When A Quiet Place was released earlier this year, it was an immediate critical and popular hit, earning $188 million before it left theaters. Starring John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, the film was about a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s horror premise was simple: If you make any noise, you die. The blind monsters locate their prey by sound.
The story grips you from the first frame through to the last. Inspired by their love of silent films, writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods came up with crafting the idea for A Quiet Place. They had seen how Jaws managed to create terror through the use of sound and wanted to replicate that intense terror in A Quiet Place.
The childhood friends had once made films in their small hometown in Iowa, using their action figures as their cast. Together they continued to work on filmmaking in the town, building a support within the community.
I caught up with Beck and Woods to learn more about how this film came to be.
You two go way back. How did your writing partnership begin?
Scott: Bryan and I have been friends since we were 11 years old. We grew up in the same town in Iowa and we sat down at the same lunch table one day. Through conversation, we discovered we were making movies with our own action figures. Our first collaboration was making a giant Star Wars action-figures-filled short film. It just progressed from there. Our “film school” years were with us making no-budget feature-length films. We were writing, producing and taking them around the community colleges and handing out scorecards to test the film. We did this whole – in retrospect – this whole studio process with our movies.
It was great to cut our teeth in an area of the U.S. where there’s not that much film activity, at least on a larger scale. We were able to find a huge community that really rallied around us and supported us. We were able to build a pocket of filmmaking for ourselves.
It is without a doubt one of the best films of the year. This whole play on silence was just so immersive and terrifying. Where did this idea begin?
Bryan: One of the initial inspirations for it, was our love for silent films. We loved Charlie Chaplin. Jacques Tati was this French filmmaker who was making silent films. It was silent just because he was putting visual storytelling on display, not because of technical limitations. We always thought it would be so much fun to do a modern-day silent film in the horror context. With horror and suspense, there is no greater tool in your toolbox than the element of sound.
In Jaws, that movie is so much scarier because you don’t see the shark. Sound and music imply the presence of the shark and that is a really terrifying experience. We brainstormed how do you make sound itself? Sound is a tool. How do you make that the monsters?
Scott: Beyond that, Bryan and I really anchored ourselves in that as the gimmick of the film. We knew in order for it to sustain itself, we had to also anchor it in character. There was a point in the writing process where there was the idea that there was this family that has to live in silence and has an issue communicating. And even if this event didn’t happen, the family would still have an issue communicating because they suffered a tragedy or loss. As soon as we figured out we could anchor things in this family dynamic who are going through this problematic issue, that’s when it all snapped together.
You have the idea. How did you tackle this when verbally it’s a great idea, but in practice it’s hard to work out?
Scott: When we were writing the project, we’d casually mention what we were working on to friends, executives and producers, we were met with glazed over looks and people were saying it wasn’t going to work. Also, we were met with the notion that If you write a script that has no dialogue, it’s going to be the most boring script ever.
We understood it was going to be a hurdle to a certain degree. Our first step in writing was writing a 15-page proof of concept just to see what it would be like on the page. I think we encapsulated the entire story where you set the stage in terms of location. You set up the situation of them having to live silently. You set up the characters and the pregnancy. It leads to the confrontation with the creature and the ultimate sacrifice at the end of the movie.
One we wrote everything, Bryan and I looked at it and thought the way to make it work was to write it in a very visual and audible manner.
We looked at old screenplays such as the script for Alien. We looked at the script for Nightcrawler where the words just leap off the page and they encapsulate such a visual atmosphere. We drove ourselves towards that.
Even in our spec script, we used pictures to highlight things. We played with the spacing of words on a page where the sound gets louder or quieter. It gave a roadmap for production and eventually post-production where it’s going to steer you.
How did it end up with Paramount and how John came on board?
Bryan: We finished the script and somebody had an insane idea, let’s take the script that’s about silence and subtlety and let’s take it to Michael Bay’s company. we went into that meeting slightly skeptical. Even though, we’re huge fans, we were skeptical. but they were all about character and creating a story that’s extremely emotional as well as terrifying. It felt like a surprisingly great marriage. We partnered with them.
Michael’s team were working with John on Jack Ryan. What’s so mind-blowing, you have to understand that when we sat down with Platinum Dunes, they were asking, “Who could we imagine playing in this movie?” We didn’t have the confidence to say Emily Blunt. We said, “Someone like Emily Blunt, but we’d never get her to be in this movie.” So, when we got the call saying John and Emily wanted to come on board and make the movie, it blew our mind.
Scott: The process with Paramount was very fruitful. you always wonder when you take a unique project, is it going to be devoured and come out the other end not looking like anything you set out to make.
What was incredible was that in one of our early meetings, they came to the meeting without the typical edits. They wanted to keep it contained and they were champions from day one. With John and Emily on board, that gave the movie a release date and everyone was working towards that finish line.
It was such an incredible collaboration and we feel so grateful to be a part of that.
Was there anything that didn’t make the final movie. Something that was in the script and didn’t end up there.
Bryan: There were some core set pieces that would have been fun to see come to life, but we are so genuinely happy with how the movie came out. It’s been really surprising to see people embrace it that way.
Scott: The very end was slightly different. It went on slightly longer in the script, so when it ends as we see in the movie, we all had to question was it going to deliver to the audience. Did they want more of the story and that stereotypical ending of survivors going out into the world? But what was really fulfilling was when we screened it, no one had seen it, we were putting ourselves out there for potential failure. We were sweating in the green room. What was incredible for that experience was watching how that movie played everyone like a piano and the suspense drew out long enough where the audience would finally get that suspense delivered. It ended where it exactly needed to be.
Bryan: Full credit to John for that. One of the favorite things about how the script evolved was that John came to the table as a father. I think when he first read the script, he’d just had his second child. I hadn’t had my child yet, but he had a certain authenticity and point of view in being the father. Millicent did such a beautiful job and her experience as a young deaf woman brought so much credibility and authenticity. We consider her the fourth writer because she brought so much to the film.