Production Designer Jeffrey Beecroft has worked on films as varied as Dances with Wolves, Twelve Monkeys, and Transformers: Age of Extinction. He worked with John Krasinski on 13 Hours, so when Krasinski needed a production designer for A Quiet Place he called on Beecroft to come and design the post-apocalyptic world where sound will kill you. You’ve seen A Quiet Place by now and know that at its heart is the story of family, a mother willing to take the risk for her child. It’s a story of survival. Stripped of sound, Beecroft had to use visuals to explain why the viewer was seeing a film in silence. He whitewashed floorboards to create a stark world that feels abandoned except for this family.
An important setting for the film is the cornfield we talked about how he worked with local farmers to ensure Krasinski could have the sort of cornfield that would make an lasting impression. Beecroft also shared some exclusive shots with Awards Daily to take us into details of the production design.
How do you find the perfect location and the farm for the film?
That’s John Krasinski. John wanted to shoot near his home, but besides that, he would have found a great location no matter what. He really wanted to be near home and I think that played a lot into the film because he was so attached to his home.
He actually found that through Zillow. He was combing areas and farms and trying to do research on that. I had done 13 Hours with John and he kept trying to convince me to work with him on this film and if you’ve ever interviewed John you’ll know you can’t say no to him. There’s something so infectious about this guy. He called me and wanted me to look at the creature and said, ‘you have to do this Jeff, you have to do this with me.’ I left something else and came onto this.
I’ve done Dances with Wolves and was used to doing this kind of environmental world. When I saw it, no one had lived there for 40 years and I knew I had to build barns and silos and plant corn and all those things such as build roads. I kept thinking that we were creating an island for these people to survive on.
When I got the script, John gave me a short story and what it was he had written it that way, he stripped away almost everything so it became a visual story and that was a hook for me. Number one it was about protecting a family, but it was about seeing a world and how would you survive? Intimately. It was about the family and about a woman who is about ritual and protection and saving what is the world that she understands. He’s about protecting them from the outer world. I thought it was great. I thought it was like an amazing Western and like John Ford. In The Searchers they’re trying to protect the family.
I thought it was great.
The house needed work. We had to figure out how to do this movie on $17 million dollars and we had a lot to do, but everyone really pitched in and John did the work. He was there every day, he was always early, and he was always ready to go.
The best thing was working with a director who is the character, who tells you what the character is going to do, and what it will look like, and he wrote the story. There’s no one to go to and it was really terrific.
For the readers, talk about the corn story.
We went old school with this. We didn’t do a lot of CG with this because the creature was going to be CG so that’s where the money was spent. I got all my best friends to come in on this movie.
Scott Farrar who did the VFX on Jurassic Park. He’s retired. I said, ‘You’ve got to do this movie.’ He’d done Transformers with me, going back to Return of the Jedi. There was a lot of debate because we didn’t have a lot of money to plant the corn.
The farmers were saying, ‘if you don’t get this in the ground, you won’t have any corn.’ I was calling the studio to get money to plant the corn. I actually enlisted local farmers to do the work with me. They planted the 24 acres. I love the local people I work with and embraced them. We planted the corn and every day John and I would swap emails over the corn. This place hadn’t been farmed and I had to clear the land. It became a big deal for us.
On top of that, I had to buy 40 tons of kernelled corn to do the silo scene. Corn is incredibly heavy and these are things you find out when you farm. We had to buy lots for that scene where the kids fall in the silo. I had to build three different silo interiors as well as an exterior on our stage.
We used an equestrian center and there was one that had gone by the wayside and I found it down the road from where we were shooting. We talked to those guys and we were able to have that designated as a stage by the New York Film Commission and it saved us going back and forth.
We also built the underwater sets there and the silos there.
What was the design idea behind the underwater sets?
There were two. One is the basement where he’s working and has all the equipment and is the basement of the house. The other set is the root cellar that they’re preparing as the quiet room for the baby.
With that cellar, we built the barn and we dug down so the staircase would go down into the ground. It went down 15 feet. So, we had created a false set and we built another set on stage for that.
I built the set so it was almost like a pool within it so the walls were built on top of the walls for the water so that this whole set could be submerged. We were able to flood it and take the water out right away. We could also dump water over the top.
I hired an effects supervisor that I’d worked with many times and they came in and rigged that and helped us to figure it out. They also did the quicksand rig and the famous nail. They did that too.
That was an interesting thing to build because it was a root cellar and we also had to tell the stories everywhere on the wall. How did they keep it quiet? What did they use to insulate? They couldn’t use nails so they had to use glue. I took a lot of stuff from the WPA – Dorothea Lange, Eudora Welty. I used more women photographers because they had a tendency to shoot more of the families and how they were seen and how they lived. I took a lot of inspiration from those photographers.
What about you and John discuss about the color?
I went back to black and white and started saying, ‘What colors are we going to use and where are the colors going to come from?’ It was very important that we shot this in the Fall so we scheduled it so we had those colors. I think those remind you of home and that became very important to me.
I embraced that quite heavily. We also wanted to make everything look like it was being bleached. We took the wood and I whitewashed the wood there. I wanted to make sure we shot exactly when the corn was turning. I went into the house and everything seemed to be faded with the leaves, the broken glass, and the rooms had a faded quality to them. We covered everything in dust and broken glass. We used the white sand so that you really saw the paths.
My color palette is always based on something like that.
If you saw red, you only saw red for that moment that needed to be red. Every single color was muted except nature and that’s what was surrounding them. It’s also what made the family live. I think that’s why they had to go to the barn. No one knew what was happening. I thought of the creatures as numinous in that spiritual sense. We didn’t want to make them monsters that were endangering the family. Scott Farrar did an amazing job creating it, it needed to be something that was universal. When it’s going after your family, it could be something else as well which was important to John as well. John knows how to backstory. He knew where it came from, what it did, why it didn’t have eyes. Everything was thought out but then we wanted the audience to fill it all in.
Part of my job was to give information to the audience because they walk into that, you just see a family in a store. You have to fill it in and that’s what’s cool about this movie. You’re expecting the audience to really work at it. When you’re in the theater, you’re on the edge of your seat because you’re listening so hard. Your eyes open and you have to see everything. You have to put the clues together. I loved that about the story and it gave me the chance to do really visual work.
That’s what’s so great about it because from that first second, you’re not sure what’s going on, why there’s no sound, so you’re watching everything.
That’s so true. Did you see it in a theater?
I saw it at the Arclight and you could have heard a pin drop.
You feel the audience members next to you and it feels like a shared experience. It’s like a story in front of the campfire. I found more people talking about the film when we got out and it was a great experience. That’s the great thing about the movie theaters.
It challenged you to sit still.
It’s unusual. John taking it and doing it on location, it changed how we as participants in the film viewed making a film. John was trying to protect us making sure we had everything and it was such a unique experience. I haven’t had that bonding that we had.
It’s different compared to what you’ve ever done. Was there something that was difficult to pull off?
I think it was more to try to reinforce the ideas of the characters and to try to give as much information to the audience without making it seem like everything else you’ve seen before. Also to make it more about the family and the sadness of the family. I think about the painter Andrew Wyeth and all his work is bleached. You pick the certain colors, but there’s a sadness to it. That’s what I was trying to create there, this incredible beauty, but it’s also incredibly sad. It’s about this family and their relationship and trying to reinforce that.
How would Emily make it this way? She was great. She’d be in the barn helping us with the boy’s room, or the bathroom and how I was going to build that. I wanted to support him as much as I could. I remember the sound guys were recording the corn moving. They were recording the sounds of dusk. How does that sound? The composer came and sat there watching the environment and all of that lent itself to creating something better.
John cared about every single moment. He was living every single one of those moments with you. When I create his table where he’s working, he’s there with me. We’re sitting with the propmaster going through every single detail. He’d look at paintings and sketches. We did so many of those.