splash of something fresh. A return to those years that we are nostalgic for.
Scott: I think that with the world of A Quiet Place, we always hope that it feels like a slice of The Twilight Zone, which to us is the godfather TV show of the entire sci-fi universe. For us, we hope that A Quiet Place and its sequel provoke lots of questions and inspire debate. After you watch the movie, you can sit around with your friends and talk about it for hours. To us, that’s the mark of a fun movie!
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